These 12 Ingredients Are Essential for Sichuan Food
The key to Sichuan food lies in its málà, the mouth-numbing heat that comes from the combo of Sichuan peppercorns and fiery Sichuan chile peppers. These and other essential ingredients in Sichuan cuisine can be found in Asian markets and well-stocked supermarkets. You can also buy them online at themalamarket.com, which was created by a mother-daughter duo, who bonded over their love for traditional Sichuan dishes. Learn how to use these 12 key ingredients in Sichuan cuisine.
This chili oil condiment made with fried onions, garlic, chiles and Sichuan peppercorns is like a crunchy paste. Seasoned liberally with MSG, sugar and salt, chili crisp is mainly used on its own or in cold Sichuan sauces rather than in cooking. Lao Gan Ma brand is popular and widely available (buy it: Amazon, $10), but there are many chili crisps on the market, including a Trader Joe’s version.
Dried Tofu Skin
Chewy tofu skin is made from the layer of solids that forms on top of heated soymilk (think pudding skin). It is sold dried in sheets and must be rehydrated to use. (Try this pack from Amazon, $20.)
Fermented Black Beans (Douchi)
These black beans are preserved in a heady mix of liquor and spices. The beans can be added to an array of dishes to add both salt and flavor. The more familiar Cantonese black beans make a good substitute but are fermented with salt only, so rinse them before using. Try them in our recipe for Mapo Tofu (and pick up a bag from Amazon, $10).
Green Sichuan Peppercorns
With a distinctly lemony taste that is different from red Sichuan peppercorns, green ones complement fish, chicken and vegetables. China has only recently started to export them, so they are a little harder to find. They’re currently sold out, but you can join the waitlist to purchase a bag from The Mala Market.
Pixian Chili Bean Paste (Doubanjiang)
A salty and spicy umami concentrate made with chiles and fermented fava beans, the paste gives deep flavor to braises, soups and stir-fries. It is sometimes labeled “broad bean” chili paste. Try it in our recipe for Dry Pot Chicken (Gan Guo Ji) (and pick up a pack from The Mala Market, $20).
Shaoxing Rice Wine
A key ingredient for adding depth of flavor to Chinese sauces and soups. It is similar in flavor to sherry, but contains salt and sugar for added punch. (Pick up a bottle from Amazon, $15.)
Sichuan Chile Flakes
Whole dried chiles that have been fried until crisp and ground into a mix of flakes, powder and seeds. Korean pepper powder, available at Korean markets and online, is a good substitute. (Try a pack from The Mala Market, $12.)
Sichuan Chili Oil
A Sichuan spice blend is infused into the oil, which is mixed with chile pepper flakes (not fried). The oil can be strained and the flakes used separately. Try the oil in our recipe for Sichuan Fava Bean, Pea Sprout & Radish Salad (and pick up a jar from Uncommon Goods, $13).
Sichuan Peppercorn Oil
A fragrant finishing oil infused with essential oils extracted from the Sichuan peppercorn. It has a smoother taste than the whole spice yet enough zing to wake up the mouth. They’re currently sold out, but you can join the waitlist to purchase a bottle from The Mala Market.
Sichuan peppercorns (a member of the citrus family and unrelated to black peppercorns) have a citrusy aroma and supply the numbing half of the signature flavor of Sichuan food. Try it in our recipe for Spicy Chili Crisp Potato Salad (Liang Ban Tu Dou) (and pick up your own jar from The Spice House, $9).
Sweet Potato Glass Noodles
Long, clear, chewy noodles made from sweet potato starch. While bland on their own, the noodles absorb the flavors of whatever they’re cooked in. Try them in our recipe for Sour & Spicy Sweet Potato Noodles (Suan La Fen) (and pick up a pack of three from Amazon, $12).
Zhenjiang Black Vinegar
This story originally appeared in EatingWell Magazine May 2020.