Strawberry Szechuan sorbet
Strawberries are great. I think most people would agree to that, not least when it comes to ice creams. But as nice as the genuine flavour of the red strawberries can be, sometimes you wish for a bit of a refining twist. This time, we will seek such a twist with the help of Szechuan pepper – a spice closely linked both to traditional Chinese medicine and to the great Szechuan cooking tradition!
The Chinese province of Szechuan is widely known for its distinctive, bold and often hot-flavoured, cuisine (I, for one, will never forget when I first tasted Mapo doufu – ‘the Pockmarked-Face Lady’s Tofu’). Amongst the arsenal of powerful spices often used is the distinctive Szechuan pepper. Despite its Western name (in Chinese, its name 花椒 usually translates into “Flower pepper”), this is a spice which belongs to the rue (or citrus) family of plants. Thus, Szechuan pepper is actually more related to oranges and lemons than to ‘real’ peppers. Still, used in cooking it usually imparts a fragrant and very characteristic, intense result.
Preparing the sorbet is largely a matter of preparing a strawberry sorbet and adding some ground Szechuan pepper to the base. In other words, begin by preparing a simple sugar syrup (suggestively composed of equal parts sugar and water). Also, cut the strawberries in pieces and macerate them in some sugar (together with a little lemon juice) for at least an hour or more. Then, purée the strawberries well and add the sugar syrup. Check that the sugar balance is OK for a sweet sorbet by using the Egg test (or possibly more refined means), adjusting it by either adding more sugar syrup [if more sugar is needed] or some pure water [if the base has become too sweet].
In order to bring out the flavourful best in the Szechuan pepper, I would suggest that you roast the pepper corns in a hot frying pan for a few minutes. Make sure that they do not get burnt – typically, the powerful and pleasant fragrance brought out by the roasting should be a good indicator of when the peppers are ready. Once roasted and cooled down, grind the Szechuan pepper and add the spice to the sorbet base.
Churn in your ice cream machine according to instructions, or still-freeze in your freezer according to the advice given in this post.
The Szechuan pepper adds an intriguing herbal touch to the strawberry sorbet. And in case you may have been worried, this touch is actually not particularly fiery either. Interesting enough, while almost everyone who has tested this sorbet have been very appreciative of the flavour and the extra flavour-dimension added to the strawberries, most have failed to correctly identify the Szechuan pepper. Even those who “know their Szechuan pepper” have started guessing on spices like thyme, mint (!) and the likes. I guess it just goes to prove that certain combinations may work out very nicely even if the separate ingredients sometimes may be difficult to identify once they have been made part of something frozen.
So, in case you feel intrigued about adding a famous spice to your strawberries … or just a bit bored by the idea of preparing ‘just another plain strawberry sorbet’ – look no further! The Szechuan pepper stands ready to take you away!
- 1 tablespoon Szechuan pepper, roasted and ground
- About 250-300 gram strawberries
- About 1-1½ tablespoons of sugar
- About 250-300 ml (about 1-1.3 cups) simple sugar syrup (composed of equal parts water and sugar)
- Juice of ½- 1 lemon
- Cut the cleaned strawberries in rough pieces and mix with the sugar and the lemon juice. Set aside to macerate for at least about an hour.
- Prepare a simple sugar syrup by combining equal parts of water and sugar. Some prefer to gently heat the sugar to make sure that the sugar dissolves completely, but you may also bring about the same result by whisking or shaking the mixture. Set aside to cool (or even better, to chill).
- Roast the Szechuan pepper corns for a few minutes, taking care so that they do not get burnt. When roasted, ground them well.
- Purée the macerated strawberries and add the sugar syrup and the ground Szechuan pepper. Whisk well and check that the sugar content is appropriate for a sweet sorbet (using the Egg test or more sophisticated means).
- Churn the (possibly sugar-adjusted) sorbet base in your ice cream machine according to instructions, or still-freeze in your freezer (useful advise on still-freezing can be found in a post on the website)