This once dead sauce was brought back to life by a cartoon show and a sustained social media campaign from scores of obsessed fans prodding and poking at McDonald's. Unfortunately, how the fast food giant chose to comply with their demands turned out to be one really bad idea.
In 1998 McDonald’s created a delicious Asian-style McNugget dipping sauce to promote the release of Disney’s new film, Mulan. The limited-time-only Szechuan Sauce came and went, and that was that.
Until 19 years later, in October 2017, when this happened…
One person who never forgot about the sauce from two decades ago is Justin Roiland, co-creator of the animated Rick and Morty on Cartoon Network. According to a quote from Cinema Blend in 2017, Roiland has some incredibly fond memories of McDonald’s Szechuan Sauce:
“My memory of it was that it was the most f—ing delicious thing I have ever had in my life, and I probably ate more McNuggets that year than I probably have in my entire life combined.”
And that is why the season 3 premiere of Rick and Morty featured a storyline about Rick’s obsessive quest to obtain some of the discontinued sauce by traveling back in time through an interdimensional portal. After the episode aired the non-existent sauce was instantly elevated to legendary status among the show’s dedicated and growing fan base. And, just like Rick the mad scientist, they all wanted to taste it.
Since those fans were unable to create an interdimensional portal, they turned to social media. Scores of Rick and Morty fans inundated McDonald’s with an overwhelming number of requests to bring back the sacred sauce. And they persisted.
The strategy worked.
McDonald’s announced it would be reissuing the dipping sauce but would offer only a limited number of sauce packets and send them to only a limited number of stores. Also, it would be for just one day.
As we know now, the demand for Szechuan Sauce greatly exceeded the supply, and that’s when the ugliness ensued.
But rest assured Szechuan Sauce connoisseurs, a sauce shortage crisis of this magnitude shall never happen again in our great country. No sir. Not on my watch.
Because now there is a hack that will give all Rick and Morty fans—and non-Rick and Morty fans—more than enough sauce for dipping nuggets and spring rolls, or to use as a delicious baste on salmon and wings. Yum.
To begin, we must start with the most important ingredient, that, surprisingly, other recipes (including the recipe at the end of the video above) are missing. It’s THE key ingredient that makes this sauce so special.
C’mon man, it’s right there in the name of the sauce…
You can’t have Szechuan sauce without Szechuan peppercorns. And these little guys are one of the most unusual ingredients you’ll ever cook with.
Szechuan peppercorns aren’t really peppercorns at all, but the hull of the berry from the prickly ash tree that grows in the Sichuan province of China. They taste more citrusy than peppery when they first hit your tongue, but that’s only the beginning of their coolness.
The citrusy flavor is soon followed by an invigorating tingle, buzzing, and numbing sensation that ultimate food geek Harold McGee describes as “touching the terminals of a nine-volt battery to your tongue.”
Don’t be scared by that.
The sensation is a good thing. Nerves in your mouth and on your tongue that are normally non-sensitive, suddenly become hypersensitive, making food taste uniquely good. This “neurological confusion” as McGee describes it, is caused by a compound called hydroxy-alpha sanshool, and the tingly mouth sensation it causes is unlike any other spice.
Because the sanshool tingle is so unique it’s easy to detect Szechuan peppercorns in this sauce just by tasting it, but we’re going to have to get a little closer to figure out what else is hiding in there.
I found many of these black specks in the sauce.
Under a microscope, it’s obvious that this is not Szechuan peppercorn, but it looks like it could be black peppercorn.
Here’s what black peppercorn looks like.
This bit hasn’t been cooked yet as the other particle has. Regardless of that, I think we have a match.
We’ll add black pepper to our sauce.
Then there’s this little speck.
Hmm. What could it be? It’s got an interesting strip of red running through it, so it shouldn’t be hard to identify.
I shuffled through my spice cabinet and popped several spices commonly found in Szechuan cooking under the microscope for a look-see.
Clove, star anise, fennel seed: nope, nope, nope.
