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Sichuan Peppercorns at 99 Ranch

gordon wing Dec 28, 2008 10:25 AM

Was at 99 Ranch in Richmond this morning and noticed that they have packages of sichuan peppercorns in the spice aisle. I mention this because I haven't noticed them here before and it's easier for most folks than Chinatown. 4 oz. packages were $1.99 IIRC.

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  1. yimster RE: gordon wing Dec 28, 2008 12:15 PM

    99Ranch has had sixhuan peppercorns on and off at the Foster City location. I have been lucky to find them in Chinatown for six dollars or less a pound, so the price is right.

    2 Replies
    1. re: yimster
      osho RE: yimster Sep 12, 2009 08:36 AM

      Where did you find them at the Ranch FC location ? Which aisle ? I tried asking a lot of the employees and even some customers, but no one seemed to know !

      1. re: osho
        yimster RE: osho Sep 12, 2009 09:23 AM

        I have not seen them recently there. I purchased a pound from Loin's Supermarket in the San Jose about six months ago. I will check next time I am at 99Ranch.

        But I was told recently by my cousin he got some in Chinatown. I will be seeing him in a couple of weeks and will ask where got his. He was making a dish that need them and asked me to gave him some if he did find any and that the only reason I know he got his in San Francisco Chinatown.

    2. DezzerSF RE: gordon wing Dec 28, 2008 12:29 PM

      I've seen them at the Milpitas 99 Ranch as well. Make sure you boil them first!

      9 Replies
      1. re: DezzerSF
        DebL RE: DezzerSF Dec 28, 2008 04:01 PM

        Why boil first?
        Aren't they heat treated before being allowed in the country?
        Penzey's in Menlo Park has them, too.

        1. re: DebL
          DezzerSF RE: DebL Dec 28, 2008 04:13 PM

          I think the packages themselves say to boil them before using. I didn't when I first used them and they weren't too friendly on the stomach.

          1. re: DebL
            realspear RE: DebL Dec 28, 2008 05:58 PM

            I pan-toast them and then strain them. I don't think the shells are supposed to be eaten, and roasting them leaves the shell behind. Boiling may remove the shell also, although I have never tried it.

            1. re: realspear
              gordon wing RE: realspear Dec 28, 2008 07:40 PM

              dry roasting them does heighten the flavor - they are often ground up after that - as part of 5 spice powder. or you can use them whole to flavor soups or braising liquids ( master sauces or in red cooking ) I don't generally eat them in their whole state ( in the shell ).

              1. re: realspear
                Ozumo RE: realspear Dec 28, 2008 10:50 PM

                This was news to me (not eating the shell), so I looked up sichuan peppercorns on Wikipedia and it says this:

                "Sichuan pepper has a unique aroma and flavour that is not hot or pungent like black or white pepper, or chili peppers, but has slight lemony overtones and creates a tingly numbness in the mouth (caused by its 3% of hydroxy-alpha-sanshool) that sets the stage for these hot spices. Recipes often suggest lightly toasting and then crushing the tiny seedpods before adding them to food. Only the husks are used; the shiny black seeds are discarded or ignored as they have a very gritty sand-like texture. It is generally added at the last moment."

                Also I found a link to a spice seller on-line that hand removes the seeds and stems for the same reasons, so I think what you are doing is throwing out the good part and eating the bad part. I always just grind them into my dishes whole, seeds stems and all, out of laziness, but maybe on my next bag I'll sort them.

                1. re: Ozumo
                  gordon wing RE: Ozumo Dec 29, 2008 08:04 AM

                  grinding up the peppercorns eliminates the "gritty sand like texture" but leaves the flavor ....... and in a braise I like their flavor well enough - I don't care to eat the peppercorns - I strain them out. But of course one could eat the peppercorns.

                  1. re: gordon wing
                    realspear RE: gordon wing Dec 29, 2008 09:26 PM

                    I'm not expert on these things, I didn't use them until a few years ago. The cookbook I have that talks about them says, "To use, place S.P. in an ungreased skillet and toast until the pepper smokes slightly. Transfer to a coffee or spice grinder and pulverize. Tip into a sieve with a medium mesh and shake. The light brown shells remaining in the sieve have no taste and should be discarded." As I said, this isn't an area of expertise for me, the results seem to work well but I have no idea if it's worth going through the effort.

