Tag Archives: Szechuan peppercorns

Riffing On Cookbooks: David Chang’s Spicy Pork Sausage & Rice Cakes

I have an ever-expanding collection of cookbooks, chef memoirs, food and travel related novels. These hefty volumes used to anchor the bottom rungs of my living room bookshelves, but recently have begun to climb upwards—even threatening to evict my “please-be-in-awe-of-my-intelligence-and-take-me-seriously” foreign policy books.

Given my affinity for Asian cuisine, perhaps it’s not surprising that one of my favorite cookbooks is Chef David Chang’s, Momofuku. His recipe for fried chicken is reason enough to buy the book. Brined, steamed, fried and tossed in a spicy, salty, garlicky, gingery vinaigrette, it just might be the best fried chicken I’ve ever cooked or eaten. Unfortunately, making the delectable fried chicken requires a 2-day commitment (there’s the brining, steaming and drying before you ever get to the actual frying part!), thereby limiting my juicy bird feasts to a few sporadic times a year.

However, there are other recipes of note. One of which is the Spicy Pork Sausage & Rice Cakes. Onions, garlic, Sichuan peppercorns, dried chilies, Chinese fermented bean sauce & spicy Korean chili powder make for a complex and highly addictive dish.

As tasty as Chef Chang’s dish is, after a couple times of faithfully following the recipe I began to deviate. In fact I don’t use the recipe any more, rather I use the idea of the dish as inspiration for my own. Each time I riff on the original, simply using whatever I have on hand. Sometimes I’ll use ground pork, the next time bacon (if you use bacon sparingly it won’t overwhelm your dish, just enhance everything with its goodness). This weeks’ version consisted of a shiitake & enoki mushrooms, bok choy, onions, silken tofu, Korean rice sticks and ground pork.

And for a robust vegetarian dish simply cut out the meat completely and colorfully market it as a… Mushroom & Tofu Sichuan Ragù.

Serves 2

4 Tbs. neutral oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
½ lb. ground pork (or 2 strips of bacon, thinly sliced)
10 shiitake caps, sliced*
1 bunch enoki mushrooms, last inch of the ends removed
1 cup dried chilies
1 Tbs. Sichuan peppercorns
3 garlic cloves, sliced
1 Tbs. chili black bean sauce
1 tsp. kochukara (Korean chili powder)**
1 Tbs. soy sauce
½ cup mushroom stock
2 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. sesame oil
1 cup mini rice sticks
2 cups roughly chopped Chinese greens (snow pea shoots, tatsoi, bok choy)
1 packet silken tofu, drained
2 scallion stalks, sliced
½ cup fried shallots***

  • Put a large pot of water on to boil (if this boils before you are ready to add the rice sticks just turn it off and keep it covered until it’s needed)
  • Heat 1 Tbs. of oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the onions and ½ tsp. of salt. Cook, stirring often until the onions begin to melt and turn translucent, about 5 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until golden. About 10 minutes longer.
  • While the onions are cooking place another large skillet & 1 Tbs. of oil over high heat. When the oil is lightly smoking add the shiitake, cook for 1 min. Add the enoki and cook 1 minute more or until mushrooms are soft. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  • Return the skillet to the stove. Turn the heat to high and add 1 Tbs. oil. Add the ground pork and ½ tsp. of salt and ¼ tsp. of white pepper. Brown the pork, breaking apart any clumps as you go along. Once the meat is brown, about 1-2 minutes, remove & set aside.
  • Buzz the Sichuan peppercorns in a spice or coffee grinder. Pour 1 Tbs. of oil into the skillet. While the oil is still cold add the sliced garlic, dried chilies and ground Sichuan peppercorns. Turn the heat to medium high. When the color of the chilies begins to darken and the garlic becomes fragrant pull the skillet off the heat.
  • Stir in the chili bean sauce & kochukara. Return to the heat. Cook for 30 seconds, stirring quickly. Add the mushroom stock, soy sauce and sugar. Stir.
  • Add the onions, mushrooms, ground pork & sesame oil. Stir through for a quick minute. Remove from the heat.
  • Salt the pot of boiling water generously and add the rice sticks. Cook for 2-3 min. Add the chopped greens. Cook for 30 sec – 1 min. Greens should be slightly wilted but still bright green. Drain.
  • Return the mushroom mixture to the heat. Add the drained rice sticks & Chinese greens.
  • In a separate bowl whisk the tofu until creamy then add it to the mixture on the stove. Stirring through as the ragu returns to a boil.
  • Divide the ragu between 2 bowls. Top with scallions and fried shallots.
  • Serve with steamed rice and enjoy immediately.

A shot of dinner from a couple weeks back… the bacon version

Cooks’ Notes:

*When you bring home the mushrooms remove the stems from each shiitake cap. Place them in a small pot with 2 cups of cold water and ½ tsp. salt. Bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and simmer for 30 min. Strain and reserve.

**I found kochukara at Super H Mart in VA. It’s incredibly spicy so be careful when adding it to the dish.

***Readily available at Asian supermarkets

Fish-Fragrant Eggplant: Yuxiang Qiezi

Fish-fragrant eggplant is arguably one of the most popular vegetable dishes on many Chinese restaurant menus. Unfortunately, it is frequently violated by excess sugar, soy sauce and corn starch. This recipe, adapted from the Beijing cooking school Black Sesame Kitchen, is beautifully balanced. The black vinegar adds a touch of acidity that lifts the whole dish. Try infusing the oil with a few Szechuan peppercorns prior to cooking, their tongue tingling properties are sure to add a bit of mystery and fun to your dinner.