Nothing appeared to match, and I was about to give up.
And then I noticed my bottle of ground coriander.
Look at this.
There’s that deep red strip running through this particle. Bingo! Coriander is commonly used in Szechuan cooking, so this must be our mystery ingredient.
We’ll add coriander to our sauce.
With our spices identified it’s time to prepare the Szechuan peppercorns so that they taste their absolute best.
Toasting them brings out the flavor. Just heat up a couple of tablespoons in a medium saute pan for about 5 minutes or until they darken.
When your house is filled with an incredible smell, they’re done.
Hey man, what’s that unusual incense you’re burning? Yeah, um, that’s called “Toasted Szechuan Peppercorns.”
Now get a coffee grinder, spice grinder, or mortar and pestle, and grind the peppercorns until fine.
Not all of the bits will grind fine, and that’s okay because you’ll do this…
There will be some big pieces in there that we don’t want.
Just pour the ground peppercorns into a strainer, shake it around a bit, and toss out the big stuff left behind.
Your ground and sifted Szechuan peppercorns should look like the pile on the right.
It’s powerful stuff, and we’ll need only 1/4 teaspoon for the recipe, so you’ll have plenty left over for something else.
Now, where did I put that Chinese food cookbook?
It’s time to assemble our sauce.
Add water, soy sauce, ginger paste, minced garlic, sesame oil, and salt into a small saucepan over medium heat.
When the sauce begins to boil, turn down the heat and simmer it for 12 minutes.
After 12 minutes, turn off the heat, cover the pan, and let the sauce steep for 12 minutes.
Strain the sauce to remove the chunks of garlic and ginger.
They’ve contributed their awesome flavor, they did a good job of it, and now they must go.
Don’t be sad.
Add the strained sauce back into the pan. Mmm, gingery.
Combine the cornstarch with the remaining 1/2 cup of water and whisk it into the pan along with the sugar, ground Szechuan peppercorn, black pepper, and coriander.
Cook this for 3 minutes, then let it cool for 3 minutes.
Finish off your sauce by stirring in the acids (that’s the vinegar and lime juice), and let the sauce cool.
Now you’ve got 1 1/2 cups of a Szechuan dipping sauce that you can use with chicken fingers or nuggets like at McDonald’s. You can also use it as a dipping sauce for egg rolls and spring rolls, and you can brush it on grilled salmon or toss chicken wings in it.
Do whatever you like with it. Just keep it covered in your fridge and it should last for several weeks.
The best part about this sauce? No portal required.
— Todd Wilbur, The Food Hacker
McDonald's Szechuan Sauce Hack
- 1 cup plus 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons ginger paste
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 7 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon ground Szechuan peppercorns (see step #1 for prep)
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper (fine grind)
- 1/4 teaspoon coriander
- 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- Before starting the sauce prepare the Szechuan peppercorns by toasting around 2 tablespoons in a sauté pan over medium heat for 5 minutes or until fragrant and slightly darkened. Grind the toasted peppercorns in a spice grinder, coffee grinder, or mortar and pestle until fine, and then sift it through a wire mesh strainer to remove the big pieces.
- Make the sauce by combining 1 cup of water with soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, garlic and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat. When the mixture begins to bubble reduce the heat and simmer for 12 minutes. Cover the pan and let the mixture steep for 12 minutes, then pour the sauce through a wire mesh strainer. Add the strained sauce back into the saucepan.
- Mix 2 tablespoons of cornstarch into the remaining 1/2 cup of water until dissolved. Pour this slurry into the saucepan along with the sugar, ground Szechuan peppercorns, black pepper, and coriander. Heat over medium until bubbling, then reduce the heat and simmer for 3 minutes. It should be much thicker. Remove the sauce from the heat and let it cool for 3 minutes, uncovered.
- Add the vinegars and lime juice, and let it cool down before using. Store the sauce covered in your refrigerator and it will last for several weeks. Stir well before using.