Gochugaru Girl has a treasured jar of deep-red dried chillies.
The chillies look ordinary but they have a very interesting provenance.
In 2004, our family went on holiday to Beijing. At the time, there were strict restrictions on the importation of dried Sichuan chillies into the UK. I had asked for them specifically before, at a chilli stall in Borough Market, and was told that it was possible to buy any type of dried chilli in the UK, except Sichuan dried chillies.
Nothing creates a desire in the human heart more than these words: You can’t have it.
One of our meals in Beijing was at a Sichuanese restaurant so I asked the owner if I could buy some of these chillies. He asked how much I wanted.
Not thinking too clearly, and in all honesty giving in to my cultural tendency to hoard in time of plenty, I asked for one kilo of the dried chillies.
This translated into one huge bag and we have been using it up steadily ever since.
The jar gets taken out of the cupboard a few times a year, much like Jeremy Bentham’s auto-icon at University College London (Mr Gochugaru’s alma mater).
For anyone who thinks it’s not possible to use dried chillies after such a long time, I would point to exhibits at museums where ancient dried foods (such as dom palm fruits and figs and dates in the British Museum) are displayed – as if they were ready to be used in today’s stew.
My Sichuan chillies have lasted this long as they are used sparingly. With stem and seeds removed, the chillies are crushed and added to dishes for a burst of fiery heat. One of my favourite uses is as a spicing for nuts.
I am going to China later this year, but I won’t need to bring back another bag of Sichuan dried chillies. It is now possible to buy them from oriental supermarkets here in London. Try See Woo, Loon Fung or Wing Yip.
One on-line company, Sous Chef, currently stocks them. For other sources of dried whole chillies and chilli flakes, try the Cool Chile Company, the South Devon Chilli Farm and Steenbergs.