A Feast on Peppers
Sichuan cuisine, alternatively known as Chuan cuisine, is one the Four Major Cuisine of China, originating from Sichuan Province in southwestern China.
Typical Chuan Cuisine
Sichuan is colloquially known as the Land of Abundance due to its sufficiency of food and natural resources. The complex geographic features of Sichuan Province, including mountains, hills, plains, plateaus and the Sichuan Basin, has shaped its food customs with versatile and distinct ingredients. The weather there is quite temperate with high moisture all year around. In traditional Chinese medicine, over-high humidity brings health problem, such as weakness and exhaustion, but the use of pungency and spice in daily diet could ease and relieve the syndromes by inducing sweeting. Thus people there generally have a tendency to strong flavors, like Sichuan pepper and chili spices.
Sichuan food can be divided into dozens of types with totally differentiated mouth-feels and tastes. The stylistically uniqueness comes from its varied combination of materials and techniques. Sichuan cuisine never relished but usually composed of 20 different kinds of seasonings and spices, creating at least four basic flavors, including pungent, hot, umami and aromatic, as a Chinese saying that there are a hundred flavors in a hundred Chuan dishes.
The bold flavors, particularly the pungency and spiciness, result from liberal use of garlic and chili peppers, as well as the unique flavor of Sichuan pepper, the most distinguishing and important part. Sichuan pepper , huājiāo in Chinese pronunciation and literal translated as flower pepper, has an intense fragrant, citrus-like flavor and produces a tingly-numbing, má in Mandarin, sensation in the mouth. Other commonly used spices are garlic, chili peppers, ginger and star anise. Bean chili paste, dòubànjiàng in Mandarin, a sauce fermented from broad beans or soy beans and tastes delicate, salty and slightly spicy, is an essential component to famous dishes such as MaPo tofu and double-cooked pork slices.
Ascribe to the slathering of seasonings and spices, along with cooking oil, Chuan cuisine shows a sharpened but addictive difference from other cuisines. It falls into more than 20 categories according to the flavor and culinary techniques and a few representative ones will be discussed here.
Ma La, or Pungent-and-Spicy, Flavor
The combination of spicy pepper and Sichuan pepper forms a unique type which is spicy-taste, with thickness, saltiness and fragrance. Take a popular dish Boiled Fish. Besides the mania for spice, Sichuan people is also known for their favor in fish, resulting in the creation of Boiled Fish.
The dish, literally without any words referred to spices, seems to be flat and insipid. However, it is a classical Chuan dish revealing the essence of Sichuan spicy flavor.
In cooking, not many culinary skills are required. What critical is the complete preparation of seasonings and fish. The steps below assure you an authentic flavor of the dish and let’s take a look!
- Clean and slice the fish. Marinate it with salt, pepper, minced ginger and starch for at least half an hour, to both eliminate the stinky smell and add tenderness and succulency.
- Blanch any vegetable or greens you like over boiling water for 1-2 minutes. Bean sprouts or cabbage are the authentic choice. Then drain them, bottomed in a bowl, and set aside.
- High heat enough oil in a pan. Add 2 spns of broad bean chili paste, sliced ginger, garlic, shallot, and a handful of Sichuan pepper and chili spice power. Quick-frying at medium heat to a sharp aroma is felt.
- Add boiled water to half the pan and salt, soy sauce, sugar and cooking rice wine to your preference. Mix thoroughly.
- Boil the marinated fish flakes to the soup piece by piece with no stirring to prevent the fish from crumbling and stop heating. Scoop them up to the bowl bottomed with greens.
- Again place some oil in the pan and heat. Then put plenty of Sichuan pepper and dry chili spices and stir to fragrant. Immediately when the chili spices change color, pour over the fish.
In a color of shiny red, the dish, surrounded by a rich aroma that could strongly stimulate the appetite, tastes pungent but not dull, and spicy but not heated-dry. The fish flakes are so tender and succulent that it seems to melt and coat the tongue and taste buds immediately. Such a mouthwatering invitation!
Pork and beef slices cooked in the same way
And of course the method can be applied to vegetable dishes.
Tofu and potato
The uniqueness of Chuan cuisine lays in the variety of same flavor. Take spiciness for example. There are 3 main branches, pungent and spicy above, pickled-chili and sour spice. Let’s go on to the other two.
Pao Jiao, or Pickled-chili Flavor
Various Types of Pickled Pepper
In recent years pickled chili sprung in the new Chuan cuisine and widely paired with the materials with unpleasant scents, such as inside meat or fish. The special flavor, spicy and sour, not only integrates these smells, but also bubbles the umami and spice of chillies to the extreme, along with slightly sweetness, raising a more alluring scents which could greatly stimulate the appetite. An appreciated pickled-chili flavor had a rich aroma and an addictive flavor that it seems you could never fed up.
The raw material of pickled-chili flavor is not strictly restrained in chili peppers, but any vegetable you prefer. Cabbage, carrots or cucumbers, all can be pickled in the same way. Pickled radish is another choice to create the similar flavor. An crucial point during cooking is that the addition of sugar or Laozao, a fermented glutinous rice in China, to enhance the lasting aftertaste of sweetness.
Suan La, or Sour Spice Flavor
The use of vinegar devoted greatly to the flavor which is mainly used in cooking noodle and dressing cold dishes. A famous snack Sour and Hot Rice Noodles is welcomed across the nation, especially those from Chongqing. The rice noodle is a mixture of the starch extracted from sweet potatoes and peas to a certain proportion and is squeezed to the shape of noodle by a colander. The dressing sauce is consisted of about 20 spices and seasonings, including smashed garlic, oil spice, Sichuan peppers, salt, Chinese vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, shallot, diced coriander, pepper powder, fried peanuts, etc, providing a strong and stimulating flavor.
