Roasted Szechwan Pepper-Salt

What salt and pepper are to a Western cook, roasted Szechwan pepper-salt is to a Chinese cook. It is one of those cases where one and one equals far more than two, such is the flavor dimension achieved when salt and Szechwan peppercorns are roasted and ground together. A little bit goes a long way, and for that little bit, there is no substitute. For people watching salt, as well as for any would-be-better Chinese cook, a jar of roasted pepper-salt is a fabulous kitchen gift.

The only salt, in my opinion, that gives the requisite flavor is kosher salt. And the only brand, again in my opinion, that has the mild and clean flavor of “real” kosher salt is Diamond kosher salt. Table salt makes a hideous blend, even when you halve the amount. Sea salt is better, but the flavor balance is wrong.

The Szechwan peppercorns used here should be picked and picked through with care. Use the most fragrant ones you can find, and sift through to discard twigs and thorns.

Once made, Szechwan pepper-salt should be stored in an airtight container away from light and heat. If you are keeping it in a glass jar that was used for another purpose, pull away the original cardboard lid liner to remove any contaminants. As long as the mixture remains wonderfully fragrant, it is a worthy addition to most any dish.

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Ingredients

  • ¼ cup Szechwan peppercorns, any thorns or twigs removed
  • ½ cup kosher salt

Method

  1. Combine the peppercorns and salt in a heavy skillet and toast over moderate heat, stirring, until the salt turns off-white, about 5 minutes. Adjust the heat so the peppercorns do not burn, but expect them to smoke.
  2. Remove the hot mixture to a food processor and process for 1 full minute to obtain a fine powder. Alternatively, grind the mixture in a spice grinder. Sieve to remove the peppercorn husks. Store the mixture in a clean dry bottle, sealed airtight.
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