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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sichuan Style Fish

Let me start by saying that this is no Sichuan dish – rather it is in the flavour of those dishes I have tasted at Sichuan House and PepperChilli.  It uses XO Sauce which I love pairing with seafood dishes, and also Chinese 5 spice powder, which adds another flavour element not usually found in Sichuan kitchens.  Nevertheless this vibrant concoction does wonders for the palate and thanks to the addition of Sichuan pepper, it does its magic as it tingles on your tongue.

The fish I have used is Red Snapper which is less expensive than its "Pinky" cousin and less sought after.  I guess I see it as doing my bit for the overfished species and ensuring their long existence.  Without getting too environmentally philosophical Red Snapper actually tastes considerably good and works perfectly in this very spicy dish.  Also, whilst boneless fillets of any white fish also works, I just feel that using the whole fish gives a much more flavoursome end product.  Just be sure to get the fishmonger to clean the fish and chop it into cutlets so that it takes out all the hard, and sometimes messy work.

1x 1kg Red Snapper, in cutlets
1-2 Eggs, beaten
½ cup x Cornflour
½ cup x Riceflour (this is the Asian stuff not the coarser baking variety)
1-2 tsp x Chinese 5 Spice Powder
½ tsp x Salt
½ tsp x Sichuan Pepper, ground
Oil for deep frying, 1 x tbsp extra for the sauce
I picked up a bottle of this brand of XO Sauce at my 
Asian grocer and it was exceptionally spicy.  Try and get
your hands on it for this recipe, you'll love it I'm sure
3-4 Dried Red Chillies,
1 tsp x Sichuan Pepper
1 x Red Onion, diced
1 x Bottle XO Sauce (see picture)
2 Tbsp x Oyster Sauce
2 x Carrots, diced
2 x Zucchinis, diced
10 x Green Beans, sliced finely
3-4 Dried Red Chillies,
1 tsp x Sichuan Pepper
Water, added as required
1 x Cucumber, diced 

Combine the cornflour and riceflour with the 5 spice powder and salt and pepper
Dip the fish cutlets into the beaten egg
Coat the cutlets with the flour mixture and dust of any excess flour
Deep fry the fish pieces in batches for at least 4-5 minutes per batch
When the fish is golden brown remove from the oil and drain on kitchen paper
Heat a large wok until smoking, then add a tbsp of oil
Quickly add in the dry chillies and the Sichuan peppercorns
Stir fry for 30 seconds then remove from the wok
Add the diced onion and stir gently to soften
Then add the other vegetables
Now pour in the XO and oyster sauces
Add a little water to thin out slightly and bring to the boil
Return the fish, chillies and peppercorns to the wok and fold through to coat with sauce
Tip out into a large dish and serve immediately
Garnish generously with the diced cucumber

"Chinese 5 Spice Powder is an amazing spice.  It is one of those spices that I keep on hand to add to dishes that need a little zing.  It works great as a background spice in this fish dish and also in fried chicken dishes.  The 5 spices  found in this mixture are usually Star Anise, Cinnamon, Clove, Fennel and Sichuan Pepper - which is why I guess I goes well in a Sichuan style dish"

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Review: Pepper Chilli Chinese, Chinatown, Melbourne CBD

Pepper Chilli Chinese on Urbanspoon
Sichuan, Szechuan or Szechwan?  Whichever way you spell it, does not change the fact that it is one of the most explosive, taste bud tantalising cuisines available.  For some, eating Sichuan food can be a challenge and this is especially if the heat of chillies is not your cup of tea.  Add to this the tongue numbing effect brought on by Sichuan peppercorns and you have a very unique melange having a rocking party inside your mouth.  There are some other tamer dishes that can be ordered, so there is hope for those non-chilli lovers. My first real taste of the style of Sichuan cooking was at Sichuan House in Melbourne’s Chinatown and my blog piece on the effects that their dainty dishes had on me goes on and on with a very positive review of the food.  I have been back there again to dine since, and while the standard of service is quite normal for a bustling Asian restaurant, run off its feet with loyal patrons, you can forgive them, as all is made amends for in their food especially the Cumin Pork which stands tall (literally) as my favourite dish. 
In the vicinity of the Chinatown precinct I have found a few more restaurant gems offering Sichuan for the discerning palette and I recently ate at Pepper Chilli.  The restaurant sits atop one level at the corner of Little Bourke Street and Exhibition Street, directly opposite Her Majesty’s Theatre.  The decor is quite ordinary but appears clean and did not get as busy as Sichuan House does.  There was no struggle for seats on a Friday lunch session and the wait staff were quite attentive to diners.  This place looks like it should be busy and perhaps it is because it is hidden from street level that hungry diners (like myself on many occasions) walk on by not noticing the stairwell that you need to traverse up.
The menu is quite extensive and if you ask for the dinner menu (at lunch time!) you will get a folio type booklet with glossy pictures of the dishes to help you decide what to order.  As I have already declared my love for Cumin Pork, I was somewhat disappointed to not find it on the menu.  Instead there was a Cumin Lamb dish which I just had to order to stay true to my love.  You don’t usually see cumin used extensively in Chinese cooking, but it would appear that it is the hero of this Sichuan dish, and rightfully so.  The marinated lamb is cut into thin strips and has a nice tender texture nestled with a spicy sauce that goes so well together.  The cumin is very pronounced and this is assisted by the generous dusting of Sichuan pepper.  You just know your taste buds are there when your tongue starts tingling.   You will have to overlook the little pool of oil that is also present as it too seems an all too familiar ingredient in many Sichuan dishes. As a traditional touch, or so I am told, the lamb is served on a bed of home made potato chips - Yes you heard right!  The best part about this is that the potato absorbs most of the oil and the lamb can be enjoyed without the excess oil - if you choose!
The other meat dish we tried was Crispy Chicken in Chilli & Garlic Sauce.  These were tiny morsels of deep fried, crunchy chicken wing bits, strewn through an endless bowl of dried chilli dotted with chunky slices of garlic.  It was almost like finding nuggets of chicken gold amongst the vibrant chilli mix, and boy did they pack some flavour and heat for pieces so small.  Even when we thought there was no more chicken remaining a little scrounge around in the bowl would reveal some hidden treasure.
   For the vegetable contingent of the meal, I couldn't pass up trying yet another eggplant dish.  In Sichuan House, the Fish Flavoured Eggplant is another must have so it made sense to see what Pepper Chilli conjures up with eggplant.  The dish is something more like a braise of eggplant batons in a spicy but sweet sauce that is a welcome change when the heat gets a little too much from the other dishes.  Tender eggplant is served on rice with a delicious sauce dotted with small pieces of carrot, spring onion and cubes of ham. At only $7.50 a plate, with a more than adequate serving it is the best value non meat dish I have found.  I would even go as far as saying I would order it on it's own if I was not feeling to much of a glutton.
Patting the tiny beads of perspiration on my brow as the meal comes to an end, my mouth still tingling from the flavour-fest it had just endured, I felt satisfied that I had got my Sichuan fix and can now put Pepper Chilli on the "go to" list.

"Now there is a lot more Sichuan food to come as this meal inspired me to try out some of these dishes at home.  So stay tuned for the recipes and pics soon"