Barbara will be taking a few months off from hosting the Spice is Right due to the imminent arrival of the newest member of her family and she's left us back in school.
This month we were challenged to pick a spice that we haven't used or know little about and learn about it.
The spice I've chosen is Sichuan Pepper (also known as Szechuan and Szechwan Pepper) - I do have it in my spice drawer yet have not used it, so this is the perfect opportunity to experiment.
Although it's called pepper, it's not a pepper at all. They are in fact berries from the Prickly Ash - a native of the Sichuan province of China. They have a unique earthy aroma with musky hints of lemon - inhaling deeply of it's scent is quite cleansing, perhaps there are tinges of anise flavourings. There isn't a chilli hot sensation in it's scent but due to the presence of hydroxy-alpha-sanshool you can experience a slight mouth tingling sensation when eaten.
In pre-15th century Sichuan cuisine, the combination of Sichuan pepper and ginger gave the food it's spicy overtones. With the introduction of the red chilli in the 15th century this changed the face of Sichuan cooking - the chilli now providing it's characteristic spiciness.
Processing happens in the following manner - after the russet coloured berries are picked, they are dried. Then they are cracked and their bitter, black seeds removed. The husks are then crushed and it's this that forms the Sichuan Peppercorns.
It's actually one of the spices that make up Chinese Five Spice powder and Shichimi Togarashi, Japanese seven spice powder.
To extract the most flavour from the pepper, it's best to dry roast it before grinding.
The recipe I'm making is adapted from Let it Simmer by Sean Moran to produce a twist on Pepper Steak.
Sichuan Pepper Steak
1 skirt steak (800-900 grams)
2 cloves garlic, peeled, sliced finely
1 large red chilli, finely diced
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
125ml/½ cup soy sauce
125ml/½ cup olive oil
freshly ground Sichuan pepper
Prepare the steak by removing any of the silvery sinew before placing it in a non-reactive bowl.
Mix the chilli and garlic with the vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, Soy and oil and pour it over the meat. Massage this into the meat (because of the chilli this is best done with gloves) before covering and placing it in the fridge to marinate. Leave it overnight - don't forget to turn the meat over a few times while it's marinating.
Take it out of the fridge about half an hour before you intend cooking it to bring it back to temperature. Using paper towels, pat the steak dry before grinding over with Sichuan pepper.
You can cook this in whatever method is your favourite - bbq, grill pan or simply a frypan and to the degree in which you prefer. I've cooked this rare. However you do it, remember to rest the meat to ensure the best result.
While the meat is resting, place the marinade into a saucepan and boil to reduce to a syrupy consistency.
Slice the meat across the grain and at a slight angle.
I've served this on simply on steamed asparagus spears - I've folded each slice in half then drizzled over the thick marinade
The meat is wonderfully tender with a kick from the chilli and a lemon influence from the Sichuan pepper. The plain asparagus offsets the flavoursome dish.
I want to end this by wishing Barbara and her family all the best during this most exciting time!
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