Try this Szechuan paneer for a tongue numbing and spicy paneer dish. Cooked in a fiery sauce filled with Szechuan peppercorns and chillies.
Who doesn’t love a good paneer dish? Paneer makes an appearance on 99% of Indian menus and takeaway orders. At least, it does on mine.
This is not chilli paneer, I’d say it’s more of a distant cousin of it. It’s definitely a spicy paneer dish, but one with a tongue tingling sensation and a totally different flavour profile.
This is quite a popular paneer dish offered in many restaurants and takeout spots. You’ve got crispy paneer tossed in this hot, sour, salty, and sweet sauce. It’s definitely a spicy one, which almost seems like a given with any vibrant red sauce you may see in Indo-Chinese dishes.
Out of the abundance of Szechuan Paneer dishes I’ve ordered and tried, I’d honestly say maybe less than 1/10 have utilised Szechuan/Sichuan peppercorns in their dish.
These peppercorns offer a tongue tingling sensation and a citrusy, earthy, and pepper flavour. It’s totally unique from any other type of peppercorn and quite a key component of Szechuan/Sichuan cooking.
What are Szechuan/Sichuan peppercorns?
Szechuan peppercorns originate from China, more specifically the Szechuan province in the southwest of China (also spelt as Sichuan). The spice itself comes from the Szechuan pepper, also known as Chinese prickly ash and is well known for it’s numbing sensation.
These peppercorns can be found in your local East Asian supermarket or purchased online. They are a red/brown/purple colour and often sold as whole peppercorns.
A green variety also exist which are harvested from a different variety of the prickly ash tree, they’re much stronger in flavour.
How to choose with Szechuan/Sichuan peppercorns to buy
I personally use the red/purple variety as the green can be over-powering. My advice would be to purchase the peppercorns that are sold as just the husks.
Sichuan peppercorns can often be sold with the inner black seeds which then require removing as they’re not edible. Purchasing just the husks saves this step and a lot of time.
What is paneer?
Paneer is an Indian cottage cheese. It’s a soft, but firmly set cheese that doesn’t melt and hence is perfect for grilling and cooking. It can vary in texture, with fresh paneer often having a soft melt-in-the-mouth bite whilst the supermarket paneers can often be drier and slightly more chewy.
It’s made through a simple process of curdling milk with some form of acid, and then separating the curds from the whey. The curds are them compressed and refrigerated until they form a lovely cohesive block of paneer.
The sauce combination adds incredible flavour
We’re adding in a mixture of rice vinegar, light soy sauce, ketchup, and syrup (I personally use agave syrup). This gives us a really well rounded and balanced flavour.
You’ve got heat from the Szechuan paste, sourness from vinegar, saltiness and umami from soy sauce, sweetness and acidity from ketchup. And finally a finishing note of caramelised sweetness from agave.
I like to use dried Kashmiri Chillies for the Szechuan sauce
They’re great to use and a staple in my pantry. These chillies provide a ton of colour and flavour without being overpoweringly hot. You could also use facing heaven chillies which would work great for this recipe too.
What can I serve this Szechuan paneer with?
If you’re looking for a great noodle recipe to serve alongside, I’d recommend my Lemongrass Chilli Noodles. The combination of flavours is genuinely *chef’s kiss*, if I may say so.
The paneer can also be served alone as an appetiser, especially for those who love a bit of heat.
What you’ll need for this recipe:
I’ll cover the main ones below but the full recipe can be found at the end of the blogpost
- Paneer – an Indian cottage cheese that is soft but firmly set. Available from most supermarkets/South Asian shops
- Dried red chillies – any will work, I personally like to use dried Kashmiri chillies as they provide colour and flavour without being overpoweringly spicy
- Szechuan/Sichuan peppercorns – sometimes labelled as ‘prickly ash’ and can be purchased online or from East Asian supermarkets
- 5 Spice – this is a Chinese spice mix usually consisting of star anise, fennel, cinnamon, cloves, and pepper (either white or Szechuan/Sichuan). It sometimes also contains ginger
- Chilli powder – I like to use Kashmiri chilli powder here for more colour without it being overpoweringly spicy. Paprika would also work
- Ketchup – this might seem strange however it’s used a lot in Indo-Chinese recipes due to the sweetness, acidity, and umami it adds
- Syrup/sweetener of choice – e.g. honey, agave, or maple syrup
- Cornflour – this is sold as cornflour in the UK and corn starch in the US. It’s used to thicken the sauce
- Neutral flavoured oil – anything like sunflower/vegetable/rapeseed will be great here
How to make Szechuan paneer
Let’s start with preparing the Szechuan peppercorns
1) I prefer to buy Szechuan peppercorn husks rather than the entire peppercorn. It saves the task of separating the black inner ‘seeds’ which are inedible
2) Toast the Szechuan peppercorns on a low heat for around 5 minutes, they’ll start to smell very fragrant and almost spicy and citrusy at the same time
3) Transfer the toasted peppercorns to a pestle and mortar and pound till finely ground like 4)
Then let’s make the Szechuan/Sichuan sauce
1) Soak dried chillies in boiling water for at least 20 minutes
2) Then add them to a blender jug along with shallots, garlic, and ginger. Also add in around 5tbsp of the chilli soaking liquid to help form a smooth paste
3) Blend until smooth
4) Don’t worry if it’s not totally smooth!
