I’m going to tell you the secret of why my Thanksgiving was successful, and it has only a little to do with alcohol. It has a lot to do with the secret powers of certain foods…such as Sichuan peppercorns…
My whole idea for Thanksgiving was to have 10 friends over and ask everyone to bring a milk-, cow-, and pig-free side dish. My roommate would make dessert, and I’d do the turkey, the stuffing, and the gravy. I’d also bake some potatoes because it’s ridiculous to ask someone else to heat up their oven to make potatoes when mine is already roasting merrily away.
Besides, I had farmers’ market potatoes. I also had Sichuan peppercorns, and great plans to combine a Rosh Hashanah stuffed turkey breast recipe with an Asian-Inspired Sichuan-spiked roast bird…Oh, and I’d throw in a loaf of chocolate cranberry sourdough bread just for fun. The Asian turkey recipe came from the Montreal Gazette and Jonathan Cheung from Appetite For Books, possibly my favourite bookstore. My Gazette man is back at the Lionel-Groulx metro, as you may know, and I am a loyal follower. I am not a loyal follower of sausage, however, so Bonnie Stern’s dried fruit stuffing won out over Jonathan Cheung’s pork-based Asian stuffing. The reason for adding the sourdough bread was to get more out of the stuffing, and because traditional turkey stuffing is bread-based. Who am I to mess with tradition? Rhetorical, yes.
The thing about Sichuan peppercorns, see, is there’s both a mouth-numbing effect, but there’s also a mild stimulant or aphrodisiac effect. Most of the people at the dinner were couples, but I believe that an aphrodisiac can be either sexual or just a stimulant that makes you social and happy. So conversation flowed. So did the wine, but honestly we went through about 2 bottles of wine during the meal and slowly made it through half of a third by the end of the evening. For 10 people. Well, really 7 since 3 had beer, but 7 people and two bottles of wine is practically unheard of at most Thanksgiving dinners, and I know that’s not just my extended family.
All I did to make Sichuan peppercorn salt was roast 1 tablespoon of the aromatic kernels for 35 seconds in a hot pan until they were aromatic and started to smoke slightly, then ground them in my mortar and pestle and added 3 tablespoons of Himalayan salt (sea salt, fleur de sel, and kosher salt would all work fine).
What did I do with the Sichuan peppercorns, you ask? Three things:
1. The day before Thanksgiving I blended 3 cloves of garlic with a 2-inch piece of ginger, and 1 tbsp of olive oil until it formed a paste, stirred in a large pinch of the Sichuan pepper salt and pushed it under the skin of the washed and dried turkey (loosening the skin is a bit of an effort but it’s worth it when the meat is tenderized by the salt seasoning but the skin crisps up from the roasting. I think it’s actually one of the biggest tricks to doing a good turkey). Then I threw some extra peppercorn salt inside the turkey cavity, wrapped the bird in a huge net of aluminum foil, and put it in the fridge.
2. After stuffing the turkey the next day I sprinkled it with more of the peppercorn salt and brushed it with oil.
3. An hour before eating, after much basting, I used some of the pan drippings to coat the potatoes that were going to get baked. So they, too, were coated in peppercorns.
4. Instead of putting salt and pepper on the table, I put out a shot glass of of the peppercorn salt as seasoning. It looked like salt with freshly ground pepper…it was just a little more aromatic.
Of course, I didn’t tell anyone this. They’re better off this way, thinking they had a wonderful time of their own accord. All the while, I knew that I’d mildly drugged my dinner guests, increased their heart-rates, got a little bit of adrenaline going, and seduced them with Sichuan peppercorns…