A credible hot rice noodles should meet two basic characteristics. First, the rice noodle should be soft but tough, elastic with a crystal clear appearance and the soup be glowing red. Second, the flavor should be a proper mixture of pungency, spice, savory, sourness and fragrance. It better tastes purely savory, oily but not greasy, spicy but not dry, sour but not spastic, leaving an aromatic aftertaste in the mouth.
Hot Pot, The Ultimate Delicacy
If there is a cuisine all south westerners would like, it must be hot pot. Hot pot actually is not a specific dish but a cooking method, setting a pot over a heating source and rinsing food in relished soup material. It is an integration of unforgettable delicacy in taste, inclusive comprehensiveness in ingredients, and notable characteristics in culture.
Pungent, spicy and hot, a colloquial name for hot pot, presents its specialness and mouthfeel clearly. The instant boiled meat and vegetable are still steaming, tasting salty spicy and more delectable, oily but not greasy.
Theoretically everything used as an ingredient could be rinsed in hot pot. Common dishes include meat such as fish and pork, and vegetable, like potato and agaric. But more popular orders in China may be inside meat like tripes and pork kidney, beef and pork products like luncheon meat and tender pork, soy products like black-bean tofu and bean sprout, and Chinese specialty like crispy pork slices and fried dough twists.
Regular Meat dishes
Crispy Pork Slices Fried Dough Twists
After dining, some snacks, usually fried glutious rice cake with egg decoction, glutious rice balls in rice wine soup and pumpkin pie, are prepared to neutralize the bold aftertaste and wholly satisfy the appetite.
The strong flavor inducing sweat dripping, hot pot is a dainty right for winter gathering, although addicted foodies could enjoy it all year around, even in a 40°C summer day.
Hot pot is not only food, but also the connotation of culture. Reunion is highly valued in Chinese tradition and hot pot is just a suitable occasion. Friends and family sit around the hot pot, dining and talking in warm and harmonious atmosphere. Anything more interesting and happier?
Aside from sharp and strong tastes, there are also complexed flavors popularized over the region.
Guai Wei, or Multi-flavored Type
The taste mixes many flavors all together in a balancing and notable sense, concluding by a word Guai, for the character in Chinese means strange and freaky. The relish of multi-flavored type forms a variety of taste which mostly applied to cold dishes. To avoid strangeness and achieve harmony, proportion is the key. A typical dressing recipe contains the following ingredients.
60g soy sauce 25g sugar
20g vinegar 5g salt
5g Sichuan pepper powder 50g chili oil,
20g sesame paste 20g baked sesame
20g sesame oil 10g mashed ginger
10g mashed garlic 30g broad bean chili paste
10g diced shallot 1 bowl of chicken broth
After mixing thoroughly, the dressing could apply to sliced chicken, cucumber or cold noodle, mostly cold dishes. Why not try the recipe and feel the finger-licking wonder of Chuan cuisine?
Multi-flavored peanuts, beef and duck
Jia Chang, or Home-style Flavor
The word home in the name reveals the availability and acceptability to every household. The flavor, with a characteristic of saltiness and umami, is most sweeping type that seasoned with broad bean chili paste, red pepper, cooking wine, soy sauce, tempeh and sweet sauce. To different tastes, there may be a slightly sweetness or sourness in the aftertaste.
Twice-cooked sliced pork is the top representative with home-style flavor in Chuan cuisine, a simplification and return to the original nature of food material. The secret of being mouthwatering and delicacy lies in the sophistication and exquisiteness of cooking.
- Add water to more than half of a pot and put the whole pork butt, with cooking wine and sliced ginger to remove the unpleasant smell, for about three minutes to half boiled. Then take it out and slice it thin and broad.
- Pat the white stems of garlic sprouts until a sharp scent is felt and then cut into sections.
- Heat a pot with cooking oil high. Add a spoon of broad bean chili paste and stir-fry to scent. Then quick-fry the pork butt slices, seasoning a few sugar and cooking wine, for about 30 minutes.
- Add the garlic sprouts sections and stir-fry for 2 minutes and then salt to your preference.
Tips: Beside garlic sprouts, green onion, chili peppers, pickles, cabbage or carrot are also smart choices to be paired with in the dish.
Twice-cooked sliced pork with onion and cabbage
Home-style tofu and potato slices
Yu Xiang, or Fish-flavored Type
Yu Xiang，literally translated as the fragrance of fish, is a seasoning mixture derived from the method of cooking fish in the folk of Sichuan. To remove the fishy smell, strong seasoning and spices are necessary. The type tastes salty sweet, a little sour and slightly spicy, with a rich aroma of ginger, garlic and green onion. Fish-Flavored pork slices had won the reputation as the quintessence.
- Clean and fillet the pork, adding a little salt, cooking wine, and potato starch. Marinate for about 10 minutes.
- Prepare a sauce of salt, sugar, vinegar, soy sauce and chicken broth as the final dressing.
- Shred agaric and green pepper, or bamboo shoots as an optional, along with green onion, ginger and garlic.
- Heat a pot with cooking oil medium. Quick-fry the pork slices to gray. Then add shredded ginger, garlic and pickled pepper and stir-fry to fragrant and glowing red. Stir in the rest ingredients.
- Dress thin with the starchy sauce prepared.
The signature of the dish is rich in fragrance with an attractive luminance. What a lip-smacking temptation!
Fish-flavored meat ball and eggplants
Now here are the most popular flavors in Chuan cuisine. Which attracts you most?