Jenny Song wrote an excellent book on the Szechuan cuisine by the way.
Anyway, I have been tasting more than a load of dried chillies and the taste varies a lot! And I am still working myself through a mountain of them and really, what a difference. Now I want to take your time for a bit, to tell you about the differences I have found.
I learned anybody can mess up the best chilli, but hardly anybody can make a good chilli taste great after it is dried. And the secret is in the time. Now sure, we all are busy and I would love to have 40 hours in a day or more, but for some things you need to take time. And drying chillies does.
Now I had them in the oven, dehydrator and what not. And it didn’t take long to learn that if I am in a hurry, and dry them at higher temperatures the taste goes bad. You always get this almost “just about not burned” taste where the sugars go beyond caramelising. . . Brr
So lower at the temp is better, also in a dehydrator, still there is something missing.
Then I air dried them on strings, like they do in France, well hellooooo! That was the taste I was looking for and wanted. And I was sure to have tasted it before, it was in air dried wild chillies I got from Bolivia, and from Mexican chillies. I got the same taste now and then in Chinese chillies you can buy here, but that is a bit of hit and miss. Some are great, most are not. Sorry for the ramble, but do try to dry on a string some time, you will be amazed. The difference is about as big as pork meat and naturally cured Prosciutto. . .
Now, today I had the honour to taste the “Facing Heaven Fingers” or rather the choatian qixiang jiao. These type of chillies go by various names, also “facing heaven 7 stars” and “seven sisters” they are sold as rather hot chillies. In the way the plant is growing, they look similar to the Rawit from Indonesia and the Cheongyang Gochu from Korea.
I think they are as hot as those too, around 50.000-70.000 SHU. The taste has a bit of citrus and fruit. Due to really being naturally dried, or cured almost, you get a bit of a liquorice taste. It is not prominent nor faint but present.
The heat is frontal, you know what you get, and it leaves a bit of a sweet taste. On the way down, it heats the mouth and throat in a pleasant way. But what strikes me most is the sweet aftertaste it has.
This chilli is used in, what I read in Jenny’s cookbook as most commonly used in Sichuan for hotpot. Now I think I am going to use this in a hotpot too, or a Carbonade flamande, hmm choices choices. I think I will keep it to only using 2, hmm, or 3?
Bart J. Meijer