Sichuan food is a complex cuisine made up of seven basic flavours. Chef Rick Du of Shangri-la Hotel Shenyang demonstrates two of them: mala and yuxiang.
Yuxiang Crab and Cangzhou Crispy Chicken
Known as one of China’s eight great cuisines, Sichuan food is often described as spicy and numbing. It is, however, more than just a one-note cuisine. Executive Chinese chef Rick Du of Summer Palace restaurant in Shangri-la Hotel Shenyang describes each of the seven basic flavours – sour, pungent, hot, sweet, bitter, aromatic and spicy – and their roles in the cuisine.
For example, mala (hot, spicy, pungent and bitter) is made up of a laundry list of ingredients, with Sichuan peppercorn and chilli peppers being the two most prominent ones. The former forms the ma portion and is considered a hot flavour, while the latter forms the la and is spicy. Garlic and ginger add pungency.
The Cangzhou Crispy Chicken is a dish brimming with mala taste as it requires the use of three different types of chilli and rattan pepper oil (a Sichuan peppercorn extract). Du prefers to use rooster meat, which has a skin that crisps up well when fried, and the robust meat flavour is an appropriate complement to the fiery notes.
Yuxiang taste may be lesser known, but it is no less important in Sichuan cuisine. According to Du, chefs can take years of practice to achieve the balance of yuxiang. His recipe is one of the many gems to have come out from his time in Chinese kitchens, and his nomination as one of China Hotel Global Forum's Platinum Top 10 Chefs is a testament to his expertise.
Despite the name literally translating to fish taste, there is no seafood used in the sauce or seasoning for any yuxiang dish. Instead, a combination of vinegar, sugar, garlic, ginger and pickled peppers is used to form a distinct fish-like aroma. This signature base makes for an excellent starting point for dishes such as Du's Yuxiang Crab. The secret to a lip-smacking crab? Ensure all exposed flesh is covered with a liberal coat of cornflour before deep-frying. It prevents the flesh from becoming too dry during frying.
Check out epicure on Youtube for a behind-the-scenes video of this masterclass.