prickly ash

Ma La spices and spiciness Sichuan hot pot

Ma La 麻辣 spices and spiciness, the lip and tongue-numbing heat of spicy Sichuan peppers in many dishes and sauces in Chongqing and Sichuan Cuisine. Embraced by lovers and fans of hot and spicy food also referred as La Wei 辣味.

The dishes of Chuan Cuisine are famous for their spicy-hot flavors, a spicy-hotness that Sichuaners call “dry hot”, insisting that it differs from the “wet hot” spiciness of other cuisines. The difference, say, Sichuaners, is that the spices used to achieve “dry hot” spiciness consists of a mixture of dry ingredients such as crushed peppercorns (black, red and white) and dried, crushed chili, as well as Sichuan Province’s own native pepper, huajiao. According to Sichuan-Cuisine chefs, gourmets and gourmands (which covers just about everyone cooking and eating Sichuan Cuisine), the salient features of “dry hot” spiciness consist of an instantaneous numbing effect on the tongue, and a pleasing, lingering, spicy-hot aftertaste. Source:Chinadaily

A favourite winter dish is Ma La Huo Guo 麻辣火鍋 or fiery Chinese Hotpot. The first time we had Ma La Hotpot, by chance we ordered a Double Lovers Hotpot since the kids joined for dinner as well. This variation is named Yuan Yang Huo Guo 鸳鸯火锅 or Mandarin ducks, representing male and female, yin and yang perfect harmony of warmth and cold. Which explains the common use of reference as Double Lovers Hotpot.

An inventive vessel next to the chimney type Hotpot, because the Double Lovers Hotpot has a divider containing a regular stock and Ma La broth sided together. Now in China and other Asian countries, you might even come across specialised fondue restaurants with quadruple pan holder for broth variations or including a grill for barbeque food.

With upcoming Chinese New Year celebration, this year on 8 February 2016 signifies an important Chinese Food culture known as “Reunion Dinner” 團年 Tuan Nian. Conjointly Chinese New Year holidays marks the greatest mass transportation, where 4% of the world’s population are on the move, with an estimated 3.5 billion journeys in China. The largest crowd of 200 million Mainland Chinese travelling long distance going back home to celebrate Chinese New Year with their families. These numbers do not take in account the number of Asian and Chinese descendants travelling outside of China to visit their families in other Chinese diasporas worldwide. Source: Chinese NewYear facts China Highlights

Chinese people all over the world consider it to be the most important part of the celebration. The reunion dinner literally meaning re-unite or grouping and 圍爐 Wei Lu which translates as surrounding the fireplace marks a family gathering on the Lunar New Year’s Eve.  Wei Lu 圍爐 symbolising the family gathering with a prolonged Hotpot as family members arrive one-after-another.

Double Lovers Hotpot 鸳鸯火锅

Double Lovers Hotpot 鸳鸯火锅 Credit and Photo courtesy by HTHSART | www.nipic.com

The versatility of Chinese Hotpot serves three purposes;

  1. First obviously as a soup, a base of meat stock made from one or mix of lamb, cow, pork or chicken bones simmered for hours to release nutrients and marrow with additional herbs and vegetables aiding extraction and enhancing the final broth. During the course of the dinner, the Hotpot will be refilled several times with the prepared broth. Added bonus once dinner progresses all the additional food items dippings will release more flavour to the broth.
  2. The dipping sauce condiments to create or blend your dip mixture to your own liking and preferences. For all intent and purposes, the various plates ingredients after being cooked in the Hotpot broths are dipped in your sauce before being savoured or wolfed down. Often used sauce components are; diced garlic, Sa Cha Jiang 沙茶酱 (a must), sliced green onion, chopped coriander, chopped ginger, salt, sugar, chilli slices or diced, Chinese vinegar, soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, vegetable oil, and chilli oil.
  3. While the broths are important so are the many accompanying ingredients of thinly sliced meats, fish and seafood, vegetables (typical Hotpot veggie is Tong Ho aka Chrysanthemum greens), doufu (dried, soft and hard) and variations of hotpot dumplings, doughy items e.g. Nian Gao 年糕. And often offal items are included and seen as a highlight for many Asian and less for the general Western palate.  Just remember an easy rule of thumb; 5 vegetable dishes and 5 meat/fish dishes is a good start.

Let me guarantee that life will never be the same after sampling Ma La sauce or hotpot, it is one of the most popular and sociable dinners in China and Taiwan. Your sensory taste buds will be nuked while experiencing the sauce or soup unique flavours at the same time. If you cry, you are in great company joining your culinary merriment in howls and other spasms.

Ma La Spices and Spiciness

While every Chef or household has its own recipe, the main ingredients are dried chilli peppers; La Jiao 辣椒 (dried Sichuan pepper) and Hua Jiao 花椒 (has a unique aroma slightly lemony tone and a tingling mouthfeel) next with chilli powder, cloves and use of black cardamom. Related to green cardamom, but bolder and stronger flavour with notes of resin and camphor, mostly used in curries (Indian), stews and meat broths in Chinese and Vietnamese Pho.

