TRIBUTE PEPPER + ERJINGTIAO CHILI
二荆条 Erjingtiao, the most popular variety of chili in Sichuan, is known for its mild spice but intense fragrance. It doesn’t overwhelm the taste of a dish but instead heightens sensations and awakens the palate to deeper flavors. Its uses are varied and inventive: dry-fried in oil for a scorched-chili flavor; ground up and combined with aromatics to create the canvas for the most fragrant chili oils; and mixed with various other spices to make dozens of Sichuan flavor profiles.
An ancient Chinese spice that has been cultivated in Sichuan for thousands of
years, 花椒 huajiao (Sichuan pepper) is responsible for the cuisine’s famous tongue-tingling sensation. Huajiao is actually the seed of a tree in the citrus family and isn’t related to the common peppercorn. There are dozens of varieties of in China, but the most famous is grown in Qingxi village, along the mountainous Tea Horse Road, an ancient trading route dedicated to the transport of tea and spices from China to the West. The small village produces a variety called 贡椒 gongjiao (tribute pepper), so prized for its many uses that it was offered in tribute to the emperor. Thrown whole into long braises and stews or roasted and ground to top iconic dishes like mapo tofu and twice-cooked pork, just-harvested gongjiao can be transformational.