Sunday 5 July 2020

Hot Chili Oil

One of my top favourite condiments has got to be hot chili oil. You may see this stuff at Chinese and other Asian restaurants. Whenever I do I tend to lather whatever I'm eating with it. It goes great with noodles, soups, rice, eggs, stir-fries, you name it! Of course it's spicy but it also has a deep orchestra of flavours and crispy/crunchy textures. I can't get enough of it. It's also very easy to make yourself. 

Although other countries have their own versions, I mainly think of this as a Chinese recipe. In other words, this recipe I'm about to share is inspired by Chinese hot chili oil. China is divided into 23 provinces and each one has their own style of cuisine. I'm not familiar with which region my version may resemble the closest. I just went with all of my favourite elements and put them together. You can make chili oil with just crushed chilies and oil. It will still be great. But by adding your own flavours and textures you can elevate it to something very special. When I'm in an Asian market and I look for this stuff, I prefer the brands that have peanuts in them. That's just because I love peanuts and I think they add a nice texture to the oil. If you're allergic or prefer not to include them, that's totally up to you. Crushed chilies and oil are the two necessary ingredients, the rest is optional and up to your discretion and creativity. 

Let's talk chilies for a second. The whole point of this recipe is to be hot. This is used as a condiment to add mostly spicy flavour to a dish. I recommend that you use crushed chilies with a lot of seeds since that's where you'll get most of your heat from. I recommend buying an Asian brand of crushed chilies because I find they have more seeds than the crushed chilies you may get from a Western source. Plus, if anything, I'm sure it adds some authenticity to the recipe. In a pinch you could use whatever crushed chili product you can find but if you can help it, go to your Asian market for this ingredient. This is the brand that I used:

Great amount of seeds!

This recipe also calls for black cardamom, which adds a beautiful, complex, smoky flavour. This may be the hardest ingredient to find, depending where you live. You can otherwise certainly find it online. To borrow a photo from my Ethiopian spiced butter recipe, you can clearly see the difference between black cardamom and the more usual green cardamom (left). The flavours are not at all the same and therefore cannot be used as a substitute. I definitely recommend it but can easily be omitted.  

Green cardamom vs. Black cardamom

Also very important, you'll need a big glass, ceramic or any kind of material bowl that will not melt (i.e. plastic) for this recipe. We'll be pouring hot oil over the chilies so the bowl will need to withstand that heat. Your bowl also needs to be much bigger than you think at first because the oil will bubble and displace when it's added to the chilies (in safe doses, not all at once) so it will need plenty of room to do that. 

The rest of this process is straightforward so let's get started!


1½ cups neutral-flavoured oil, suitable for frying (canola, vegetable, peanut, etc...)
¾ cup crushed chilies
¼ cup peanuts
5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
⅓ cup Szechuan peppercorns
3 bay leaves
4 star anise
2 black cardamom pods, lightly crushed (optional)
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
2 tbsp sesame seeds
½ tsp Chinese black vinegar (optional)
½ tsp toasted sesame oil
Salt to taste 

Over medium heat, warm the oil in a saucepan with the Szechuan peppercorns, sliced ginger, bay leaves, star anise, cinnamon stick and black cardamom. Let it boil gently for about 5 minutes or until fragrant and the peppercorns have turned a deep brown colour (not black). Be careful not to burn any of the ingredients. 

Meanwhile add the crushed chilies, finely chopped garlic, peanuts and a pinch of salt to a large, heat-proof, non-plastic bowl. Give 'em a mix.

When the oil is ready, carefully remove the solid ingredients, which will have scented it with their aromas and flavours. Return the oil to the stove. If it isn't already, get the oil to 225-250 F/107-121 C before the next step. In other words, if room temperature oil was a 1 and boiling hot oil was a 10, you want it at about a 7. You can check this by placing the tip of a wooden chopstick (for example) in the oil. If small bubbles start to form around it after a second or two, it's ready.

Carefully pour the oil into the crushed chili mixture in several doses (not all at once). At the same time, mix the ingredients to prevent burning (I find a pair of chopsticks works great for this). As I mentioned before, the oil will bubble up, displace and rise in the bowl so it's extremely important that you use a big bowl, pour in doses and use common sense and regard for safety. 

When all of your oil has been added, continue to stir for a few seconds and watch as the bubbles begin to calm down. Your kitchen at this point will be filled with the most sensational aromas!

While the oil is still warm, add the sesame seeds. This will cook them just slightly but just enough (they'll burn if added sooner). They will add yet another texture and pop of flavour that work really well in this. After the oil cools down to room temperature or nearly there, add the black vinegar and toasted sesame oil. Give it a stir, taste and adjust the salt (if needed) and you're done!

Transfer to a new container with a tight-fitting lid and store at room temperature. Technically you can start enjoying your hot chili oil right away but the flavours will continue to deepen and develop with time. Try to leave it for at least a day before you start using it. 

That's it! Now you have your very own, personalized hot chili oil. If you've never tried it, you'll get an idea of how to use it once you do. Meanwhile, here are some fantastic options:


Mixed into rice

With dumplings, wontons and dim sum


Vanilla ice cream? Peculiar but better than you might think.

How you use your chili oil is entirely up to you. Be creative! You just might find it goes well with everything.



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