When many of us think of Chinese food, the majority of dishes and flavors that come to our minds are synonymous with Szechuan food. This region has been a dominant force in Chinese food both within the country and abroad for generations, and its essential DNA is based around a global mix of spices and flavors. Learning to cook Szechuan food is easy, but it’s going to change your kitchen. If you’re ready to get started with Szechuan cooking, here’s what to expect.
4 Ways Szechuan Cooking Can Change Your Kitchen:
1. Get Used to Cooking With Sesame Oil
Earthy flavors are as important in Szechuan cooking as spicy ones, so the rich and nutty flavor of sesame oil is a perfect combination. Both toasted and dark sesame oil feature prominently in Szechuan dishes, so get used to working with them. Fortunately, the two varieties of sesame oil give you a lot of versatility. Toasted sesame oil offers a great way to stir fry without changing the flavor of your dish too much, while dark sesame oil is as much flavoring as it is cooking oil. Once you’ve started cooking with it, chances are that it will become your go-to replacement in countless other dishes.
2. Improve Your Skills Matching Spices
Spices are incredibly important to Szechuan cooking to the degree that they often dramatically preempt everything else. And you’ll get used to working with some very bold spices working with Szechuan food. At the core of these are what’s known as the “Five Fragrances”. Aniseed, clove, fennel, pepper, and cinnamon constitute these critical five ingredients, and you’ll notice they cover a spectrum of flavors ranging from spicy to bitter to sweet. That’s a recurring theme in Szechuan cooking.
That’s because when you cook Szechuan food, you’re forced to balance earthy flavors against the heat that’s prominent in so many dishes. Sour tastes also have a tendency to dominate, but there’s a hint of sweetness in plenty of dishes as well. Szechuan plates have a reputation for being spicy, but that’s just one vector in a style of cuisine that has some of the most sophisticated flavor combinations around. Once you start cooking Szechuan food, you’ll quickly find that you start thinking about flavors in ways you never have before.
3. You’ll Have More Money to Spare
Szechuan food is regarded throughout China and the world, but a large part of its appeal is that it’s very much of the people. Some of the most prominent Szechuan dishes got their start as street food. And as more and more five star restaurants start doing luxury takes on Szechuan dishes, those food stalls still continue to serve many of the best versions of Zhong dumplings and mapo tofu around. There are so many Szechuan dishes that you can make with just a small amount of cheap ingredients. And once you get your spice rack properly equipped with the fundamentals, you can easily give any recipe a Szechuan spin without having to expend a lot of effort.
4. And Better Use For Everything in Your Pantry
Spending less on groceries means that you’ll have more groceries to spare. Fortunately, pretty much all of it can find effective use with Szechuan cooking. The wide breadth of flavor profiles means all of your produce and protein at risk of going bad can easily be incorporated into a dish. And a lot of Szechuan spices and sauces are great with just about everything. Sauces like zhong sauce and Szechuan chili crisp are some very versatile ingredients that can lend dimension to practically any meal you can think up. And that’s just as true of Szechuan food in the abstract.
Want to read more of our Chinese-food related posts? Check out our post about where to find cheap and authentic Chinese food in London, or our review of one of the oldest Chinese restaurants in NYC, Nom Wah Tea Parlor.