for the sauce:
2 teaspoon palm sugar
2 teaspoons dark soy sauce
2 teaspoons light soy sauce
2 teaspoons black vinegar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon black sesame oil
1 teaspoon shaoxing
1 lb Chinese Broccoli, cut into manageable pieces
1 lb peeled medium sized shrimp
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 inch knob ginger, grated
2 shallots, minced
1 tablespoon whole Sichuan peppercorns
2 tablespoons canola oil
10 dried Chinese red chilies, cut in half and seeds discarded
5 dried shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated and sliced thinly
hot white rice
Whisk together all of the sauce ingredients in a small bowl and set aside. Heat the oil in a wok or skillet. When the oil is hot add the chiles and peppercorns and stir-fry for a few seconds until they are fragrant, breaking the peppercorns a bit with the back of a spoon. Next, add the shallot, rehydrated mushrooms, garlic, and ginger and stir-fry for an additional minute. Add the shrimp and vegetables and stir-fry for a few minutes. When the shrimp is almost fully cooked, pour in the sauce and stir-fry, taking care that the sauce is evenly distributed, until the shrimp is fully cooked and pink.
Sichuan (AKA Szechwan, Szechuan) peppercorns, are the last culinary coup around these parts. Finally located* after many, many months of searching local shops, I finally got to experiment with them. While they may be called “peppercorns”, it is a bit of a misnomer as they are actually the outer pod (the seeds are removed) of a fruit and aren’t related to chiles or pepper. They are used in many spicy dishes but they are not what is generally thought of as hot and don’t have a pungent aroma like chiles. They do have sort of citrus flavor. So if they are not hot, then why are they used so frequently in spicy dishes? They have a chemical that causes an interesting tingle and numbness in the mouth that really sets off any sort of spiciness. It’s not a “fresh from the dentist” numbness but sort of a subtle almost cooling, tingle in your mouth and throat. Adding the dried red chiles to the dish creates a meal that is pleasantly spicy but not burn-your-mouth hot.
*At Towson Oriental Market, for you locals. Ask at the counter for help because they look a lot like another spice, are not labled in English and the design of the packaging makes it difficult to make out their distinctive shape.