The Peppery Chinese Calamari That's All About Its Seasoning

Herbs, spices, seasonings, and spice blends make our life much more palatable, both literally and metaphorically. What would our life look like without these ingredients that add a depth of flavor to an endless array of cooked dishes? Most likely, it would be pretty bland and uninteresting. But which country uses the most spices for its traditional cuisine? Helgi Library reveals that India is at the top spot, and it accounts for a whopping 38.5% of total spices consumed across the globe. But there's one other country that uses some unique spices, and as a result, its traditional dishes are rich and aromatic. 

That country is China, and Spoon University reports that some common spices used in Chinese cuisine include hot peppers, black cardamom, bay leaves, cumin, and dried orange peel, which is added to the famous Chinese dish called orange chicken. And let's not forget about the delectable five-spice powder, which is China's answer to Indian garam masala, and consists of cinnamon, fennel, cloves, star anise, and the mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorns. 

However, most Chinese foods are seasoned with salt and pepper, but not your regular salt and pepper. You might've seen or tasted some Chinese foods such as fried chicken, pork ribs, tofu, shrimp, and squid, all of them with the prefix "salt and pepper" at the beginning. Salt and pepper calamari is one such dish, and it's all about its seasoning.

Jiao yan is a mixture of fine sea salt and Sechuan pepper

Salt and pepper calamari is a classic Chinese dish that's especially popular in Cantonese cuisine, where it's regarded as a delicacy. The dish is made by dipping pieces of calamari in batter, deep-frying them, and seasoning them with a spice blend called jiao yan, which can be translated as "peppery salt." The dish is often enriched with ginger, hot peppers, scallions, and garlic for a few additional layers of flavor, and the calamari pieces are usually coated in cornstarch, flour, and baking powder for a crispy texture (via Red House Spice). 

But what is that unusual spice blend? It's not just regular salt and pepper, is it? Jiao yan is actually a mixture of fine sea salt and those numbing Sichuan peppers, and it's often used to impart extra flavor and spiciness to whatever people are cooking (per Suraj Spices Teas). This Chinese spice blend is sometimes also made with added spices, such as ground ginger and fennel seeds. And if you're wondering where to buy it, it can usually be found in your local Asian stores. 

Even though salt and pepper calamari is a Cantonese classic, Australians would also like a word. SBS reports that chef Dan Hong said salt and pepper calamari is "everywhere" in Australia, from inexpensive eateries to high-end restaurants, and it might just be the unofficial national dish of Australia, even though it's rarely made at home.