Of all the plot points on Rick and Morty, Rick’s obsession with a 1998 limited edition McDonald’s Szechuan dipping sauce speaks to me on a deep, near-spiritual level. If you like spice, Szechuan food might be China’s best export, bar those episodes of If You Are The One where people fail to get a date.

And there’s a whole world of Szechuan (also spelt Sichuan, if you’re getting confused) food outside of Mulan tie-ins. As the cornerstone of Szechuan cooking, Szechuan peppercorns (which are actually the berries from a prickly ash tree) have a frenzied fan base who froth over its unique mouth-numbing spice.

Rather than create that classic chilli burn, Szechuan pepper makes your lips and mouth tingle with heat long after you stop eating. Known as parethesia, the sensation is addictive as all hell, and a welcome alternative to feelin’ the burn without need for a glass of milk on hand. Here are three classic, simple ways to spice up your life.

Three Mouth Numbing Szechuan Recipes Worth Losing Your Mind Over

Szechuan was always my favourite. (Photo: BBC.com) 

You probably have most of the spices and base ingredients already. If not, you should find Szechuan pepper and the missing links in your supermarket’s Asian aisle, though Harris Farm and, obviously, Asian grocers will be well stocked. The ingredients are pretty similar, so stock up and break these recipes out over the next few weeks. 

One thing: Szechuan peppers need to be ground in all of these recipes. It can be tough to find pre-ground, but breaking out the mortar and pestle makes you feel like a powerful chef. 

SZECHUAN-BRAISED EGGPLANT

Three Mouth Numbing Szechuan Recipes Worth Losing Your Mind Over

(Photo: appetiteforchina.com)

What you’ll need:

  • Two Asian eggplants
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground Szechuan peppercorns
  • 2 tablespoons Chicken/vege stock
  • Soy sauce
  • Peanut/vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Chinese black vinegar (balsamic works too)
  • 2 tablespoons Chilli bean paste
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine/Red wine
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • Minced ginger
  • Spring onions

Sour-sweet with a bit of bite: no Chinese meal is complete without braised eggplant. The sticky sauce is the most important part: prep the sauce by mixing together your stock and vinegar of choice, chilli bean pasta, two teaspoons soy sauce, rice wine and sugar. Slice the eggplant into bite-sized cubes, then break our your wok.

Add a bit of oil once the wok’s hot, swirling it around to coat the wok. Stir-fry the eggplants for two or so minutes until they’re a little soft, but not quite mushy. Add three cloves of garlic, a tablespoon of ginger and the Szechuan pepper. When it’s smelling fragrant, add in the sauce, and simmer it until it’s all thick and sticky. Top it with diced spring onions, and voilá.

KUNG PAO CHICKEN


Three Mouth Numbing Szechuan Recipes Worth Losing Your Mind Over

Szechuan charm. (Photo: Goodhousekeeping.com)

What you’ll need:

  • 400gms chicken breast
  • 1 tablespoon ground Szechuan peppercorns
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 50gms peanuts (please get unsalted, it’s worth it)
  • Fresh ginger, paste if you’re lazy
  • Spring onions
  • Long red chillies
  • Soy sauce
  • Rice
  • Shaoxing wine

This quick stir-fry gets its name for its one-two punch of sweet-spicy flavours. First up, the sweet: cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces, then marinate ’em with two tablespoons Shaoxing wine and one tablespoon soy sauce. Start to cook the rice too, and the timing should match up. 

Heat up your wok and start with chillies by themselves, dry-fried for a smoky flavour. Take them out after a minute, then add oil and stir-fry the peppercorns before adding chicken and ginger in: best to do this in two batches. Once that’s done, add everything bar the peanuts, chillies and rice in. Bring it to the boil while giving it a good stir.  Serve it with rice, add the peanuts and chillies on top. 

MAPO DOUFU


Three Mouth Numbing Szechuan Recipes Worth Losing Your Mind Over

(Photo: chinasichuanfood.com)

What you’ll need:

  • 450gms tofu
  • 100gms mince (pork/beef/lamb all work)
  • Sesame oil
  • Black beans
  • 1 tablespoon ground Szechuan peppercorns
  • Minced ginger and garlic
  • Fermented black beans (in the Asian aisle!)
  • Chilli bean paste
  • Spring onion
  • Half a cup Chicken/vege stock
  • Steamed rice

Don’t like tofu? You haven’t had this Szechuan classic. Vego? Swap out the mince for green beans. For the sauce, mix together half a cup chicken stock, two teaspoons soy sauce and one of sugar in a bowl. Three’s a trend – this one calls for a wok too. Add enough sesame oil to coat the wok, two teaspoons ginger and garlic, chopped spring onions, then when it’s fragrant, chuck in a tablespoon of black beans and Szechuan pepper.

Add the mince – when it’s cooked, add in the chilli bean paste, tofu, and toss the wok to mix. If you stir it, the tofu becomes a blerg-inducing blob. When it’s sizzlin’ along, add in the sauce, and let it boil until it’s all thick and sticky. Serve on rice.

There you have it. But you’re still craving that McDonald’s sauce, huh? If you missed out on your chance to pay $56,000 USD for a 19 year old dipping sauce, Youtuber Babish has made his own recipe, and it looks pretty legit.  No-one tell Rick – I want nine seasons. And a movie.

Three Mouth Numbing Szechuan Recipes Worth Losing Your Mind Over

Photo: Adult Swim