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Chinese Prickly Ash

Last night I made this recipe for Steak au Poivre with Balsamic Reduction, but I ran into several snafus.

  1. Instead of sourcing three different types of peppercorn, I was going to take a shortcut and use Trader Joe’s four peppercorn mix. As luck would have it, my TJ’s stopped carrying this mix a while ago. I only had time to make one grocery store stop, so I thought I’d just make do with the one type of peppercorn I had at home. And that’s what I did. I took six tablespoons of the peppercorns and ground them up in my mini coffee/spice grinder.
  2. I assumed that I had black peppercorns. Wrong assumption. As it turns out, the bulk package of peppercorns that I’d been using ALL THESE YEARS to fill my lovely pepper mill was really Szechuan peppercorns! Wow. I had gotten the package at the asian grocery store, and the only description is "Chinese Prickly Ash."
  3. Tony kept complaining about his tongue going numb last night, and I just laughed at him. Poor baby. Today, when I snuck some leftover cold steak (yummy) out of the fridge to snack on, my tongue went numb. I couldn’t deny that Tony was on to something…so off to Google I went. As it turns out, Szechuan peppercorns are well known for their tongue numbing ability. The pods are also used in China as a toothache remedy due to their numbing qualities. Heh. 
  4. Szechuan peppercorns should be pan-roasted before grinding "to bring out their flavor."  Oops.
  5. I made the mistake of using too high of heat to reduce the balsamic vinegar. EWWW. Review this Chowhound thread for advice on balsamic vinegar reductions (Martha makes it sound so easy!). Also, I thought my LC cast iron skillets were enameled, but I could be mistaken…and the acid in the vinegar could have reacted with the iron. Either way, it tasted like Chinese Prickly Butt. I immediately trashed the sauce.

So, there you have it. Heather’s culinary lesson of the day: Chinese Prickly Ash = Szechuan Peppercorn = toothache remedy = not the best choice for steak coating deliciousness. Unless, of course you want your guests to have numb tongues. That could be a good prank!

I definitely mean to try this recipe another time. It has a whole lot of potential with less Szechuan pepper, less tongue numbing, less scorching, and a non-reactive skillet.

Oh, and sorry babe for not taking your numb tongue seriously.

The End.

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