Asian inspired

Dishes from the Sichuan province are cranking up the heat in U.S. kitchens.

Published in FSD Update

Revered for its bold flavors, mouthwatering heat and unique numbing sensation, Szechuan cuisine hits a lot of notes with today’s adventurous diners, says Mark Kim, executive chef at UCLA’s Feast at Rieber Dining Hall.

“Chinese cuisine was highly requested from students, and Szechuan is [particularly] enjoyed by many diners due to the liberal use of garlic, chili peppers and fragrant peppercorns, yielding slightly sour and bitter tastes,” says Kim, who uses mostly stir-frying, steaming and braising techniques.

UCLA isn’t alone. Because of the large population of international students, particularly of Asian origin, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign provides a wide variety of Asian foods, including Szechuan Bang Bang in three variations: beef, chicken and vegan protein.

“The flavor profile of Bang Bang, also known as Bon Bon, is best described as fireworks in your mouth—it’s bold with a balanced sweet heat,” explains Dawn Aubrey, associate director of housing for dining, adding that most students prefer the bold profile when served alongside mild flavors, like noodles.

Similarly, in the corporate world, more customers were requesting Asian cuisine, says Kris Valencia, regional culinary director for Compass Group supporting Microsoft Real Estate & Facilities, in Redmond, Wash.

So dining services recently launched a new Asian concept called Pacific Rim Kitchen, where noodle dishes are served alongside traditional dim sum and small plates, like Szechuan chicken wings. The wings are marinated in a sauce of sesame oil and seeds, ginger, garlic, chilies, Chinese five-spice and freshly ground Szechuan peppercorns. “Toast the spice powder and peppercorns together first to bring out the oils and fragrances,” suggests Valencia, noting the secret to the wing’s popularity is in the sourcing.

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