I wanted a main dish to go with the rice salad that Jan had asked for. Jan went to Sonoma this weekend and went to Whole Spice. One of the things she came back with was a packet of Szechuan Salt & Pepper. A pan seared shrimp with this pepper blend seemed just the ticket.
Note: On this site, this province will usually be spelled “Sichuan,” the Pinyin Romanization of the Chinese characters—the system used by the mainland Chinese, where we lived for several years. “Szechuan” is the Wade Giles Romanization—used by the English and Taiwanese. The spelling you choose to use is, of course, a political marker.
If you do not live near Sonoma you can buy this spice mix on-line. If you already have the Sichuan pepper, it is easy to make the Szechuan salt and pepper blend. Coarsely grind one teaspoon of Sichuan pepper and mix it with one teaspoon of your favorite salt. However, unless you have a direct link to Sichuan, it is hard to get fresh Sichuan pepper in America.
Note: Most of the Sichuan pepper sold in America is stale. It may have the flavor of Sichuan pepper, but not the buzz. To check for freshness, take one kernel and crunch it between your teeth. If you mouth gets a tingling numbness, then your pepper is fresh. Its common name, which translates as “numb spice,” is quite literal. It should feel like a shot of Novocain. If all you get is the distinctive flavor, no matter how strong, then you pepper is stale.
To peel or not to peel, that is the question. Leaving the shells on the shrimp protects the delicate flesh of the shrimp and allows a more flexible cooking time. Peeling the shrimp before cooking makes them easier to eat, but increases the risk of tough over-cooked shrimp.
After Dinner Note: Jan: “Sichuan lollypops!” Karl: “Aaaah!” (a la Homer Simpson). While a very simple recipe, this was so good.
Karl’s Szechuan Salt & Pepper Shrimp
1 lb. shrimp, raw and shells on
2 Tbs. peanut oil
2 tsp. Szechuan Salt & Pepper
1 Green onion, green part only sliced finely
1. Rinse shrimp and pat dry with paper towels.
Tip: To get a good sear on the shrimp you want them to be as dry as possible. Wrap them in paper towels and let them dry in the refrigerator for half an hour.
2. Put the oil in a large skillet. Preheat the pan, over high heat, until the oil is shimmering.
3. Add the dry shrimp and sprinkle with half of the Szechuan Salt & Pepper. Cook, without stirring, for two minutes.
4. Flip the shrimp and sprinkle with the rest of the Szechuan Salt & Pepper. Cook for one to two minutes more.
5. Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with the green onion.
Tip: If you have not peeled the shrimp, provide a debris bowl for the shells.