                    1. re: realspear
                      gordon wing RE: realspear Dec 29, 2008 09:43 PM

                      What you're doing sounds good to me ....... if you like the results I would continue ( keep on keepin' on )

                  2. re: Ozumo
                    P. Punko RE: Ozumo Dec 30, 2008 11:02 PM

                    Some bags are just reddish husks, some backs have both husks and little black seeds/spheres- these are incredibly tough. They can also be labeled "prickly ash" or "prickly red ash"- they are usually by the fried shallots, etc. as someone mentioned (spices in bags, not spices in jars). I will take a picture and upload it into this thread tomorrow.

            2. Chuckles the Clone RE: gordon wing Dec 28, 2008 08:06 PM

              Thanks! They definitely didn't have them several weeks
              ago nor last summer when I was looking for them there.

              How are they labeled?

              2 Replies
              1. re: Chuckles the Clone
                gordon wing RE: Chuckles the Clone Dec 29, 2008 08:07 AM

                They are in a clear package and labelled sichuan pepperlings or something like that in Chinglish. In the Richmond store they are on the bottom shelf of the aisle that has fried shallots and fried garlic, and other spices: black pepper, sesame seeds, etc....

                1. re: gordon wing
                  Chuckles the Clone RE: gordon wing Jan 14, 2009 06:34 PM

                  I was there yesterday afternoon and could not find them. Plenty of black, white, and
                  red pepper but nothing sichuan anything.

              2. eatzalot RE: gordon wing Dec 29, 2008 10:59 AM

                This unique spice (misnamed via "pepper" because it is a citrus, and shows it), indispensable for subtle savory Sichuan dishes, has always been available in local Chinese shops around the Bay Area. If there's a Chinese herb shop, or good independent grocery, near you it's worth asking.

                Wikipedia for once seems to have things fairly accurate in this food specialty, except that in my cooking experience (pan-roasting, then optionally crushing, and adding to dishes that usually are stewed) no harm came from using the entire spice, the seed part was not especially hard or objectionable after moist cooking, and also the Chinese recipe sources did not recommend anything but the whole spice.

                2 Replies
                1. re: eatzalot
                  gordon wing RE: eatzalot Dec 29, 2008 03:10 PM

                  "This spice has always available in local Chinese shops around the Bay Area"
                  Not sure if you have some secret source in Chinatown or not but Sichuan Peppercorns were not that readily available a few years back. The USDA began to enforce their ban of them from 2002 - 2005. In 2005 they relented and allowed the import of them if they are heated to 160*F. A few stores in Chinatown had some supplies that they continued to sell to those in the know but after a few years even those supplies did get very low /or exhausted - leading to several queries right here on Chowhound about where to get Sichuan Peppercorns. Here's a wikipedia link:

                  1. re: gordon wing
                    eatzalot RE: gordon wing Dec 29, 2008 10:20 PM

                    "Not sure if you have some secret source in Chinatown or not..." Not. Thanks for info, Gordon, but I did know that and meant what I wrote. I found the spice without much trouble continuously in various parts of the region -- not specifically SF as I recall -- including during the "ban." At that time some shops did not carry it but I kept asking until I found it. (I assumed they sold pre-ban stock, naturally, but as a gringo stranger I encountered no hesitation. Unlike, say, during the Iranian-import ban when innocent questions re source of some pomegranate purees at another shop brought over-eager response from the two proprietors: "Lebanon!" "Yes, yes., Lebanon!") Maybe I was lucky not to be asking in Chinatown, where demand was possibly greater.

                    As a tongue-in-cheek comparison (given I have no evidence of Sichuan Peppercorn bootlegging) please note that US government (via an enabling Constitutional amendment in 1919) banned most spirituous liquors for 14 years during which its per capita consumption and number of outlets in major cities both increased as a result.

                2. DezzerSF RE: gordon wing Dec 29, 2008 09:54 PM

                  So no one's eaten them before? Aren't they served whole in Chongqing chicken, where an unsuspecting one can make it into one's mouth?

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: DezzerSF
                    P. Punko RE: DezzerSF Dec 30, 2008 11:06 PM

                    Yeah, sometimes a whole husks will be sprinkled through the Chonqing dishes. Like a numb-bomb. But it will just be the empty husk and never the black seed. It really sucks that they can be packaged both ways, and unless you've been told explicitly, you just won't know the difference. Hence our very very gritty first stab at a Sichuan dish at home with the first bag if Sichuan peppercorns we had found (including the hard, black seeds). Second bag went much better (just husks).

