Since my last post was for a spicy “holy” oil from Italy, it occurred to me that a counterbalancing Yin to the European Yang was required.
As such, and in the spirit of banishing the flu that still wracks my body, allow me to share my personal recipe for Sichuan Chili Oil! True Sichuan flavors include a wide range of spices beyond chiles, as you’ll see in this recipe. It’s easy to make, but uses a number of surprising ingredients that will send you to Chinatown, your Indian grocer and beyond.
It’s worth it, trust me!
My recipe uses plenty of Sichuan peppercorns for the proper málà (麻辣) or “numbing spiciness” flavor profile. You can add or subtract some of the more esoteric items as needed – but don’t change or reduce the Sichuan peppercorns! 🙂
Use Sichuan chili oil as a condiment with Chinese-style dishes or build an entire dish around it: simply heat the oil in a pan, add the desired amount of “sediment” and stir-fry your choice of ingredients. Finish the dish with a splash of soy sauce and, if you wish, some oyster sauce and/or Shaoxing wine (绍兴酒). It’s all good. 🙂
Notes on Ingredients
Black cardamom. Please don’t substitute the more common green or “Indian” cardamom. It is better to omit this spice entirely if you can’t find it. Black cardamom has a wonderful smoky camphor aroma and is found in most Indian grocery stores as well as better spice shops.
Cassia. This is Chinese cinnamon but not “true” cinnamon (Ceylon cinnamon). It has a less refined (but more authentic) flavor than the expensive true cinnamon. Substitute regular cinnamon sticks if you can’t find 桂皮 in your Chinese grocery store.
Chinese fermented black beans. These are entirely different than the black beans you’ll find in Southwestern US or Mexican cuisine – please don’t confuse the two! Known as douchi (豆豉) in Chinese, they are made by fermenting soybeans that have been heavily salted and sometimes mixed with small amounts of ginger. They have a wonderful pungent, salty flavor that adds tons of umami depth to dishes.
Oranges. Make sure you remove as much wax as possible from the rind. Warm water and a little liquid dish detergent works – just make sure to thoroughly rinse the orange before peeling.
Purple gromwell. This is an ingredient you definitely won’t find in your regular grocery…and probably not your Asian grocer, either. It is traditionally used to make Crimson dyes and in traditional Chinese medicine. Purple gromwell is also what naturally gives Sichuan chili oil its brilliant red color. You can ask for it at any herbalist in Chinatown – an entire bag (you only need a small piece) is under $2.
Sichuan peppercorns. These are essential to Sichuan cuisine, though you’ll be hard pressed to find them in a regular grocery store. Neither a type of black pepper or a variety of chili pepper, they are actually the dried berries of a species of prickly ash tree. They are not hot, but produce a strangely numbing effect that is essential to real Sichuan cooking. Sichuan peppercorns can be easily found in Chinese grocery stores.
Battle on – The Generalissimo