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Szechuan peppercorns (Recipe: salt and pepper prawns)

While working on a new recipe index, I've been revisiting some posts from the early days of The Perfect Pantry. Here's one of my favorites, about my search for an elusive pantry ingredient. Welcome to Oldies Week, Day Three.


This post has been updated. Please click through to Szechuan peppercorns (Recipe: salt and pepper prawns) to read the post with new photos and links.

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I love szechuan peppercorns and had no idea that they were banned. Your little story cracked me up!!
Try the same on a bunch of Germans - the stares are rather priceless!!

The recipe sounds awesome too!

I love Szechuan pepper, but my husband does not. So I sneak a pinch into dishes (try some on cantalope!) and it is a hit. By the way, I survived the ban on these wonderful berries by inadvertantly purchasing a really large bag just before the ban...they lost most of their flavor over the years, but I continued to add them to dishes such as hot and sour soup. Lydia, this simple dish sounds perfect! Thanks.

woah, that's a lot of research going in this one here.. hey, about your comment on my Aubergine Lemon Linguini post I've always been a little curious about those tiny golf ball like ones.. Yes, asian eggplants are very delicate in taste indeed!

I still get those blank stares when I go into some ethnic markets, even in NYC. It's handy that now we have those "Take It With You" grocery guides.

I found your blog through Technicolor Kitchen, so hello. :) A couple of years ago I got obsessed with finding Szechuan peppercorns. They were called for in a couple of recipes in my favourite cookbook, and it's not even that I needed to make the recipes, I just had to have the elusive ingredient! I went to one small Asian grocery store and asked a man there if they had Szechuan peppercorns to which he said "Szechuan is a place in China" (or something to that effect), and I'm sure he thought I was an ignorant idiot. He pointed me towards regular peppercorns. Anyway, I now know a place where I can get them, and my Chinese friend found some for me when shopping with her grandma in Chinatown.

Meeta, I've had the experience in many countries of not speaking the language and trying to find something, order something, get somewhere... but this peppercorn thing was one of the funniest.

Candy, I love that you had the foresight to stock up! Goes to show that these peppercorns are pungent, if they lasted all those years.

Kel, now here's a thought -- put those little eggplants together with Szechuan peppercorns and some crunchy sea salt....

Susan, I keep a set of Linda Bladholm's books on hand for shopping in ethnic markets. They are wonderful resources.

Ashley, welcome! I'm giggling -- sounds like you went to the same markets looking for these as I did!

Hahha, this is the one that makes you go numb in the tongue, so that all of us cannot pronounce it properly :P

That's a hoot! I don't remember every looking for them specifically, although I do have 'Five-Spice Powder in my panry.
Doesn't it just drive you nuts when what you want seems soooo obvious to you - but no one else?

Tigerfish, I'm giggling. It's true, this pepper does make your tongue tingle.

Katie, the experience of shopping for Szechuan peppercorns actually taught me a lot about patience and being prepared. Now if I can bring a book or have someone write out what I want in Chinese, I take that to the market (clearly my language skills in Chinese haven't improved!).

Ha! That's hysterical. I did the same exact thing a few years ago here. Stalked Chinatown for those little things and got nothing but blank stares. My friend then went to visit relatives in Toronto and brought back a little tupperware container full of them for me. I guess Canada didn't have the same restrictions.

So they were banned from 1968-2006? Avante-garde collegemates were cooking using this to make infused salts. Way over my head. I've always just used Chinese 5 Spice, but it would be nice to try some solo to really isolate the flavor. Thanks for the informative post.

Hey great entry! It was especially pertinent because my Mom just sent me some from Williams Sonoma today. I was wondering what to do with them and am thrilled to see you have a recipe listed and everything. Super cool.
If you are having a hard time finding them at a local asian market you could try Williams Sonoma if you have one nearby. I was going to provide a link but they apparently do not sell the peppercorns online. :(

I've never tried these, although I have a jar of Five Spice Powder that I need to do more with. Even your "oldies" are an education for me!

Luisa, I'm not surprised it was only the US that had the import ban. Canada's policies in many arenas (health, social welfare, etc) seems so much more enlightened than ours. It's humbling to have the experience of being unable to communicate in your own country, isn't it?

Callipygia, yes, the import was banned for all that time, though for some years stores were selling their existing supply of szechuan peppercorns. Do try each of the components of five-spice on their own; it's a wonderful way to appreciate the magic of that spice blend.

Sarah, thanks, and welcome to The Perfect Pantry. It's nice that W-S is carrying these peppercorns now; they used to be so hard to find outside Chinatown markets (and even in Chinatown!). Have fun experimenting with them!

TW, thanks. Five-spice is a "rounder" seasoning; you'll find szechuan peppercorns quite pungent in comparison. More like cousins than brother-sister....

Oh you describe the fiasco of trying to buy things labelled in Chinese in a Chinese supermarket so well! I can recall looking for sticky black rice and it too a long time to get there, but we managed eventually...

I would buy a lot more if I had half a clue as to what everything is :)

Kelly-Jane, same here. At least in the US the ingredients must be listed on the package in English -- although sometimes those listings are more confusing than not!

Now thats my kind of recipe!!!!

SK, thanks -- I loved your post about flavoring sea salt with szechuan peppercorns -- that would be a shortcut for making this dish.

loving the oldies. lots to read!

Lobstersquad, there are more oldies coming, every now and then, just for fun!

We've come a long way--for I now buy my szechuan peppercorns from...Whole Foods here in Berkeley! Thanks for the recipe, I've been looking for ways to use my sichuan peppercorns. :)

C(h)ristine, we surely have come a long way! Now I'll have to look for them in my Whole Foods in Providence.

Love this recipe. At Pepper-Passion we have been selling Szechuan peppercorns since shortly after the ban was lifted. We love to use them as a background spice to add a little kick to dips, marinades and soups. The flavor is unique and the possibilities are endless.

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