                    1. re: P. Punko
                      SteveG RE: P. Punko Dec 31, 2008 11:47 AM

                      This is all news to me. I've been grinding them up in my mortar and pestle, letting the lighter pieces of husks push to the edges, then filtering it through a sieve. It's pretty fast once you get the hang of it, but most of what I've been eating is the ground up seed. I'll look for bags of just the husk next time I'm at New May Wah.

                      1. re: SteveG
                        P. Punko RE: SteveG Dec 31, 2008 02:31 PM

                        Yeah, some chefs even get it wrong- I'm looking at you "All About Braising"

                  2. p
                    P. Punko RE: gordon wing Jan 7, 2009 08:43 PM

                    Promised pic of Sichuan Peppercorns. My bag was almost all husks (good). It was labeled "dehydrated prickly ash". On the right are the peppercorns. On the left is a single seed (black, round, get rid of).

                    1. caryjones RE: gordon wing Jan 8, 2009 07:47 AM

                      Here's a link to an interesting spicey website.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: caryjones
                        gordon wing RE: caryjones Jan 8, 2009 12:51 PM

                        thanks, good information there & lots of it.

                      2. yimster RE: gordon wing Jan 8, 2009 07:50 AM

                        Stop by Lion Super (Curpertino) yesterday and saw a one package of Sichuan peppercorn there in a one pound bag for 6.99. Looks exactly like the pre-ban packages.

                        So if you need a lot there it is.

                        1. ChowFun_derek RE: gordon wing Jan 14, 2009 10:49 PM

                          Okay, I went to Ranch 99 asked for Sichuan peppercorns because I couldn't locate them myself...I was given a package of reddish stuff, with a Panda logo and it says just "Dried Pepper Corn" it is a 'Product of China" and in Vietnamese it is labeled....HoaTieu ....do I actually have Sichuan Pepper Corns? There were also no instructions for usage....

                          8 Replies
                          1. re: ChowFun_derek
                            P. Punko RE: ChowFun_derek Jan 15, 2009 01:08 AM

                            CF- look at my posting above with the picture (Jan 07, 2009 09:43PM)
                            If they look exactly like that, then you have the right thing. They are red/orange and look like little spherical husks. To use them in a dish, most of the time you toast them lightly in a pan and then grind in mortar/pestle or spice mill. I guess standard operating procedure with spices. For many dishes, you can prepare some sichuan pepper chili oil (chilies for heat, sichuan pepper for numbing zing)- there are recipes on the web, like so:


                            Just did some searching on the web and Hoa Tieu seems to be the Vietnamese name for the right plant, so I think you got the right stuff!

                            1. re: P. Punko
                              ChowFun_derek RE: P. Punko Jan 15, 2009 07:36 AM

                              P. thank you for your post(s) Your photo is exactly what I have..who knew You could Google Vietnamese??!!!
                              I downloaded the recipe...it's nice to avoid having to toast and grind the peppercorns each time you need the spice, and here you just add a few drops of flavored oil....Do you think 'Peanut" is absolutely necessary, or would any neutral oil work as well?

                              1. re: ChowFun_derek
                                P. Punko RE: ChowFun_derek Jan 15, 2009 10:00 AM

                                I had Google translate a page, which was totally unhelpful BUT the page also had Latin genus and species name, and I compared that to caryjones' awesome link above and voila!

                                Peanut oil I think would add a little bit of nutty taste, but vegetable oil would be fine.

                                You might have to adjust the amount of numbing taste you get- as you may know, there must be a lot of variation because whenever I've had Sichuan food the numbing sensation is all over the map- even in dishes that have a lot of the whole peppercorns. Sometimes you'll eat one and it will be a pleasant buzz, sometimes you eat one and your tongue is just completely wiped out (I don't like it this way- it's too much).

                            2. re: ChowFun_derek
                              Chuckles the Clone RE: ChowFun_derek Jan 15, 2009 09:36 AM

                              So where in the store did you find it? Alternatively, how did you find someone to ask?
                              The woman behind the odd candy/electric razors/liquor display was not able to be
                              helpful at all.

                              1. re: Chuckles the Clone
                                P. Punko RE: Chuckles the Clone Jan 15, 2009 09:54 AM

                                I've never gotten help from asking. When they have them at 99 Ranch or Lion, they are always with the bagged spices. So look for the aisle with cassia bark, star anise, bagged fried shallots and other stuff. They are always towards the bottom shelf. Sometimes they are labeled "prickly ash."

