Sichuan peppercorns and spicy Sichuan chili peppers combine to create málà, the tongue-numbing heat that sets Sichuan cuisine apart. These, and other key components of Sichuan cooking, may be purchased in any well-stocked supermarket or Asian grocery store. The mother and daughter team behind the online store themalamarket.com met over a shared passion for authentic Sichuan cuisine and now offers their wares to the world. Here are 12 essential elements for making authentic Sichuan fare.
1. Chili Crisp
This chili oil condiment is similar to a crunchy paste and is produced with fried onions, garlic, chilies, and Sichuan peppercorns. Chili crisp, which is heavily seasoned with MSG, sugar, and salt, is typically consumed either on its own or with chilled Sichuan sauces. There are various varieties of chili crisps on the market, including one sold by Trader Joe’s, but the Lao Gan Ma brand is the most well-known and readily available (buy it: Amazon, $10).
2. Dried Tofu Skin
The solid coating that forms on top of heated soymilk (like pudding skin) can be used to make chewy tofu skin. It is available for purchase as dry sheets and requires rehydration before use. (For twenty dollars, try this set on Amazon.)
3. Fermented Black Beans
These black beans have been kept in a potent mixture of booze and spices. The beans can be used to boost the saltiness and flavor of many different foods. The more commonly available Cantonese black beans are a suitable stand-in, but you’ll need to rinse them first because they’ve simply been fermented with salt. Get a bag on Amazon for $10 and give them a try in our Mapo Tofu recipe.
4. Green Sichuan Peppercorns
Green Sichuan peppercorns, which have a citrusy flavor similar to lemon, are a wonderful addition to dishes with seafood, poultry, and even vegetables. Since China has just lately begun exporting them, they can be difficult to track down. There is a waitlist if you want to buy a bag from The Mala Market, but they are presently sold out.
5. Pixian Chili Bean Paste
Braises, soups, and stir-fries benefit greatly from the paste, which is a salty and spicy umami concentrate created with chiles and fermented fava beans. The name “broad bean” chili paste is a common misnomer. You can try it in our Dry Pot Chicken (Gan Guo Ji) dish (and purchase a pack from The Mala Market for $20).
6. Shaoxing Rice Wine
One of the most important components of Chinese soups and sauces. It has a taste similar to sherry, but the salt and sugar give it more of a kick. (You can get a bottle for $15 on Amazon.)
7. Sichuan Chili Oil
Mixed flakes, powder, and seeds made from whole dried chiles that have been cooked till crisp. You can substitute Korean pepper powder, which is sold at Korean grocery stores and on Korean websites. (For $12, you can try a pack at The Mala Market.)
8. Sichuan Peppercorn Oil
Oil is infused with a Sichuan spice combination and then blended with chili pepper flakes (which are not cooked). The flakes can be utilized independently of the oil after it has been filtered. Get a jar of the oil from Uncommon Goods for $13 and use it in our Sichuan fava bean, pea sprout, and radish salad.
9. Sichuan Peppercorns
An aromatic finishing oil spiked with Sichuan peppercorn-derived essential oils. The flavor is less than that of the whole spice, yet it still packs enough of a punch to wake up the taste buds. The Mala Market is out of stock at the moment, but you can put your name on a waiting list to buy a bottle.
10. Sweet Potato Glass Noodles
The numbing half of the trademark flavor of Sichuan food comes from Sichuan peppercorns, which are a member of the citrus family and unrelated to black peppercorns. For $9 at The Spice House, you can try it in our Spicy Chili Crisp Potato Salad (Liang Ban Tu Dou) dish.
11. Zhenjiang Black Vinegar
Noodles with sweet potato starch are long and transparent with a chewy texture. Despite their lack of flavor, noodles take on the taste of their cooking liquid. Get a three-pack from Amazon for $12 and use them in our Sour and Spicy Sweet Potato Noodles (Suan La Fen) recipe.
12. Vinegar of Zhenjiang’s Black Tea
This somewhat sour rice vinegar, sometimes called “Chinkiang,” is seasoned with sugar and salt and is a staple ingredient in nearly all cold Sichuan noodles and vegetable sauces. Check it out (and pick up a bottle from Amazon for $9) in our recipe for Baby Bok Choy in Vinegar Oyster Sauce.
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