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huājiāo - sichuan peppercorns make stuff taste funny

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So today I made some stir fry with sichuan peppercorns which I LOVE but until fairly recently hadn't been able to buy for probably decades due to the ban by the FDA (and not living anywhere near any place where there were enough Sichuanese to be sneaking the stuff in anyway).

Tasted fine to me but my son complained that it had a funny aftertaste. Part of the problem is probably due to what it does to the taste of milk - it makes it taste like it's sour or about to go off. Which I had never realized before because I have always had black tea or water with anything made with sichuan pepper up to now. So, don't drink it with milk would seem to be the easy solution - but he says there's still some bitter/sour lingering aftertaste even ignoring that.

I suspect the rest of the problem may be that I was improvising.

My stir fry sauce was chicken stock, dark Thai soy (the kind that's a bit sweet, not the really really sweet but sort of sweetish), a bit of rice vinegar, and 1 T of roasted freshly ground sichuan pepper. I didn't add any sugar because I was using the sort of sweet dark Thai soy.

I'm good with this but I'm wondering if the way the sichuan pepper works if maybe that bit of sugar I left out really is needed to balance out the vinegar - the numbing effect of the sichuan pepper seems to leave the taste buds that sense sour and/or bitter more sensitive than usual. I know they're not the same taste buds but both seem to be enhanced by the numbing.

I love love love my sichuan pepper - but what should I do when making a stir fry to maybe buffer the effect for my oh-so-sensitive offspring?

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  1. I don't think it has anything to do with sugar. Sichuan peppercorns often taste medicinal to the uninitiated. So starting your son with a dish that had a tablespoon of ground up peppercorns might have been too much. Start him off on dishes that use smaller amounts.

    Add a little to other dishes so he does not associate that flavor with only that one particular dish. (I hope that makes sense.) For example, make a bottle oil infused with roasted ground peppercorns and use it sparingly on top of meats and vegetables. Add a little ground peppercorns to things like BBQ sauce, where he won't expect them to be. The idea is basically to get him used to the flavor and eventually he will likely come to love it as much as you do. (I've heard it takes about 10 tries of something new for people to acquire a taste for it.)

    Are you also using hot chilies in your recipe? One of the uses of sichaun peppercorns in Chinese cooking is to sort of counter-balance the heat in hot chilies. So the diner can enjoy the flavor of the chilies without the burn. Does your son like hot spicy food in general?

    3 Replies
    1. re: Springhaze2

      Yeah, he's had it before, but only in restaurants, probably in lower quantities, and where he would have water instead of milk. I couldn't NOT tell him its in there as we always drink milk with meals at home (I know, we're weirdos).

      I didn't add hot pepper to the stir fry this time because I LOVE sichuan peppers just by themselves, but will do that in the future. Just for him I will cut the sichuan peppers in half, LOL!

      Thanks, I will give it another try with some chili peppers and half the amount of the sichuan pepper, plus warning him to stay away from the milk this time. If he STILL doesn't like it, that just means more for me!

      1. re: CookingForReal

        The main point of my post was to gradually initiate him to the peppercorns. Kind of like building up his tolerance. Start small and keep adding greater amounts until he comes to love them. I never suggested not telling him it was in there. Just put it into things he normally eats as a way to introduce the flavors.

        I thought you were interested in getting him to enjoy a new great flavor...

        1. re: Springhaze2

          I was responding to this statement of yours:

          "Add a little ground peppercorns to things like BBQ sauce, where he won't expect them to be."

          I don't mind the idea of sneaking something up on somebody (as long as we're clear on the allergy issue) but I don't think it's possible with sichuan peppers because the numbing causes taste differences in other things that you are eating. SO if you're going to drink milk, it will taste funny if there are sichuan peppers "in the BBQ sauce where he won't expect them to be".

          That's all I'm saying. Sorry you perceived it as some kind of sidewise insult, I was truly thanking you for your advice.

          EDIT: Hmmm, I could have sworn that I read something different than what your message says now ... maybe I'm just losing my mind ... at any rate I was and am grateful for your initial response despite any consequent misunderstandings ...

          *wanders off with a slightly dazed expression*

          LOL!