Roasted duck with orange and Szechuan pepper. Photo: Marina Oliphant
Szechuan pepper is an aromatic spice that is more related to the citrus family than the black pepper family. It has a unique aroma and flavour that is not hot or pungent like black, white or chilli peppers. Instead, it has slight lemony overtones and creates a tingly numbness in the mouth.
Most recipes suggest lightly toasting the small seedpods, then crushing them before adding them to food. Only the husks of the seedpod are used - the shiny black seeds have a gritty, sand-like texture. This spice is generally added at the last moment because its delicate flavour can be lost from too much cooking.
Szechuan pepper's citrus flavour works well with the richness of a beautiful free-range duck, and cooking it in the pot helps retain loads of flavour.
Strawberries and pepper make an unusual but successful match and this is a twist on that idea, set with a fantastic creamy lemon verbena ice-cream.
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large duck, about 1.8 kg
salt and pepper
2 onions, peeled and roughly chopped
2 carrots, roughly chopped
1 celery stick, chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tsp Szechuan peppercorns
1 tbsp plain flour
500ml chicken stock
4 strips orange peel
2 bay leaves
3 star anise
Preheat oven to 180C. Melt the butter and oil in a large, deep casserole with a lid. Cut the legs off the duck and remove the back area, only leaving the two breasts attached to the bone. Season the meat, then sear the duck pieces on both sides in the butter and oil until lightly coloured. Remove and set aside. In the same pan, add the onions and carrots, leave to colour over a moderate heat, then add the celery and garlic and cook for 5 minutes. Toast the peppercorns in a dry frying pan then crush or grind quite finely. Add them with the flour to the vegetables and stir well.
Cook for 3 or 4 minutes then pour in the stock. Bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper, add the orange peel, bay leaves and star anise, then return the duck pieces to the pan. Cover with a lid and bake for about 20 minutes. Remove the duck from the pot and rest for 5 minutes in a warm place. To serve, cut each leg in half through the knee joint and place on a plate. Remove the duck breasts from the body and carve into 6 slices each, then divide leg and breast meat between four plates. Serve with a few of the cooking vegetables and a little sauce.
300ml thick cream
1 vanilla bean, split
handful lemon verbena leaves
6 egg yolks
175g castor sugar
600g strawberries, washed and sliced
1 tbsp Szechuan pepper, toasted and ground
Place cream and milk in a saucepan. Scrape in the vanilla seeds and add the bean. Bring to the boil, then add lemon verbena leaves, turn off the heat and set aside for 10 minutes to infuse. Place the egg yolks and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat until pale. Carefully pour the milk mixture in, then return to a clean saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring, for about 5 minutes until it is slightly thickened and coats the back of a wooden spoon (this simple custard forms the basis of a classic ice-cream recipe). Pass the liquid through a sieve to remove the leaves and vanilla pod, set aside to cool, then refrigerate for 30 minutes. Churn in an ice-cream machine according to the manufacturer's directions. Place 2 scoops of ice-cream in a bowl, add some strawberries, then sprinkle a pinch of pepper over the top and serve.