In the supermarket the word sichuan or szechuan has been adopted to anything a bit chinese and a bit spicy. Its a bit like using Cajun as a description. Its pretty generic and on the whole describes a downgraded and universally acceptable blandness far from the inspiration.
I will leave the Cajun description alone as I posted a stunning gumbo recipe back in January.
Rather than packing bags and my passport i simply called an Uber and headed to Birminghams China town. Its a small and discrete area close to the Bullring and Grand Central but its a great place to explore some fantastic food.
Further posts will follow as the styles of Chinese cooking available cover regions that span many miles but I want to concentrate on a truly remarkable dish that is a key to understanding this food style.
The szechuan region is in South East China and is recognised by its classic basic flavours composed sour, pungent, hot, sweet, bitter, aromatic and salty.
For an indepth read about this and other chinese cuisines I recommend the wonderful book “Land of plenty” by Fuschia Dunlop.
A dish that is a real portrait of this food is Fuqi Feipan which translates as ‘husband and wife lung pieces’. Don’t be alarmed. A lot of food from Szechuan is described with this vivid poetry!
The name apparently comes from childish prank from the Chengdu where in the 1930s, a married couple became famous for making a common sliced beef dish. Theirs was incredibly popular as they addedd some new spices and and ingredients. These included various offal sliced thinly that added to the rich and deep flavours. Business boomed and children likley paid off by other less successful and jealous vendors tagged customers with paper notes saying “fuqi feipan”. The name stuck and the dish was copied until it became the “husband and wife lung” dish.
The offal suprisingly is not lung but usually ox tongue, heart and tripe very thinly sliced. Most Uk mindsets are at least challenged by offal. Maybe it is the body part element that is the shock. In addition for those that have tried these items, they have been cooked badly or unimaginately. (Some of the worlds best dishes are based on these wonderful meats – the so called fifth quarter – more on this eleswhere.)
Fuqi Feipan may need a hunt out. In many places its actually translated as sliced beef with liver and tripe.
The dish looks stunning. Wafer thin meat in a transparent vibrant chilli sauce with sesame seeds and garnished with coriander and sometimes green onions. The 1st thing to hit you is that it is served at room temperture or chilled. It should ideally be like red wine temp to allow the aromatics to seduce you.
A forkful drips with the chilli oil, and black vinagar sauce and the heat starts to hit you the sichuan peppercorns start to numb it back. Sweet chines wine lifts the aromas and by this stage you are salivating like crazy.
The deep meat, coriander and spring onion flavours then come through. The meats are soft and melt in the louth after they have been long braised and marinated and gently pickled in this tendersing sweet and sour dressing.
This is like nothing else. Its totally moreish and deliscious.
if you want to cook your own a great recipe and szechuan recipes are here.