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Jan 31, 2007 11:47 AM


As I work my way through Fuscia Dunlop's wonderful cookbook, Land of Plenty, I am buying a lot of this ingredient. It's taking me forever to remove the stems. Any suggestions on a method quicker than dumping them onto a 1/2-sheet pan and just sorting them out?

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  1. I've never seen stems on Sichuan peppercorns. Perhaps you should try shopping around more? Mine look like squashed peppercorns, dark reddish.

    1 Reply
    1. re: cheryl_h

      I have been buying 4 oz. bags of them in Chinese grocery stores. I've tried 2 or 3 brands and they are all pretty much the same. They are less than $1.50/4oz. bag. Recently while shopping in a new Chinese grocery store I saw 16 oz. bags for $5 but they had stems as well. Most of the stems are not attached to the peppercorns but loose in the bag. I prefer to not order them from online spice suppliers.

    2. Sel, does Dunlop in Land of Plenty recommend removing the stem? The "stem" in this case is actually the peduncle, derived from the fruiting material. I've never bothered to separate it, on the assumption that it contained the same compounds as do the prickly valves of the fruit.

      Would you reprise for us Ms. Dunlop's recommended method? Does she remove stems? Or evenmore, does she ever separate the round corn from the prickly valves and use for different purposes?

      All bags that I've ever bought contained the attached stems, except for that horrid period a few years ago when USDA restricted importation to the heated and ground powder due to citrus canker concerns. With flitting accord to the song from the 70's "Life is but a bag of stems and seeds", it's nice to have the real stuff again.

      What does Dunlop say to do?

      3 Replies
      1. re: FoodFuser

        The only reference that I can find is on the top of page 75 at the end of her instructions for GROUND ROASTED SICHUAN PEPPER (hua jiao mian) where she says to sift the powder after grinding to remove stalks and husks. I did read somewhere that one should remove the stems but I can't recall where. I prefer to pluck out the 'stalks' before roasting and grinding.

        Check the link below for far more than most folks want to know about this wonderful spice:

        1. re: sel

          couldn't you grind in grinder & then sift, as she says? or do they grind up as well?
          i've never removed stems/stalks etc., and i don't see that in chinese restaurants here or in asia that they do either (except maybe in some noodle dishes), and i'm still alive, if that helps...though it's not always my favorite thing to find the stem when i'm chewing. maybe i should give it a try.

          1. re: bbc

            They seem to grind up so it seems prudent to me to pluck out as many as I can before grinding. I also use some whole without grinding and it just seems that they should be removed. Mostly the larger stems that are not attached to the pepper itself.

      2. My method for making powder evolved I believe from Ken Hom's BBC series cookbook from ca. 1985. The book is presently packed in a box during a shelving remodel, but I remember him saying to use only the husks and not the round corn itself. The spice page link above reiterates that the ground round corn can be sandy/gritty.

        When I buy a bag, I transfer it to a glass jar for storage, then make up a few tablespoons at a time of the ground powder. Put the corns into a castiron 8" skillet for stovetop roasting, shaking to roll them until they release fragrance. Empty into a rimmed pizza pan (also my dried bean sorting pan). Then pick them up between palms and grind by palms to get separation of the husks (=pericarp, in above referenced spicepage link), stems, and corns. Once roughly crushed by palm, lift the rimmed pan 10 to 30 degrees, shaking up and down to sift by gravity so that the round corns roll down to rimmed edge, where they are easily removed. Shaking the rimmed pan from side to side spreads the mass out. A good method to remove those that resist fingertip pickout is to use a rounded pencil eraser, barely moistened. Stems can be removed the same way if desired. Discard round seeds, then take husks and grind in spice grinder or pulverize in mortar/pestle. (I presently use a power grinder, but have not yet tried the difference possibly offered by pestle grinding). Unused powder goes into a twisted baggie and back into the jar, but it's freshness degrades over weeks after the initial roasting/grinding.

        Sel, I've just reserved the Dunlop book at my library. Have you found several recipes that make use of pepper powder that you'd suggest we try? (MaPoDofu is one of my favorite dishes, but I'd like to expand the sichuan repertoire).

        2 Replies
        1. re: FoodFuser

          Although Gernot Katzer's authorative site says that most of the aroma and pungency reside in the pericarp, Ms. Dunlop's recipes use the whole pepper intact and ground whole pepper, sometimes both! I therefore don't disgard the round fruit. I have 3 mortar/pestle sets but for this ingredient I use a dedicated 'blender type' coffee grinder.

          I have so many more recipes to try but I love both TRADITIONAL DAN DAN NOODLES dan dan mian pg.87 and XIE LAOBAN'S DAN DAN NOODLES niu rou dan dan mien pg.89. These are dishes that I've made many times cause they are so tasty! SWEET-AND-SOUR PORK tang cu li ji pg.210, ANTS CLIMBING A TREE (BEAN THREAD NOODLES WITH MINCED MEAT) ma yi shang shu pg.219, BOILED BEEF SLICES IN A FIERY SAUCE shui zhu niu rou pg.226 is good but I omit the potato flour as even a small amount makes the sauce too viscous, DRY-FRIED BEEF SLIVERS gan bien niu rou si pg.228, GONG BAO (KUNG PAO) CHICKEN WITH PEANUTS gong bao ji ding pg.237, CHICKEN WITH CHILES la zi ji pg.240 is a quick and simple personal favorite, POCK-MARKED MOTHER CHEN'S BEAN CURD ma po dou fu pg.313 also with a reduced amount of potato flour is my favorite version of this popular dish. I have not made any of the fish dishes or the somewhat more involved SICHUAN HOTPOT pg.347 but they look really really good.

          I have been lucky becaus I have been able to find most of the specific ingredients that F.D. suggests. I think that this is key to acheiving good results.

          Many of Ms. Dunlop's recipes from this book and other's that are not in her first book are available online. I linked many of them in a previous CH post but without 'ADVANCED SEARCH' on CH they are more difficult to find, maybe try Google.

          I also previously posted that F.D. has a second, new cookbook that will be my next cookbook purchase, the Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province.

          Good luck FoodFuser!

          1. re: sel

            Thanks. I'll be getting Dunlop's book in a few days, and will look for her uses of corns vs pericarp.

        2. I checked my bag of Sichuan peppercorns last night and found the stems, or at least I think I did. They're very tiny, both short and skinny. There aren't very many, some are attached to the peppercorn, some are detached. If I weren't looking very hard for them I doubt I would have seen them. I have never bothered to remove these and I've been cooking with these peppercorns for at least 20 years. Why don't you try leaving them in as an experiment and see if you can detect any difference?

          1. The peppercorns I've bought in the US are low quality with stems and even some seeds mixed in. I have tried several sources. The sichuan peppercorns I bought in Shanghai last year were perfect,,no stems and no seeds, just that pinkest outer section.