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Let’s Talk About the Addictive Nature of Sichuan Peppercorns

There’s a taste sensation I’ve been chasing lately that borders on addiction. It’s a rolling numbness, like lightning bottled up and served as a condiment. A wavelength of electric feel the likes MGMT would be proud of. It’s a tingling vibration that embraces my entire mouth in a buzz, like I’ve just gargled a raincloud. But in a good way. And it’s all thanks to the Sichuan peppercorn.

For those not familiar, the Sichuan peppercorn is commonly used in Chinese food, more specifically, in Sichuan cuisine. Unlike most peppers, Sichuan peppercorn’s characteristics aren’t hot or pungent, rather they illicit a spice sensation that’s akin to the carbonation in soda yet with a tingly, numbing sensation, like touching your tongue to a nine-volt battery. Though I wouldn’t recommend actually doing so. And we have the 3% of a molecule called hydroxy-alpha sanshool within the peppercorns to thank for this dynamic feeling.

To get to the bottom of my obsession with Sichuan spice, I hit up Chef Louis Tikaram, of EP & LP in Hollywood, CA, who recently debuted a secret menu dish that featured actual fresh Sichuan peppercorns. The reason that’s significant is because according to him, finding fresh Sichuan peppercorns outside of China is quite rare.

“I went to Kong Thao’s farm in Fresno and I walked under this tree and got this crazy kind of waft. I was like what the fuck what is that? It was fresh Sichuan peppercorns and I look up and it’s just this huge tree. I always imagined [they] would be on almost like a vanilla vine, so perfect and delicate and powerful.”

Such a eureka moment sparked a fervor in Tikaram to take advantage of this opportunity, ultimately leading to a dish that utilized the concentrated power of fresh Sichuan peppercorns.

“So I took a big bag, rode it back to the restaurant and I started to cook. These fresh berries are so intense. Where the dry ones have been heat treated, dried, and who knows when they’ve been harvested. Could’ve been years ago. Knowing how powerfully concentrated the peppercorns are fresh, I had to develop a dish where I could get that intensity but balance it so it has kind of that intoxicating aroma and you can still understand where the dish is coming from.”

The result is a beautifully fried fish cooked in vegetable oil that the fresh peppercorns were heated in quickly, which is a process that Tikaram referred to as “blooming.” What this does is flavor the oil with the peppercorns’ electric essence almost instantly, which he then uses to coat the fried fish.

Watching Chef Louis orchestrate his mastery of this dish had me salivating more than a pack of Pavlov’s hounds. When he slid the finished plate to me I almost snatched it halfway, the longing for the cosmic Sichuan spice getting the better of me. First bite and yes, there it was, that familiar floral tinge that unfurled itself slowly across my tongue like silken electricity, coating my palate in delicious voltage. And it’s this very nature of spicy that has plenty other foodies flocking to Sichuan-style restaurants these days.

Stopping short of calling this rise of interest in Sichuan cuisine a trend, it is easy to say that the freakishly addictive nature of this otherworldly kind of spiciness is on the cusp of being bigger that what it is confined to. And with chefs like Louis Tikaram coming across rarities like fresh Sichuan peppercorns, soon enough we’ll be seeing the fresh jungle green tinge of them in more and more regional style dishes, as opposed to the maroon hue of dried ones.

What that hopefully means is more taser-good tastes coming to fiends of the Sichuan spice, as the love for this cuisine is literally the buzz these days for adventurous foodies and curious palates alike.

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Watch The Creators of “Rick and Morty” Try The Coveted McDonald’s Szechuan Sauce

Very few in this world have the financial capability to spend frivolous amounts of money on even more frivolous items. For example: World renowned DJ, Deadmau5, purchased a 64oz. jug of McDonald’s Szechuan Sauce for about $15,000.

If you have been previously unaware of the hype going around regarding the McDonald’s Szechuan sauce, the popular animated television series Rick and Morty — following a grandpa/grandson duo’s inter-dimensional misadventures — brought the limited time McNugget sauce back from its 1998 nostalgic obscurity, igniting the internet’s fascination.

In the video above, creators Dan Harmon, Justin Roiland, and their team all get a chance to try the Mulan-inspired sauce, bearing mixed reviews.

