Szechuan or Sichuan Peppercorns
Szechuan peppercorns have a strong and unique flavor. When first cooking with these delicacies, start with a small amount. The aromatic, woody, citrusy flavor is enhanced by tingling and slightly numbing sensation these peppercorns impart. In small amounts, this is pleasurable and enhances the dish. In large amounts it overwhelms the dish and is unpleasant.
Use only the husk!
Look for high-quality peppercorns and sort them before using. The berries used to make the peppercorns are sun-dried until they split open, so they appear to be just husks. The berries naturally have a small black seed in the middle which you do not want to uses as it is bitter and gritty. Even in high-quality peppercorns, some seeds and stems slip through so sort your peppercorns to make sure you only use the flavorful husk.
Toast before grinding to release the flavor.
Sort and toast peppercorns (see notes on peppercorn sorting below) by placing them in a small, hot pan. Stir or swirl peppercorns constantly until the aroma is released. Remove to a bowl and cool. Grind peppercorns in a clean spice grinder or use a mortar and pestle. Coffee bean grinders work great for this purpose, but make sure it is clean otherwise you will impart a coffee flavor to the dish. We have a dedicated grinder used only for spices. You can also use a rolling pin and baggie.
The first time we used Szechuan peppercorns, we did not sort and the resultant dish was not pleasant tasting. Then we did our research and can now pass it along to you so you don't make the same mistake.
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