Saturday, June 19, 2010
Roasted Szechwan Salt and Pepper
Salt is one of those simple things, just ask any slug.
A little sprinkle of salt can take an avocado from good, to delectable. A few grains can resuscitate a bitter cup of coffee. Sea salt caramels and chocolate covered pretzels bring candy to a whole new level of PMS satisfaction by combining salty and sweet.
Sodium balances bitter and brings out sweetness, but too much of a good thing and somebody is going to cry-out about health and nutrition. Party poopers.
Recently it came to my attention that the USDA recommendation for daily sodium intake dropped from 2,300 mg to 1,500 mg. That means it dropped from just under 1 1/4tsp of table salt to 3/4 tsp per day. 3/4 tsp for a whole day. Not just a meal, but a whole day! I am probably nowhere near the ideal, and I make everything from scratch. I can only imagine what sodium intake would look like for people who use the conveniences of the grocery market products, let alone frozen and fast food meals!
So here is the part where I throw that new knowledge about the RDA of sodium out the window. I’m not saying you should pour it on, but salt makes food better! A bit of salt on bland foods, like rice, can bring out a nuttiness and add depth. A sprinkle on vegetables will highlight the natural sweetness.
But plain ol’ salt can get boring. Specialty sea salts can add a snazzy and hip finish to a dish, but if you really want to bring out the WOW factor of a salt, roasted Szechwan salt and pepper is where it is at! It adds a subtle exoticness, slightly floral, camphor-like pungency that is delicate and bold in one swoosh.
Roasted Szechwan salt and pepper is an incredibly simple and quick seasoning to make. It makes a great hostess gift and a few minutes of work will last you several months.
Because this seasoning has only two ingredients, salt and Szechwan peppercorns, it is important that you invest in quality ingredients. Thankfully this is one place where you get huge bang for your buck as both are inexpensive.
Szechwan peppercorns may not be at your local market, but that doesn’t mean they are difficult to find. If you are lucky enough to have a Penzey’s Spice house near you, make a visit, but set aside some time because to a passionate cook, it is like a candy store to a kid. If you don’t have a Penzey’s near you, you can order from them online. Once you are signed up on their mailing list, you get catalogs that have coupons for free jars of spices, another bonus to this fabulous company!
Regardless of where you purchase your peppercorns, there are a few things you should look for. You should be able to smell them through the bag and there should be a minimum of twigs, thorns and the bitter black seeds.
A batch lasts our house about 3-4 months. We use it on everything: scrambled eggs, popcorn, vegetables, in place of the salt called for in stir-fries, on fried rice, to marinate meat, on salad, in soup, I can’t think of a place where its flavor wouldn’t be welcome!
Roasted Szechwan Salt and Pepper
1/4 cup whole Szechwan peppercorns
1/2 cup Kosher Salt
Pick through peppercorns and remove any twigs or thorns.
Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat for a minute or two, until hot. Add peppercorns and salt. Stir gently for about 5 minutes until salt begins to turn off white and peppercorns begin to barely smoke. (See before picture on left, and after picture on right) Do not let peppercorns burn.
Transfer the hot mixture to a food processor and let it whirl for a minute to turn into a fine powder. Pass the powder through a fine mesh sieve to remove the husks from the peppercorns. Store in a dry, airtight bottle.