If only my 8 year-old self could recall how this presumably delicious McNugget sauce tasted like; my tastebuds wouldn’t be trembling. These guys are practically grubbing away at a dipping sauce worth roughly $235/oz. The hype is real.


Popcorn Butter-Washed Cocktails, Pizza-Puffed Pasta and More Arousing Snacks at PLAY

To be honest, I was a little skeptical when I heard that PLAY,  a bar and lounge, opened as an extension of the Museum of Sex. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that it markets itself as a “transformative experience that arouses the senses.”  I envisioned dark corners and multicolored, er, paraphernalia.

Oh, how wrong I was, and how happy I was to be wrong.  The space is dark but inviting, leather couches and 70’s era chairs line the walls. This is a place to relax and let the music slide over you.  Jim Kearns, of Balthazar, Dumont, Pegu club and Death & Co., have created what can only be described as a mindf$%@ of flavors in various fancy glasses.


The Bearing Straight


Walking straight might be a bit difficult after this one.  Mezcal, nigori sake, kiuchi no shizuku (an oak-aged wine), ginger, yuzu, and a salted umeboshi plum is one of the strangest combinations you will find here.  It’s smoky and spicy, with a smoothness that lingers and, quite frankly, makes you want to make out with anyone in sight — it’s that good.  So, way to go on that one, PLAY.


The Rosebud


With gin, St. Germain, rose-infused vermouth, ginger, and lemon, this drink was subtle, the rose coming in through the nose at the end.


Drive-In Saturday


This conjures up the taste and experience of being at the movies. Popcorn butter-washed White Dog mixed with pharmacy cola and salt tastes like throwing back a handful of kernels and washing it down with a Coke.


A Clear Day In Normandy


This is the total opposite of the Drive-In, with a mix of apple eau de vie, grapefruit bitters, and Lairds applejack. It tastes like biting into a crisp, alcoholic apple and I wish this grew on trees.


70% Cacao


This one’s a doozy made with rum, bourbon, strawberry liqueur, crème de cacao, Campari, Tri-Star, and mole bitters for an intensely sweet, somewhat smoky and spicy drink.  At first it tasted a bit like Robitussin, but it quickly grew on me after sipping the others. This is definitely a second drink drink.


A bar wouldn’t be worth going to if there wasn’t any good food. Chef Ben Roche informed us that after debating on whether to make everything on the menu look like genitals or not, he decided to play with all the senses — mixing textures and tastes into delectable morsels.


Concentrated Popcorn


Popcorn coated with brown butter and cheddar cheese topped with a dash of hops powder is funky, salty, and highly addictive.


Szechuan Peanuts


These are my new favorite snack, covered in Szechuan pepper, chili, and served with cilantro and micro greens. Each bite is different, and by the end of the bowl (because you’ll end up eating the entire bowl) your tongue is numb.


Yuba Chips


These crisp chips are made from the skin that rises to the top of the pot when tofu is made.  They’re spicy and insanely crunchy — hands down the best chips you’ve ever had thanks to a sprinkling of nori and togarashi.


Pizza-Puffed Pasta


This, of all the bar snacks, is a killer, genius idea.  Overcooked pasta is fried so it puffs up crisp, then tossed in a spice mix that tastes like tomato, garlic, oregano, burnt crust, and mozzarella cheese. Perfection.


Beef Tongue


If you need more than bar snacks, get some tongue. Crisp chunks of beef tongue, tasting like the beefiest beef you ever had,  are plated with fried cauliflower, cauliflower puree, and chimichurri.


Rabbit Focaccia 


This focaccia was brought out last minute by Roche, who told us we couldn’t leave without trying it. Oh my God, was he right. The bread is studded with pieces of homemade comfit rabbit leg, topped with a white gazpacho made from almonds, and served with split grapes.  It’s unassuming, but it whacks you right over the head with fatty rabbit flavor, cut through by the richness of the almonds, which in turn is cut through by the grapes. It’s a perfect trio, and everything’s in-sync.

After ending on that phenomenal note, I’m definitely heading back soon to see what else PLAY has up its stocking.



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