Not a true peppercorn, but rather the dried berry/seed of a deciduous prickly ash tree. The 3-4 mm berry has a rough reddish brown shell that is split open and a black seed inside. The black seed is bitter and can be discarded. The red shell can be added whole to stewed dishes or ground to a powder and used a seasoning. The spice has a unique aroma and flavor that is not as pungent as black pepper and has slight lemony overtones. Szechuan peppercorns are one of the five spices in Chinese five-spice powder. Called sansho in Japan, they are used in the spice mixture shichimi togarashi, or Japanese seven-spice seasoning.
Plural: Szechuan peppercorn
Ethnicity: Chinese, Szechuan
Season: available year-round
How to select: The spice is best purchased whole and ground as needed. Can sometimes be found in bulk at health food and gourmet stores.
How to prepare: They are generally used in either of two ways: For stir fried dishes: heat a dry skillet (no oil) on medium flame and add the Szechuan peppercorns. Toss and stir until they start to smoke a little. (Don't burn them). When cool enough to work with grind them in a spice mill, mortar & pestle or pepper grinder. (an electric coffee grinder can be used for grinding spices). Use whatever the recipe calls for and freeze the rest in a plastic container. For stews: add them whole along with the other seasonings and remove before serving.