You can call it a peppercorn all you like, but the peppery ingredient that puts the buzz in Sichuan-style cooking actually isn't one.
Although it resembles and is used similar to black peppercorns, Sichuan pepper isn't a peppercorn at all. It is the dried rind of the berry-like fruit of the prickly ash tree.
And you don't need to be a heat fiend to love it. While it does have a peppery bite, its real power is in the tingling feeling it leaves on your tongue, not a true heat.
In Chinese cooking, the Sichuan pepper often is used with meats and is a basic component of five-spice powder. In this weeknight-friendly beef recipe, we combine the Sichuan pepper with spicy chili garlic paste for a dish that will jumpstart your mouth.
•1 pound flank steak, sliced across the grain
•3 tablespoons chili garlic paste
•1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
•1 teaspoon Sichuan pepper, crushed
•1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil
•1 tablespoon soy sauce
•2 tablespoons mirin or rice wine
•3 stalks celery, thinly sliced on the diagonal
•2 carrots, thinly sliced on the diagonal
•3 scallions, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
•Rice or noodles, to serve
Place the flank steak slices in a zip-close plastic bag. Add the chili garlic paste, ginger and Sichuan pepper. Seal the bag, then massage the seasonings into the meat. Refrigerate and allow to marinate at least 2 hours, and up to overnight.
When ready to cook, in a large, deep skillet or a wok over high, heat the oil until it shimmers. Add the beef and saute for 8 minutes, or until the beef is browned and starting to dry.
Add the soy sauce, mirin, celery, carrots and scallions. Cook 4 more minutes, or until the vegetables are crisp tender. Serve over noodles or rice.