By Freya Ensbey, images and recipes from Elaine's delicious blog - chinasichuanfood.com.
Szechuan, Szechwan or Sichuan, the spelling of the cuisine may vary with different language translations, but the end result to touch your tongue will undoubtedly be the same; entirely enjoyable.
Originally hailing from the Sichuan province in southwestern China, across the border of Myanmar (Burma), the Sichuan cuisine has made many evolutions throughout the years to become what it is known and loved for today, being China’s most popular cuisine.
The region is typically known for its poor weather, with high humidity and predominately rainy days, creating the ideal climate for the Sichuan Red Peppercorn to grow, the most unique and important spice within the Sichuan cuisine. With an intense fragrance and unusual citrus-like flavour, the red pepper leaves a tingling and numbing sensation in the mouth which has made it a popular ingredient to add that extra punch to a dish. The temperamental climate has also seen locals create a variety of food preservation techniques like pickling, salting, drying and smoking to create a longer lasting product, with many dishes still today served with a side of pickled vegetables.
Sichuan cuisine is also known for having more beef dishes than other types of Chinese cuisines, which is due to the abundance of oxen farming in the area and the availability of affordable meats on offer for purchase, like pork and rabbit.
During the middle ages, the region began crop trading with Western Asia, which saw the addition of beans, sesame and walnuts combined with the rice and vegetables already plentiful around the Sichuan basin. This added a plant base to the meat heavy dishes and created the well-rounded nutritional cuisine known day.
One of the alluring qualities for many is the cuisine’s diversity, offering something for everyone from vegetarian dishes, soups, broths, noodles, offal and bubbling hot pots, catering to any taste and budget.
For a moreish entrée to serve when enjoying drinks with friends, try your hand at sizzling some Sichuan yourself and whip up these tasty Sichuan Dry Fried Green Beans. With added texture from crispy minced pork, and flavours from soy sauce, ginger, garlic, cloves and of course Sichuan peppercorns, these crunchy green morsels won’t last long. Serve with a glass of crisp, chilled Riesling for a perfect pairing.
For a traditional main, dish up a steaming bowl of soul warming Sichuan Boiled Beef (Shui Zhu Beef). Starting with a white wine, Sichuan pepper, chilli bean sauce and dou-chi (salted black soybean) broth base, the beef steaks are firstly coated in corn flour then gently boiled in the tasty broth, a cooking technique used throughout Sichuan cuisine. This method gives the beef a melt-in-your-mouth texture and allows the meat to soak up the flavours. This recipe can also be adapted to include fish or pork for those who prefer.
As the rise of Sichuan continues to make its mark on the Australian dining scene, be inspired by the Chinese culture as a whole and take a visit to some of our country’s best Chinese restaurants here.