Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Sichuan Sundae: Hot, Numbing, Sweet and Chocolatey

Every now and then I get a hankering to just experiment in the kitchen. The results were not what I anticipated though.

This all started when I saw a Travel Channel program on Las Vegas and they featured a bartender who had invented a number of out there cocktails like the Carrot Cake Martini. I decided to give it a try with one of my favorite flavor combinations, the hot numbing combination of Sichuan.

I researched Sichuan Cocktails on line and found there were a few of them being offered. But they were concentrating on different flavor profiles like the lychee. A few did have the Sichuan peppercorns sprinkled in but these cocktails didn’t contain any heat for the peppercorns to counteract. I set out to create a drink that combined the red hot chili flavor with the floral taste and numbing sensation of Sichuan peppercorns.

I started by making a simple syrup, equal parts sugar and water brought to a boil.

Cocktail 4

To that I added my crushed chili flakes and Sichuan peppercorns.

Cocktail 5

I brought them to heat then let the mixture steep.

Cocktail 7

The resulting syrup was spicy hot and sweet, but alas very little of the Sichuan peppercorn came through. This may have more to do with the quality of my peppercorns. I’ve found their flavor and strength can vary wildly depending on where you buy them. The best ones I’ve found so far come from Pacific Natural Spices and can be purchased at Light My Fire. Really good Sichuan peppercorns can numb out the mouth with just a few grains. The ones I had in my pantry weren’t nearly as potent. I tried a cocktail but the results were disappointing. Truly no better than a pepper infused vodka with a little syrup and soda.

However a few days later I had a hankering for some chocolate ice cream. I remembered the Aztecs used to mixed chocolate and chili, the chili being a relative of the vanilla plant. I decided to turn my cocktail experiment into a dessert experiment. I poured the syrup over the ice cream and sprinkled on some fresh Sichuan peppercorns for good measure.

Sichuan Sundae

Much better. The chili and chocolate are a strange combination that really works. The bitterness of the chocolate and the heat of the chili match each other beautifully in a taste reminiscent of mole. The milk in the ice cream kept the heat at bay. There was even a pleasant numbing after taste from the Sichuan Peppercorns at the end. The only problem was the syrup ran down the sides and collected in a fiery pool. The solution was easy. Take one brownie or piece of chocolate pound cake and have it act as a base to soak up any stray syrup. I tried it the next night and it was wonderful.

So the recipe for those of you brave enough to try is quite simple.

Sichuan Sundae

  • 1 Cup Sugar
  • 1 Cup Water
  • 2 Tablespoons Red Chili Flakes
  • 1-2 scoops Your favorite Chocolate Ice Cream per serving
  • 1-2 Brownies or Slice of Chocolate Pound Cake per serving
  • Sichuan Peppercorns for topping (depending on the strength of the peppercorns you may need 5-10 peppercorns or a whole teaspoon)

1. Make the Syrup – Combine the 1 cup of water and 1 cup sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Once the sugar is completely dissolved and a boil is reached, add the 2 Tablespoons Red Chili Flakes. Take the syrup off the heat and let it cool and steep. Once completely cool, strain the chili flakes and keep for later use.

2. Assemble the Sundae – Lay the brownie or cake slices on the bottom of the serving dish. Scoop the chocolate ice cream onto the brownie. Drizzle the chili syrup over the ice cream. Top with the Sichuan Peppercorns.

Here’s the result

Sichuan Sundae 2

© Michael J Lee July 22, 2009

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