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Dec 28, 2008 10:25 AM

Sichuan Peppercorns at 99 Ranch

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. 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

      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

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

      9 Replies
      1. re: DezzerSF

        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

          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

            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

              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

                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

                  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

                    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

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

                  2. re: Ozumo

                    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. 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

                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

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

              2. 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

                  "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

                    "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. 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

                    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

                      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

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