French Fry Breakthrough: Huajiao Fried Potatoes at Little Pepper
Look out mouth! Here they come.
It's the best thing since the invention of shoestrings: French fries dusted with crushed Sichuan peppercorns. Cram a handful in your mouth, and they scrunch and squish like regular fries, suffusing your mouth with spuddy savor, but then the huājiāo sensation rushes in like a loudmouth at a party.
Sichuan peppercorns affect your mouth in a way that's hard to describe, and I've actually fielded phone calls from tourist friends in China, asking me what the hell they were. One caller said "My lips feel all cold and tingly," while another exclaimed, "I feel like my mouth just died." These peppercorns--which produce the fabled "ma la" ("numbing" and "spicy hot") flavor--have an anesthetizing effect as surely as a shot of Novocaine.
Most Sichuan restaurants feature potatoes in one form or another--most commonly shredded, oiled, and served raw or nearly raw with minced green chiles. But Little Pepper (number 1 in Our 10 Best Sichuan Restaurants in NYC) brilliantly goes several steps further, cutting the potatoes like conventional fries, frying them in oil, then dusting them with crushed Sichuan peppercorns. The dish is paradoxically called "fried potato in hot sauce," even though there's no sauce, and they might have invented it, but probably not. (Google it, and you'll find several other examples, usually under the heading "fusion.")
Taste the ma la fries, and you'll to want to acquire your own supply of Sichuan peppercorns and sprinkle them on every French fry you eat from now on.
Little Pepper 18-24 College Point Boulevard College Point, Queens 718-939-7788
Here's what Sichuan peppercorns look like -- crush them up a bit before you put them on your fries.
Follow me on Twitter -- @robertsietsema
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