Other spices are fennel seed, cinnamon, star anise and typically Chinese herbs Sha Jiang 沙姜 (in Indonesian cooking aka kencur, aromatic ginger it has a peppery camphoraceous taste); Bai Zhi 白芷 aka  Angelica root or Chinese Angelica often used in stewing soups for restorative medicinal purpose as a tonic.

Nowadays Ma La sauce is premade ready and sold in Asian supermarkets or Chinese food stores. Sichuan restaurants will often make their own sauce blends in large quantities, as will home cook aficionados. Add to this the number of travellers who will return home and develop comfort food cravings starting to search for recipes or scouring their city for an authentic dish to recreate and/or rekindle the wake-up feel by Ma La spiciness on their tongue and lips. The MaLa Project literally chases Mala prickling and tingling spice in food and life by Taylor Holiday runs a great blog exploring authentic Sichuan dishes and recipes.

Since it’s still winter season we have the Wild game on the menu, here’s a dish Spicy Hare stir-fry regional Sichuan style recipe. Give it a try and adjust the spicy level of heat up a notch or keep it burning low and slow.

Ma La heat level

The flavour is spicy, numbing brought on by Hua Jiao (flower pepper aka prickly ash) and salty, mixed with a strong herbal taste which is often described as savoury, spicy, complicated and addictive.

The international pungency measurement for the level of spicy heat of chilli peppers is the Scoville scale heats unit (SHU). A practical measurement determined by the capsaicin sensitivity of testers and not a precise or accurate method to measure scientifically capsaicinoid (a volatile oil in peppers) concentration. This method is created by American pharmacist Wilbur Scoville in 1912. Since its origin using real testers you will often see in signs or advertisement the progressive faces of compliant up to screaming and teary faces or the number of peppers behind a dish or ingredient.

For those who are curious to find out how scientist measure spiciness now, check the link here for more information or browse to read more on a different measure of pungency units here.

How hot Ma La 麻辣 spices, as Sichuan peppers in La Wei 辣味 are can be viewed in the China challenge: Eat ‘World’s Spiciest’Rice Noodles original by NetEase|163.com as posted by Wall Street Journal Video Channel.

Entertain your Hotpot with family and friends at home or find a great Chinese Restaurant, take the challenge add some spice into 2016.

Happy New Year, I wish you good health and lasting prosperity.

恭贺新禧,祝身体健康、事业发达。

Spicy Hare stir-fry regional SiChuan style – Recipe

Spicy Hare Sichuan style

Spicy Hare Sichuan style

Hunting season has begun with an abundance of local Wild Game choice; Hare, Pheasant, Goose, Deer and Wild boar to name a few. Since I returned home I haven’t had the chance to try on Wild Game cooking. The occasion did not present itself till recently, to buy Wild Game and fowl directly from a hunter-gatherers group. Almost two weeks ago I picked up a Wild Rabbit or Hare, already butchered in parts; front legs, back legs and saddle at my request. Otherwise, I would have to skin, gut, debone and butchering it myself well that is just too much 麻烦 ’mafan’ or trouble since I only could prepare it the next day.

For this dish, you can use the whole Rabbit or Hare saddle rack by chopping it up in pieces or cut out the loins and then cut at an angle in fine slices. After I had posted my photos I received questions how I deboned the Hare. Instead of writing out that process I found a good instructional video to watch. Newbies to deboning might find this to be helpful improving their technique and make this dish as a next meal.

Sichuan is one of the popular cuisines in China and has set ground in Europe with a growing group of gourmets aficionados, its famously know because of their hot spicy taste and the flavour of numbing Sichuan pepper (aka Mala Wei 麻辣未). However it is actually a variety of flavours combined together; spicy, salty, sour, sweet, bitter, smokey and flowery (Sichuan peppercorns). It is not rare that you will find all of these flavours in one dish.

Flavors of Chuan Cuisine — hot and spicy

A variety of seasonings are used in Chuan Cuisine, and each dish can be cooked differently. Therefore Chuan Cuisine enjoys a reputation for variety. As the saying goes it’s ‘one dish with one flavor and one hundred dishes with one hundred flavors‘.

The most common flavors of Chuan Cuisine are hot and spicy, “the five fragrances” (Fennel, pepper, aniseed, cinnamon, and clove), other mixed spices, chili and Sichuan pepper (made with prickly ash), and sweet and sour. Source: Chinahighlights

Ma Po Doufu, Kung Pao Chicken, Yu Xiang Rou, are favourites in and outside of China, next to the common and exotic ingredients are wild game dishes, in all Chinese cuisines and all over south-east Asia. This realisation came to me after the huge response I had on my post with the request to share my recipe.

Now you might have an idea what you are preparing to taste, eating spicy and hot will never be the same. Since it was a trial cooking with Hare meat I have not taken any photo shots during preparation or cooking, these will be added later. For more information on some of the ingredients with images, you can read this here.

Last Sunday I’ve picked up a frozen goose and another Wild Rabbit, the Goose to try a roast and the Rabbit in three different dishes. Coming up!

Spicy Hare Sichuan style

Spicy Hare Sichuan style, dinner tonight

Enjoy!