Next let’s make Szechuan Paneer
1+2) Start by chopping the paneer into bite size pieces
3) Soak the paneer in boiling water for 30 minutes, this will get it really soft. I usually do this and the chillies first, and use the 30 minutes to prep everything else
4) Drain the paneer but don’t pat dry. Transfer to a wide bowl or plate. The moisture will help the flours to adhere
5) Sprinkle the plain flour and cornflour (cornflour for UK readers and corn starch for US readers) over the paneer
6) Toss the paneer until they’re all coated in a very thin layer of flour
7) Pan fry the paneer in a few tbsp of oil until golden on one side, then flip and repeat
8) Once the paneer is golden on both sides, transfer to a paper towel lined plate
9) All the paneer will be golden and crispy
10) Drain the remaining oil out of the pan (if there’s excess) but leave around 1-2tbsp. Sauté the Szechuan sauce in the oil
11) Continue sautéing the sauce for around a minute
12) Then add in the ground spices (Szechuan peppercorns, 5 spice, and chilli powder)
13) Next add in the sauces (rice vinegar, light soy sauce, ketchup, and syrup). I’ve used agave syrup here
14) Mix everything together well
15) Pour in a cornflour/corn starch slurry. This is a mix of water and cornflour (cornflour for UK readers and corn starch for US readers)
16) Continue to simmer the sauce until glossy and ever so slightly thickened
17) Add in the crispy paneer and some roughly chopped coriander
18) Give everything a good mix and serve the Szechuan Paneer immediately
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I substitute the Szechuan peppercorns for black or white peppercorns?
It will still taste great with black or white peppercorns, but it will be quite a different flavour compared to Szechuan peppercorns.
The Szechuan/Sichuan peppercorns are citrusy, earthy, peppery, and finish off with a tongue numbing sensation. The tongue tingling is one of the key experiences of this dish.
Where can I buy Szechuan peppercorns?
You’ll find them at your local East Asian supermarket or through online retailers. They can be purchased whole or pre-ground.
I always buy the more red/purple variety and specifically the ones that are just the husks. The peppercorns are sometimes sold with the inner black ‘seeds’ which require removing as they’re not edible and can make your dish taste gritty.
Can I make Szechuan Tofu instead of Szechuan Paneer?
Absolutely, just substitute the paneer for a firm tofu. Tofu doesn’t require soaking in water, simply coat the tofu in the flours in the same way as the paneer.
If you enjoyed this recipe
Please do let me know! Leave a review and a rating below, I’d love to know how you got on.
Until then, happy cooking!
For the paneer:
- 500g paneer
- 1tbsp plain flour/all purpose flour
- 1tbsp cornflour (this is cornflour for UK readers and corn starch for US readers)
- Neutral flavoured oil for pan frying, e.g. sunflower/vegetable/rapeseed
For the Szechuan/Sichuan sauce:
- 1tsp Szechuan/Sichuan peppercorns
- 7 dried red chillies
- 2 shallots
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 2" piece of ginger
- 1/4tsp Chinese 5 spice
- 1tsp chilli powder, I use Kashmiri chilli powder
- 2tbsp rice vinegar
- 2tbsp light soy sauce
- 4tbsp Ketchup
- 2tbsp syrup/sweetener, e.g. agave/maple/honey
- 4tbsp water
- 1/2tsp cornflour (this is cornflour for UK readers and corn starch for US readers)
- Handful of coriander, roughly chopped
- Handful of spring onion greens
- First start by chopping the paneer into bite sized pieces. Then transfer to a heat-safe bowl and cover with boiling water. Place a plate or lid on top of the bowl and allow the paneer to soak for 30 minutes
- At the same time, also soak the dried chillies in boiling water in a separate bowl for 30 minutes
- Toast the Szechuan/Sichuan peppercorns in a pan on a low heat for around 5 minutes. They will begin to get quite aromatic and smell quite peppery and citrusy
- Transfer the toasted peppercorns to a pestle and mortar and pound till finely ground
- Once the chillies have soaked, transfer them to a blender jug along with the shallots, garlic, ginger, and around 5tbsp of the chilli soaking water. Blend till smooth (don't worry if it's not totally smooth)
- After the paneer has soaked, drain the water but don't pat the paneer dry. Place the paneer into a wide plate or bowl. Mix the 1tbsp of plain flour and 1tbsp of cornflour together and sprinkle over the paneer. Gently toss the paneer until they're all lightly coated in the flour mix. The moisture from soaking will help the flours to adhere
- In a wide frying pan, heat up around 5-6tbsp of oil over a medium heat, and pan fry the paneer. Flip the paneer over once the underside has turned golden and repeat till both sides are crispy and golden. Then transfer to a paper towel lined place
- Drain out any excess oil from the pan, but leaving around 1-2tbsp. Heat over a medium-low heat and sauté the chilli paste for around 1 minute
- Then add in the ground Szechuan peppercorns, the 5 spice, and the chilli powder. Mix together for around 20-30 seconds
- Next add in the rice vinegar, light soy sauce, ketchup and syrup. Mix together for another 30 seconds or so
- In a small bowl, mix together the 4tbsp of water and 1/2tsp of cornflour/corn starch until dissolved. Then pour into the Szechuan sauce in the pan whilst stirring continuously. Continue to cook the sauce until slightly thickened
- Add in the crispy paneer and chopped coriander and mix over a medium-high heat until everything is well combined and the paneer is evenly coated in the sauce
- Finish with spring onion greens. This is best served immediately
Nutrition InformationYield 4 Serving Size 1
Amount Per Serving Calories 736Total Fat 36gSaturated Fat 17gTrans Fat 1gUnsaturated Fat 13gCholesterol 86mgSodium 1746mgCarbohydrates 76gFiber 9gSugar 25gProtein 35g
This is an automated calculation and hence may not be entirely accurate.