Mystery House

Kung Pao Pork

This recipe comes with warning labels.  Danger!  Hotter Than You Think!

For many years, it wasn’t possible to get Sichuan peppercorns in the U.S.  Unless you knew a smuggler.  Importing them was banned because they were possible carriers of citrus canker, and the USDA was worried about the impact on citrus crops.  In 2005, the ban was lifted, as long as importers heated the peppercorns to a high enough temperature to kill the canker before bringing them into the country.

Not knowing any smugglers, I had a Sichuan peppercorn-deprived kitchen until very recently.  Nonetheless, I bought Fuchsia Dunlop’s cookbook, Land of Plenty, and had it ready just in case.  It looked too good not to have.  Ms. Dunlop studied Sichuanese cooking at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine in China, and meticulously researched the cuisine and its history for this book.  And, well, we love hot stuff at Chez Mystery.

I decided to plunge in by first trying her version of an old favorite.  I’ve made Kung Pao shrimp and chicken (and once even Kung Pao-ed bok choy for a vegetarian guest), but not pork, and the recipes I’ve used before haven’t been so authentic.  This is Ms. Dunlop’s recipe for Kung Pao Chicken which, she notes, can be made with pork or shrimp.  I followed it almost to the letter, the only change being that I didn’t have dark soy so I increased the quantity of light.

I shop at a huge Asian supermarket in the heart of St. Paul when I need Chinese ingredients, and I love that the neighborhood’s so diverse that when I asked the guy stocking shelves where the peppercorns were, he checked with someone else — in Spanish.  My kinda place.

Now, as I said, we love hot, spicy food.  It’s normal for us to add more hot peppers than called for in most recipes, and we rip through a surprisingly large quantity of hot sauce and dried red pepper flakes every year — you know, the kind that most folks sprinkle on pizza but leave alone otherwise.  The M.E. will put hot stuff on breakfast cereal if you don’t watch him.  So this came as a bit of a surprise.  Those sneaky little Sichuan peppercorns are hotter than they look.

They’re not related to black pepper, or to any sort of chiles, and they have an intensely perfumey citrus taste that numbs your mouth.  I put in the teaspoon that the recipe called for, plus a quantity of dried red peppers that was slightly less than usual for us, and I swear, we thought this pork was trying to kill us.  Good flavor, but way intense.  We wound up picking out the peppercorns as we ate, because the taste was overwhelming.

So, is this recipe worth a try?  I’d say yes, in fact I plan to make it again.  I’m going to drastically reduce the quantity of peppercorns, though, to half a teaspoon or less.  A little goes a long way.  If you’re feeling brave, give it a try.

This jar?  Lifetime supply.


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  1. * Connie says:

    Why do you torture me so? I am sooo hungry!!

    Posted 10 years, 6 months ago
  2. * Chris says:

    I think I would’ve been on my way to the ER. 🙂

    Posted 10 years, 6 months ago
  3. * Chris says:

    I think I would’ve been on my way to the ER. 🙂

    Posted 10 years, 6 months ago
  4. * Kitt says:

    My dad was an aficionado of all things spicy and ever in search of the hottest condiments. When I visited Sichuan, I discovered how very very very hot Sichuan spices could be direct from the source, and I offered to bring him some. He declined.
    Why? “Because when I run out, I will not be able to get more, and that will make me very sad.”
    Thanks for the recipe review. Adding it to my list!

    Posted 10 years, 6 months ago
  5. * deb says:

    And then some for the cock roaches who will outlive us all it would seem!

    Posted 10 years, 6 months ago
  6. * Amy says:

    Lifetime supply? Why not have a contest and send itty-bitty bags of peppercorns to the winners?

    Posted 10 years, 6 months ago
  7. * Jeanne says:

    OK, this one I may take a pass on.

    Posted 10 years, 6 months ago
  8. * olga says:

    Is this like the General Pau chicken? I love that stuff and depending where you get it, its very spicy.I have got to send you some of that green chile I froze- way way hot.

    Posted 10 years, 6 months ago

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