Chengdu Challenge #23: Tiger Skin Peppers (Hu Pi Qing Jiao)

tiger-skin-CD
Culinary Travel Week~~

Above is a photo of one of my most memorable meals ever in Chengdu. What you see is a big plate of tiger skin peppers accompanying a quintessential gong bao (kung pao) chicken. What you don’t see is that this was in a restaurant with a Cultural Revolution theme. There’s a recent trend of Cultural Revolution restaurants in China—and even in the San Gabriel Valley in the U.S.—but this was 2007, and this restaurant was as much about memory as kitsch. The owner had been sent to the countryside of Sichuan during the Cultural Revolution, where, like other urban youth, he was to be re-educated and reformed by working with the peasants. This restaurant was his homage to the country cooking he ate there.

All the restaurant workers were dressed as radical Red Guards, wearing army green military uniforms, and the walls were papered with posters of Mao and Lenin. I was dining with my Sichuanese partner, Rose, and her husband, Weili, who himself had been sent to the country to do hard labor as a young man in the late 1960s. They tried to explain to me how the restaurant could be at once ironic and sentimental. How it was recalling a tragic time that nobody wanted to remember and nobody wanted to forget.

It was a little unclear to me where the irony stopped and the love began, but I think it was with the food, which was the real deal.

tiger skin peppers

Staff meal at the Red Guard restaurant

I recreated the food part of that extraordinary experience recently after the lovely couple at  The Funnelogy Channel invited me to contribute to their Culinary Travel Week. Check out their award-winning (Saveur’s Best Culinary Travel Blog 2015) site for more inspiring stories and recipes from around the world.

I made the gong bao chicken that evening, but what I want to focus on here is hu pi qing jiao, tiger skin green peppers. The dish is just a simple side or starter, but it’s always been one of my favorite dishes to eat in Chengdu, since I love peppers of all kinds. Tiger skin peppers are usually made with mild long green peppers or sweet bell peppers like these, but sometimes the dish shows up at the table made from hot chilies. I kind of like the Russian roulette aspect of ordering them at a restaurant.

tiger skin peppers

Super simple Sichuan side

You can see in these photos why they are called tiger skin peppers: The peppers are seared in the wok on both sides until the skin is puckered and spotted and striped with black char like a tiger. It is yet another example of a whimsical, poetic Chinese name for a fairly simple food. By the time they are spotted and striped, they are the perfect amount of done, being soft enough to eat but still a little bit crisp. Then you douse them with some Zhenjiang black rice vinegar and sugar—and if you’re like me, spike them with some soy-sauce-soaked preserved black beans, or douchi.

tiger skin peppers

Cook peppers until they spot and stripe like a tiger

In Sichuan they always use green peppers, but I took some liberty with a red bell pepper, because that’s what I had on hand. I do like the look. And the traditional recipe does not include black beans in the vinegary sauce. But I had them one time like that in Chengdu and totally dug the extra saltiness and umami of the douchi alongside the sweetness of the peppers and sourness of the vinegar. Plus, my daughter Fong Chong loves douchi, and, as always, the more intense flavor I heap upon a vegetable the more of said vegetable that will get eaten.

I rarely see tiger skin peppers on Sichuan menus in the U.S., so eating them always takes me back to Chengdu. But since my blog is all about cooking Sichuan in America and feeding a homesick Chinese girl, below is a photo of Fong Chong’s school lunch another day that week. The pork chop was pretty good, but the real star of the lunch-time show was the tiger skin peppers.

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A school lunch that was devoured

Chengdu Challenge #23: Tiger Skin Peppers (Hu Pi Qing Jiao)
Author: 
 
Ingredients
  • 3 medium-size or 2 large bell peppers
  • 1 tablespoon preserved black beans (douchi)
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese light soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Zhenjiang black vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
Instructions
  1. Trim and de-seed bell peppers and cut each into 4-6 sections.
  2. Marinate the preserved black beans in the soy sauce while you cook the peppers.
  3. Heat wok until just starting to smoke, then add 2 tablespoons canola or peanut oil and heat over high flame until hot. Add pepper sections skin-side down and leave for a few minutes to char the skin until spotted or striped like a tiger, pressing down on the peppers with your spatula so they make good contact with the wok. Once they are charred, flip over and sear the other side.
  4. When peppers are well-striped but still firm, add the preserved black beans in soy sauce as well as the vinegar and sugar to the wok. Stir-fry just until the peppers are well coated with the sauce. Can be eaten warm or room temperature.

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14 Responses

  1. Joan says:

    Yay! Something new to try during the snow this weekend! Will shop tomorrow.

  2. Spike says:

    This looks great. I thoroughly enjoy more vegetarian options so I can include my non-meat eating family in on the fun. As a sidenote, while working in Shanghai in 2002 I went to a cultural Revolution style restaurant several times, and had my first introduction to water boiled beef.

    • Taylor Holliday says:

      Interesting. I wonder how long these restaurants have been around in China? So strange, really…

      Hope you like the peppers. They are really easy to whip up compared to the meat dishes.

  3. holagranola says:

    what an excellent school lunch!! 😀

  4. James Horne says:

    Wonderful recipe! I tried a different version a month or so ago and it was good, but this was memorable. I need to cook a bigger batch because I ate almost all of it in an 8 hour period. This is exactly what I like. I may add a Vidalia onion next time… mmmm…. Vidalia…. I’ve printed off half a dozen recipes and only cooked this and the bacon in Sichuan bean sauces which was so good I had to try more. I dunno if I’ll cook my way through the whole challenge but maybe.

    • Taylor Holliday says:

      So glad you liked it, James. Not sure that anyone but me is taking the whole challenge, but I love that you’d even think about it.

  5. Richard Gemmill says:

    Taylor,

    Your recipes and photos are killing me, I want to eat the tiger skin peppers so much! I remember when they came in season and they were served in the hotel restaurant and sometimes they were super hot and others they were mild. Can you tell me what is a good North American Chili to substitute for the Chinese variety?

    Best regards,

    Richard

  6. Richard Gemmill says:

    Also what about a good recipe for gombao ji ding?

  1. January 22, 2016

    […] Mala Project – Chengdu Challenge #23: Tiger Skin Peppers (Hu Pi Qing Jiao) […]

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