                                1. re: Chuckles the Clone
                                  ChowFun_derek RE: Chuckles the Clone Jan 15, 2009 08:24 PM

                                  I was at the Ranch 99 in Daly City off 35......I asked a woman near the checkout, and she walked me over and picked it out for me...It didn't say Sichuan, so I regaled her with my "Huge" knowledge of Chinese asking if it created "Mah Lah" (numbing)...Who knows if the tones I used were in a completely different dialect, or whether I was saying what I thought I was...but I guess she did, cause I did get the real thing!

                                  1. re: ChowFun_derek
                                    yimster RE: ChowFun_derek Jan 16, 2009 11:22 PM

                                    Please "huge" knowledge of Chinese. Remember you wanted a Chinese fried dough "bomb" and you asked for a "sex" bomb. We also lost our lives. :>)

                                    1. re: yimster
                                      ChowFun_derek RE: yimster Jan 17, 2009 08:21 PM

                                      That is why I placed "huge" in quotation marks! I did remember my 'tonal' confusion...so although "Mah Lah" came out of my mouth..who knows what I really said!!!

                              2. b
                                bigwheel042 RE: gordon wing Jul 27, 2009 08:07 PM

                                Bumping this thread up. Are there any stores in SF that carry sichuan peppercorns? The Daly City 99 Ranch is hard for me to get to without a car.

                                8 Replies
                                1. re: bigwheel042
                                  baybritta RE: bigwheel042 Jul 27, 2009 09:44 PM

                                  I managed to get some at my neighborhood grocery store "Haight Ashbury Market". They are packaged through Spicely - those little green cardboard boxes. I've also picked up Long Peppers from them.

                                  Good Luck!

                                  1. re: baybritta
                                    Chuckles the Clone RE: baybritta Jul 28, 2009 12:17 PM

                                    Found them in one of the two Spicely racks in the east Berkeley Bowl. The rack at the end of the freezer aisle, not on the rack in the actual spice aisle. $1.99 for 0.3oz. Not quite the same deal as at 99 Ranch.

                                    1. re: Chuckles the Clone
                                      bradluen RE: Chuckles the Clone Jul 29, 2009 04:29 AM

                                      In Berkeley, they were $2/oz at Lhasa Karnak last time I got them.

                                  2. re: bigwheel042
                                    caryjones RE: bigwheel042 Jul 28, 2009 08:59 AM

                                    You can find them at May Wah on Clement at 8th.

                                    1. re: bigwheel042
                                      david kaplan RE: bigwheel042 Jul 29, 2009 10:06 AM

                                      I bought a one-pound bag at the herbalist on Jackson just east of Grant, south side of street, in SF Chinatown. Don't recall the name.

                                      1. re: david kaplan
                                        david kaplan RE: david kaplan Jul 29, 2009 03:41 PM

                                        Just walked past the place: 665 Jackson, corner of the little side street between and parallel to Kearny and Grant. Wan Hua Co, I believe.

                                      2. re: bigwheel042
                                        SteveG RE: bigwheel042 Jul 29, 2009 12:49 PM

                                        This ingredient is no longer hard to find, as import limitations seem to have been dropped or loosened. I'd guess any Chinese market would have them, and probably any market serving asian customers generally. New May Wah is a fairly large Chinese/Pan-Asian supermarket that has them, plenty of other smaller markets in SF will too. The mini San Bruno Ave chinatown probably has a few stores, Clement St and the traditional Chinatown each do for sure.

                                        1. re: SteveG
                                          bigwheel042 RE: SteveG Jul 29, 2009 03:30 PM

                                          Yep, I found a bag at Sunset Super on Irving. Thanks for the tips!

                                      3. Lando RE: gordon wing Jul 28, 2009 10:25 AM

                                        If you're willing to make the drive out to Menlo Park, Penzeys Spices has Schezuan Pepper.

                                        1. s
                                          shantihhh RE: gordon wing Sep 14, 2009 01:46 PM

                                          I use Prickley Ash (Tingly Oil) which is Sichuan Peppercorn oil! Same flavour and no grittiness! I buy it at Le Asia on Alcosta in San Ramon, but I am sure it is readily available in Chinese Markets. It will be in the oil section near such as Sesame seed oil.

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