Hed Chef

Tongue-numbing but aromatic taste of Sichuan pepper

Sichuan pepper chicken.
Sichuan pepper chicken.PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

SINGAPORE (THE NEW PAPER) - If you think of Sichuan cuisine, you may think of tongue-numbing spiciness.

Yet one of the province’s famous exports – the Facing Heaven chillies – are surprisingly more aromatic than spicy when fried.

For this week’s recipe, I got a packet of these little hotties after a chilli-hunting expedition in Chinatown.

If you don’t wish to go through the trouble, ordinary dried chillies can be used as a substitute.

However, you won’t find a close substitute for Sichuan peppercorns. These are fragrant and not pungently spicy like black or white pepper. They also have a characteristic numbing effect on the tongue.

Combined, these spices produce the notorious “ma-la” (numbing and spicy) taste of Sichuan cuisine.

This week’s recipe is moderately hot, but you can increase the amount of chilli and peppercorns if you’re questing for fire or just want your dinner guests to weep.

Sichuan pepper chicken



¼ tsp white pepper
2 Tbs Chinese rice wine
1 tsp Chinese rose wine
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cornflour

Sichuan pepper chicken

1 chicken (1kg), cut into small bite-sized pieces
300ml cooking oil (or enough to cover chicken when deep-frying)
20g ginger, sliced
6 garlic cloves, sliced
1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
20g dried chillies
6 green finger chillies, cut into 3cm pieces
1 Tbs Chinese rice wine
150g spring onion



1 tsp ginger juice
2 Tbs light soya sauce
1 tsp dark soya sauce
2 Tbs sesame paste
3 tsp black bean sauce
1 tsp ground Sichuan peppercorn



1. Place the chicken in a deep dish. Add the white pepper, Chinese rice wine, Chinese rose wine, salt and cornflour. Marinate for 30 minutes. 

2. Heat cooking oil for deep-frying the chicken pieces.


3. Deep-fry chicken pieces in small batches until browned.

4. Place chicken in a metal colander to drain the excess oil.

5. Deep-fry ginger slices. Remove from wok.

6. Deep-fry garlic slices. Remove from wok.

7. Drain the oil till there are about two or three tablespoons left in the wok and turn heat down to low.


8. Add Sichuan peppercorns, dried chillies and green finger chillies. Fry for a minute till fragrant then remove from wok.


9. Turn heat up to medium-low, add chicken and the seasoning mixture of ginger juice, light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, sesame paste, black bean sauce and ground Sichuan peppercorn. Stir-fry for a minute. 

10. Drizzle one tablespoon of wine around the side of the wok, stir-frying continuously.

11. Add the fried ginger, fried garlic, dried chillies, Sichuan peppercorns, green finger chillies and spring onion.

12. Fry for another 30 seconds till well mixed then serve immediately.

Serves six to eight with rice.