Monday, February 25, 2013
Hot oil in the process of becoming Hot Oil (hong you), being simmered with bay leaves, star anise, black cardamom, cloves, ginger, and garlic. After about 20 minutes on the stove, Sichuan peppercorns and arbol chiles get into the act.
This month’s Saveur magazine featured a piece on the red-hot cuisine of Chengdu, deep in the heart of Sichuan province in China.
I have not been to Chengdu, nor have She Who Must Be Obeyed and I any near-term plans to pay a visit there... but last fall we had a chance to do so by proxy, thanks to the good offices of Houston Steve and Debby, his charming and ever-patient missus. They took a couple of weeks in October to bounce around the Chinese countryside, and what’s a visit to said countryside without stopping by the home of some of the most breathtakingly spicy food on the planet?
The provincial cuisine of Sichuan (AKA Szechwan) was not something I grew up with. In my snot-nose days, pretty much the only Chinese food you’d see in this country - outside of the Chinatown sections of major cities, anyway - was Cantonese. Tasty enough, it was... but compared to some of the other provincial styles, it was admittedly bland. But when Sichuan-style cooking started showing up, it was a revelation. It had personality. It had fire. And a day or so after you ate it, you’d experience that fire all over again in a completely different part of your anatomy.
Some time ago, I purchased a nice big jar of Sichuan peppercorns from the discount pile at a local Foodie Haven. These little pinkish-red fellows are not true peppercorns; they are actually the dried seedpod hulls of a citrus-like tree, and the tingly, buzzing sensation they impart to the tongue is very different from the typical pepper burn. Thus it was when I saw a recipe for hong you - Sichuan hot chile oil - in the abovementioned Saveur magazine, I had to run up a batch immediately.
What’s not to love about a hot oil infused with a metric buttload of arbol chiles, along with Sichuan peppercorns, black cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, bay leaves, ginger, and garlic? I don’t know whether to eat it or use it as liniment.
I cannot wait to taste this stuff. Perhaps I will use it to baste a filet of salmon... that will get the Missus’s attention for sure.
Update: Ohhhh, yeah.