2 Chinese or Japanese eggplants
Rice flour (about 1/2 cup)
Vegetable or peanut oil for frying
2 tablespoons broad-bean paste*
2 teaspoons ginger, minced
2 teaspoons garlic, minced
1 leek (white part only), minced
¼ cup water
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon soy sauce
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cornstarch (dissolved in 1 teaspoon of water)
1 teaspoon black vinegar

  • Cut the eggplants into 1 inch diagonal pieces (turn the eggplant slightly after each diagonal slice so you end up with diamond shaped pieces). Toss the eggplants with the rice flour, lightly coating each piece.
  • Heat the oil in a wok or deep frying pan. Heat for about 5 minutes (you want to see white smoke drifting off the sides of the pan)
  • Add eggplant to oil, deep-fry for 3-4 minutes until golden. Remove eggplant with spider or similar straining device. Drain the oil from pan (feel free to use a second pan or wok if you want)
  • Return two tablespoons of oil to the pan. Add broad bean paste, cook for 30 seconds. Add minced ginger, garlic and leek. Cook for another 30 seconds. Add water, sugar, soy sauce and salt. Stir.
  • Return cooked eggplants to the pan, toss gently in the sauce for a few minutes. Stir in the cornstarch mixture to thicken. Add black vinegar.
  • Remove from heat and serve immediately
Cook’s Notes*When purchasing douban jiang, broad-bean paste, look for ones from Pixian. This is a county in Szechuan where the best brand comes from

*If you want to add Szechuan peppercorns and/or dried chili peppers roast them in the oil before adding the broad bean paste. Just remember to remove them once they turn brown and before adding any other ingredients.

*When cooking with a wok you want to have all your prep completed and on hand before you begin the cooking process so that you can work quickly and efficiently. Actual cooking time should be minimal.

A Compromised Roast Chicken

How many times have you heard the words, “Marriage is about compromise”? It’s an over-used statement that’s tossed out by an exasperated marriage counselor trying to solve a bickering couple’s problems, or by a sheepish husband explaining to his buddies why he bought his wife yet another pair of Louboutin pumps instead of season tickets to his favorite team, or even by a tipsy wife gossiping to her girlfriends about how she dons a French maid outfit in exchange for a 15-minute foot rub and a week off from dishwashing duty.

Marital compromise manifests itself differently for every couple. Those in bi-cultural marriages like myself may find much of it taking place in the kitchen.

Asians like rice. That’s not a stereotype. It’s a simple fact. I NEED to eat rice at least 4 times a week, preferably sushi grade: white, round, shiny, and slightly sticky so that it forms light balls on the tip of my chopsticks. In comparison, my husband would hardly notice if blight destroyed all short grain rice. When we met he could correctly identify only one type; it came in an orange box and was ready in minutes.

I like fish. He hates it. So I don’t cook it in the house (at least while he’s home). I love dried squid, but am banished to the balcony to eat my pungent snack in shame, far removed from his olfactory sensitivities.

Over our 11 years together, my husband’s palate has grown accustomed to—even fond of—Asian flavors. He likes soy sauce, rice vinegar and tofu almost as much as I do, but still craves the occasional PB&J, bowl of chicken noodle soup (ramen doesn’t count) and Italian sub.

The roast chicken below started out as a way to sneak a little Asian-ness into a traditional western family dinner. The spiced brine makes the chicken so flavorful that I’m more than content to leave the chopsticks in the drawer for the night. On the other side of the marital divide, my hubby’s so satisfied with his meat and potatoes that I can usually get a 15-minute foot rub from him… sans further compromise.

2 Tbs. Szechuan peppercorns
1 tsp. black peppercorns
1 tsp. coriander seeds
5 whole cloves
2 Tbs. salt
2 tsp. sugar
3 cups water: one hot, 2 cold
Rind of 1 lemon
10 sprigs of cilantro
1 shallot, sliced
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 whole chicken, halved

  • To make the brine toast the first four ingredients in a small skillet. Toss lightly over medium heat for three minutes or until fragrant and slightly darker.
  • Dissolve salt and sugar in one cup of hot water (I like to put the cup in the microwave for 1½ minutes). Add the toasted spices. Steep (sit and soak) for five minutes.
  • Combine the lemon rind, cilantro, shallot and garlic in a deep pot or baking dish (you can use anything large and deep enough to submerge two chicken halves in).
  • Halve the chicken by cutting down both sides of the breastplate. Once the front is halved, flip the chicken over and press down to flatten. Cut along both sides of the backbone, removing it completely.
  • Place the chicken in the deep dish. Add the water with the spices plus enough cold water to submerge both halves. Cover and refrigerate for at least six hours.
  • After 6-8 hours remove the chicken from the brine. Pat dry and allow chicken to come up to room temperature.
  • Heat a skillet and oil over medium high heat. Sear chicken on all sides, 6-7 minutes total. Transfer to a 400°F oven. Roast for 25 minutes or until the internal temperature reads 160°F (check the temperature in the dense thigh rather than the breast). Flip the chicken skin-side-up for the final 5 minutes.
  • Once cooked, remove the chicken from the oven. If your family isn’t mobbing the kitchen like a pack of hungry zombies I recommend resting the chicken for 5-10 minutes.
  • The beauty of a roast chicken is that it can really be served with anything. I like it with pan roasted potatoes and spinach that’s been quickly tossed in a hot pan with garlic and a squeeze of lemon.