May 06, 2008

Numbing Hot Shrimp with Chinese Broccoli


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

everything else:
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

to serve:
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.

My thoughts:
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.