This simple chicken stir-fry gets its sweet-savory mouth-tingling flavors from a combination of Sichuan peppercorns, honey, soy sauce and ginger. The peppercorns impart a pleasantly tingly effect. We combine them with fennel seeds and black pepper, toasting them all for deeper flavor. Serve with steamed or stir-fried vegetables and jasmine rice.
Harvested from the prickly ash tree, Sichuan peppercorns are unrelated to black peppercorns. Prized for their slightly resinous flavor and ability to “numb” the mouth, they are used broadly in Sichuan cooking; toasting heightens their flavor and aroma. They almost always are sold whole and require grinding before use.
This recipe calls for chicken thighs sliced ¼ inch thick. If you find it challenging to thinly slice meat of any type for stir-frying, sautéing or skewering, a brief stint in the freezer can help. Set the meat on a plate and freeze until just firm to the touch, 10 to 15 minutes. Partial freezing makes it easy to slice through the protein.
Dry Toast Spices for Deeper Flavor
Dry toasting intensifies the flavors and aromas of whole spices, with the flavor getting progressively more nutty and earthy as you go. But be careful not to burn them. We typically toast for 1 to 2 minutes over medium heat, stirring often. Transfer the spices to a plate or bowl to cool before grinding; do not leave them in the hot pan, where they will continue to cook. Dry toasting is also a great way to revive older spices a bit past their prime.