We’ve been in the mood for Chinese food a lot lately, but were wanting some new ideas. Opening some Chinese cookbooks at random led me to a chicken recipe in Land of Plenty that I’d never noticed before. It’s called Tai Bai, apparently in honor of the poet Li Bai. It’s easy to put together and involves very little chopping, which is a real selling point some nights. It has no garlic or ginger – the primary flavors are chiles, both dried and pickled, plus Sichuan pepper. It’s moderately fiery, so I wouldn’t recommend this one if you don’t have much spice tolerance. We think it’s delicious.
It’s always a bit odd to make a new recipe, taste it, then realize that you don’t know whether it turned out or not, since you have no idea of what it’s supposed to taste like. When we made dan dan noodles for the first time, it may or may not have been a success.
What I do know is that the noodles were flavorful, the sauce had an interesting sweet/spicy/salty tang, and the Sichuan pepper gave it so much ma that I couldn’t feel my mouth for half an hour afterwards. So perhaps it was a success. We decided to try it again another time.
That was our first time using Tianjin preserved vegetable, a fermented cabbage product that we had just recently found at a little Chinese market in Seattle’s International District. According to Fuchsia Dunlop, mistress of all things Sichuan, it’s not quite a perfect stand-in for traditional Sichuanese fermented vegetable, but it comes close. The flavor of it was sweet, a little funky and really, really, really salty. We keep trying to decide if we want to replace it when we use up the jar, or just use cabbage and lots of salt instead.
When I first brought home a library copy of David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop (shortly before we bought our own copy – it didn’t take long), one of the very first recipes we opened it to was this one: a custard-based ice cream with orange zest and crushed Sichuan peppercorns, wow! Jon’s been wanting to make it ever since, and we finally got our chance. We had friends over (fresh ice cream wants an audience) and made Chinese pork ribs and scallion breads, followed by this ice cream for dessert.