There is a culinary metaphor popular among Sichuan chefs: Ginger is the brother of food, while chili the lover. Green chili is like a young girl, before one can fully appreciate her beauty, she matures in the sun of summer, turning all red for her passion and spiciness. If you still love her then, yours is true love.
In the late summer morning the farmer’s market in Sichuan is full of red chili peppers. The best ones are firm and dark red. Now it is the time to make one of the best yet most-unnoticed pickles in the world: Sichuan’s naturally fermented pickles. The main ingredients are the simplest: a little salt and water. Then nature will do the rest of magic. A good jar of brine can last for decades, – at least so numerous folklores claim. The pickled red chilies are wonderful companion for fish dishes and garlic sauce. Their trace can be found in many other dishes. Some real chili junkies will just snack on them.
As the year gets deep into fall, the dried red chilies hung in backyard are symbol of harvest. They are most used ingredients, and the base of many other condiments in Sichuan cuisine. Unlike pickled red chili pepper, which still retains its vegetable texture, most of people don’t eat dried chili pepper directly at all even it tastes wonderful. But some clever Sichuan chefs finally figured out a way to make it crispy and give it chip-like texture. It doesn’t only taste good but addictive to eat. It’s Sichuan style Super Bowl snack, perfect to rush down with cold beer. Now you can find it in some of the most popular dishes in Legend like Dry Spicy Tasty Diced Chicken.
“Sichuan food would not be Sichuanese without the hot chilies that arrived before 1700 from South America.” ― Raymond Sokolov, Why We Eat What We Eat: How Columbus Changed the Way the World Eats
The world is a giant circle. One thing we can say, Sichuan has been connected to America since the day chilies arrived at the then remote Southwest China. Now we come back to re-pay America with authentic Sichuan cuisine.
Not all Sichuan dishes are spicy. But it is true that Sichuan food is known for its spiciness. In China, people from provinces like Hunan, Guizhou and Yunnan are addicted to spicy food too. However unlike Sichuan cuisine, they didn’t develop a major school of gourmet cusine with hundreds of different flavors. Hot pepper is called “Sea Pepper” (“Hai Jiao”) in Sichuan dialect, implying its foreign origin. Four hundred years after hot pepper arrived in Sichuan, it has become the king of Sichun cuisine.
In early summer on the eastern mountain of Chengdu, hot pepper is fruiting. The finger-like green peppers stick out from under the leaves. This is Chengdu people’s favorite specie of hot pepper. When the pepper is still young, it can be simply stir-fried with a little salt and vegetable oil. The mild spiciness along with the original aroma of pepper makes it perfect to go with white rice. After June, the pepper has become more spicy. After stir-fry it, you can add a little sugar and vinegar to soften the spiciness. You’d better eat it after it’s cooled to room temperature. The pepper tastes like cold dishes but with hotness comes to you wave after wave. A real Sichuan food connoisseur will enjoy it just like a wine buff savor a glass of wonderful Bordeaux.
In Legend 72 actually there are things as simple as stir-fried hot pepper. It is true taste of hometown with the light spiciness and green pepper aroma. I am sure that it takes some Sichuan people to where they grew up at the first bite. It just feels home.
A hot pepper farm field in Sichuan. This is a common sight in a farmer’s backyard in Sichuan.
It is a question often asked by people, what is behind the decision that Legend 72, our new location in Upper West Side 72nd Street, serves different menu than that of Chelsea location. The short answer is because the head chef there would like to present his our taste and vision while keep the same tradition and authenticity of Sichuan style. The long answer is, well, very long.
Historically Sichuan Province is divided into many regions. Each region has its own different variation of culinary tradition. The same dish can have many different interpretations in these places (like Chengdu Fish Soup with Pickle, Chongqing Spicy Chicken). A good cook can capture the subtle differences and integrate them into their own personal techniques. Each region also has its own best-known dishes, on which people prefix the name of the place to denote the variation. When you muster those dishes in front of you, it’s like you are taking a gourmet trip around Sichuan on your table. A good map should be well in order to add the fun.
Hence the head chef created his own menu based on Chelsea one. He wants his clients to try many other flavors. We hope people in the neighborhood would like his works. We also hope people would appreciate and enjoy the difference, like taking a virtual tour in Sichuan on your table.
An old courtyard in Chengdu. The wall, the stone water jar and ginkgo tree are typical architectural elements in Sichuan home. The decoration of Legend 72 is trying to capture some of them.
Legend Restaurants are dedicated to bring gourmet Sichuan food to its neighborhood. “The food is so spicy but I can’t stop” is the sort of thing you are probably to overhear at one of the Legend locations. If you live for sensual stimulation, and for taste bud excitement whenever you have chance, and the aroma from mixed spices, you will be in paradise in Legend. Thanks to our ingenious Sichuan chefs, the food is as great as it is thousands miles away in mountainous Southwest China.
If you are familiar with spicy food, do you want to take it to the next level? The next level is the delicate art of Sichuan cuisine in which the master food juxtapose among numerals flavors, cutting techniques, cooking methods, secret ingredients to achieve perfection when the food arrive at your month.
The small team of chefs, who all come from Sichuan, have eating parties once in a while. Listening to their conversations at the table is like taking authentic Sichuan food culinary class while enjoying the masterful dishes. We want to use this blog to share the taste and beauty, and the journey starts here.
The is the picture took years ago when the first Legend Restaurant featured in New York Times.