Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Hong You

Ingredients for Hong You

Sichuan peppercorns

Chile de arbol

Crushed ginger, garlic and cinammon

Combining soy sauce and sugar mixture with pepper mixture

Spices cooking in the oil.

Oil and spices poured into bowl with peppers.

Letting Hong You cool in bowl.

Hong You ready for storage.

I love spicy food and I constantly look for new sources of heat.  So when my March issue of Saveur came I was elated to find that one of the feature articles was about Sichuan food.  I have long heard of this spicy cuisine of China, and have eaten Mapo Tofu many, many times.  I also make Spicy Eggplant often.  But this article by Matt Gross gave so much information, and better yet, mouth-watering recipes.  An important ingredient in most Sichuan dishes is Hong You which I was very eager to make.
Hong You (Sichuan Red Chile Oil)
2 cups canola oil
4 star anise
3 cloves garlic, smashed
3 cao guo or black cardamom pods
3 whole cloves
2 bay leaves
1 stick cinnamon, broken in half
1 3" piece ginger, smashed
1 cup (about 32) chiles de árbol, stemmed and chopped
3 tbsp. Sichuan peppercorns
1 tbsp. light soy sauce
½ tsp. kosher salt
Heat oil, star anise, garlic, cardamom, cloves, bay, cinnamon, and ginger in a 2-qt. saucepan over medium heat; cook, stirring occasionally, until garlic is golden, 15–20 minutes. Transfer to a 1-qt. glass jar with chiles, peppercorns, soy, and salt; let cool to room temperature. Using a slotted spoon, remove and discard garlic and ginger; seal jar and let sit at least 24 hours. To use, strain oil, discarding solids. Store refrigerated up to 3 months.
Let’s talk about the ingredients.  Garlic, cloves, bay leaves, cinnamon stick, ginger, chile de arbol and soy sauce are pretty easy to find; most grocery stores carry them.  That leaves only the black cardamom pods and Sichuan peppercorns. 
I’ll be honest with you – I couldn’t find the black cardamom pods.  I live in the Los Angeles area and have easy access to vast numbers of Asian grocery stores but I didn’t find it.  The store employees didn’t know what “black cardamom” was, and I was probably mispronouncing “cao guo”.  Not wanting to delay trying the recipe any longer, I used green cardamom.  I later learned that “cao guo” is one of two kinds of black cardamom.  The smaller variety is used in Indian and Pakistani dishes, mainly in sweets.  The larger of the two, cao guo, is used in Chinese and Vietnamese dishes.  This one has a smoky aroma and flavor because it is dried over an open flame. 
The Sichuan peppercorn is not even remotely related to peppers.  In fact, it is the dried rinds of tiny fruits from a small thorny tree in the citrus family known as prickly ash, according to Karen Shimizu (Saveur, March 2013).  Shimizu adds that Sichuan peppercorns are responsible for the buzzing, tingling sensation that is one of Sichuan cuisine’s most distinguished characteristics.  So you get the tingling from the Sichuan peppercorns, and the spiciness from the chile.  Because they affect different systems of our nerves, we get dual sensations when eating Sichuanese food.  It’s kind of like getting a punch and a kick!
So after having made it and letting it steep overnight, I couldn’t wait to pour it over my fried fish and steamed rice.  I used only the oil like the recipe said.  I did get the punch and the kick – but it was not as strong as I had imagined.  I guess I was expecting it to be a condiment like my regular Hot Chile Oil (Heat 1 cup of peanut oil to 225° - 240°F, remove from heat, dump 1 cup of crushed peppers.), but it wasn’t.  As the recipes in Saveur indicate, Hong You is used to cook food.
While I am still a little disappointed with the not-so-spicy Hong You as a condiment, I do have it to cook with.  I am looking forward to using it in Stir-fried Pork Belly with Chinese Chives or Triple-Cooked Spareribs with Chiles!
Have you ever tried a recipe and it was not what you were expecting?  What did you do with it?


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