Fun fact: I used to hate spicy food. When I was tiny, I would straight up refuse to eat anything that looked remotely spicy. I’m pretty sure it’s because when I was a baby my mom tried to wean me off my pacifier (yup, I had a paci and I loved it) she put hot sauce on it. She laughed so hard when she told me that story. “You asked for it one time and I put the hot sauce on it and you cried for hours!” Geez! What is it about moms laughing at their kids? Come to think about it, I kind of have a hang up about people laughing at me too, but that’s a story for another day.
Anyway, because spicy was on my would-not-eat list, I was never interested in those little glass jars of chili oil you see sitting at table at Chinese restaurants. You know the ones, with the tiny spoon and the metal lid? They looked so dangerously spicy to me: deep red with mysterious bits of dark things at the bottom of the jar. Nope, it was a solid pass for me.
Now though, I LOVE chili oil with a passion. Mike always says, “if I need to get you to say anything is tasty, I’ll just drown it in chili oil.” And it’s true! It was a long road to get to where I am now, I can officially say I’m a spice fiend. Well, except for scotch bonnets. I will not touch those. Actually, now that I think about it, I don’t think I can really say I’m a spice fiend because I’m pretty sure I would die if I ever ate any of the hot sauces from Hot Ones.
Chinese chili oil is actually not that hot in the grand scheme of hot sauces. It has just the right amount of warming heat with a pleasantly addictive flavor. And the best part about making your own is that you can adjust the aromatics and spice level just for you.
Speaking of aromatics, the secret to the deliciousness of Chinese chili oil is that the oil is infused with not just chili pepper flakes, but with ginger, bay leaves, star anise, and cinnamon too. Everyone’s aromatic mix is different and that’s why there’s so much variation when it comes to chili oils – just take a look at the chili oil section at your local Asian grocery store. It’s kind of overwhelming.
I like to go with a classic mix of aromatics and use Sichuan crushed chili flakes. Sichuan chili flakes are bright red and don’t have as many seeds in them, compared to the Italian-style crushed red pepper flakes. Sichuan flakes are made by toasting which gives them a nice nutty flavor.
Nothing beats homemade chili oil. It’s so much more fragrant and just miles better than store bought. I hope you make some and eat it on EVERTHING.
If you need some inspiration, here are a couple of recipes to get you started: Spicy Sichuan Chili Oil Wonton, 5 Minute Chili Oil Noodles, Crispy Fried Eggs, Oven Roasted Chicken with Eggplants and Chili Oil.
AUTHENTIC HOMEMADE CHINESE SPICY HOT CHILI OIL
- 3 tablespoons Chinese crushed chili flakes
- 1/3 cup neutral oil
- 1 inch piece ginger, sliced
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 star anise
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 3 green onions, whites only
- salt, to taste
Place the chili flakes in a medium sized heat proof bowl. Set aside.
Add the oil, ginger, bay leaf, star anise, cinnamon, and green onions to a saucepan and heat over medium-low until it starts to bubble gently and the green onions start to brown, 5-6 minutes, or until the oil reaches 300°F. When the time is up, carefully use a slotted spoon to remove and discard the aromatics, leaving the oil in the pot.
Heat the oil in the pot until it is hot and shimmery, 350°F. Carefully pour the hot oil into the bowl with the – it will sizzle and bubble up. The oil should be bright red. When cool, taste and season with salt.
Transfer to a clean jar and store in the fridge. Chili oil keeps pretty much indefinitely but I’m pretty sure you’ll use it up quickly.