Sichuan pepper is an indispensable ingredient in Sichuan cuisine, to which it adds its signature aroma and a light tingling sensation in the mouth.

It is also a key component of Chinese Five Spice, which is arguably the most iconic Chinese spice blend used across China and beyond.

In my dish today, freshly ground Sichuan pepper makes the basis of a simple oil that is tossed with poached and cooled shrimp. The oil accentuates the alluring characters of this unique spice, giving vigor and excitement to the shrimp.

The key to the dish is making a refined Sichuan pepper powder. You should only use the husks of the peppercorns. That means you need to first go through them to remove the stems and the shiny black seeds, which would give a gritty, sand-like texture to the powder if not discarded. Lightly toasting the husks before grinding gives you a more aromatic powder.

Cooking the shrimp properly is equally important.  In order not to turn them into something rubbery and tasteless, which are sadly often served as shrimp cocktail at parties and receptions, you can use the following tips for juicy and flavorful shrimp:

  • Use wild caught shrimp instead of farm raised ones if possible, and marinate the shrimp before cooking.
  • Add flavors to the poach liquid.
  • Gently poach the shrimp in the shell, which adds flavor and protect shrimp from overcooking.

This easy recipe is perfect for the summer. You can service the shrimp at room temperature either as a main course for a light meal, or as passed hors d’oeuvres at parties.

 

Sichuan pepper shrimp

Makes 2 servings

Ingredients

8 oz (230 g) medium shrimp in the shell
4 teaspoons Sichuan peppercorns, stems and seeds removed
2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine
1 teaspoon Zhenjiang (aka Chinkiang) vinegar
¼  teaspoon salt
Pinch of chile powder, optional
Small cilantro leaves for garnish
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

For the poaching liquid:
Small bunch scallions, cut into 1-inch sections
1-inch ginger, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons salt

Procedure

  1. In a small pan over low heat, lightly toast the Sichuan peppercorns for about 2 minutes, until aromatic. Let cool. Use a spice grinder to grind them into fine powder.
  2. In a bowl, mix the Sichuan pepper powder with the vegetable oil, and chile powder if using.
  3. To devein the shrimp, cut open one or two segments of the shell along the back of the shrimp. Make a shallow slit with a paring knife, and lift out the vein with the tip of the knife or your fingers.  In a bowl, mix the shrimp with the Shaoxing wine and salt, and marinate for 10 minutes.
  4. Add 3 cups of water and ingredients for the poaching liquid to a pot. Bring to a boil and reduce to a gentle simmer. Cook for 10 minutes.
  5. Add the shrimp and marinade to the poaching liquid. Stir to mix. Bring to a boil and immediately turn off the heat. Remove the pot from the heat. Poach the shrimp for 2 minutes, and remove them from the liquid.  The poaching liquid can be strained and used for soaps.
  6. When the shrimp are cooled, peel the shells. Refrigerate if not serving right away. If refrigerated, bring the shrimp to room temperature about 20 minutes before serving.
  7. Right before serving, mix the shrimp with the Sichuan pepper oil and Zhenjiang vinegar, and adjust seasoning with salt if needed. Garnish with the cilantro leaves.
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