My glorious Citizens of TFD Nation – attend and pay heed, as the font of my ever-flowing culinary wisdom has filled to the brim and it is once again time to slake your gastronomic thirst at the oasis of my knowledge! And thirst you will after sampling the heat and multiple layers of flavor I have coaxed from the ingredients that make up one of my favorite condiments – the so-called ‘goop’ that lies at the bottom of every jar of chili oil!
Now, I have previously written about the intense flavor joy found in both XO sauce and Sichuan chili oil, but there are other types of chili oil under the all-encompassing heaven that floats above the majestic land of China! For example, there are also Hunanese and Cantonese variants of chili oil, which I shall cover in future recipes. No, today I am giving you a creation born solely from my fevered brain, where I have combined the various aspects of the different styles of Chinese chili oil into one delicious condiment, thus its given name of ‘All Under Heaven’, the traditional name for China!
Chili oil is, of course, a condiment made from vegetable oil that has been infused with chili peppers. Different types of oil and hot peppers are used, and other components may also be included. It is commonly used in Chinese cuisine, East and Southeast Asia and elsewhere. Particularly popular in Sichuan cuisine, Hunan cuisine, and Shaanxi cuisine it is used as an ingredient in cooked dishes as well as a condiment. It is sometimes used as a dip for meat and dim sum. It is also employed in the Korean Chinese noodle soup dish jjamppong.
Chili oil is typically red in color. It is made from vegetable oil, often soybean oil or sesame oil, although olive oil or other oils may be used. Other spices may be included such as Sichuan pepper, garlic, or paprika.
Commercial preparations may include other kinds of oil, water, dried garlic, soy sauce, and sugar. Recipes targeted to Western cooks also suggest other popular oils such as rapeseed, grapeseed or peanut, and any dried or fresh chili peppers. The solids typically settle to the bottom of the container in which it is stored. When using chili oil, the cook or diner may choose how much of the solids to use; sometimes only the oil is used, without any solids.
Chili oil has various names in China. It is called yóu pō là zǐ (油泼辣子, chili pepper splashed with oil) in Shaanxi province and là yóu (辣油, spicy oil) or hóng yóu (紅油, red oil) in Sichuan province. Among those names the most popular one is là jiāo yóu (辣椒油, chili pepper oil).
In China, chili oil is prepared basically by pouring hot vegetable oil slowly on chili pepper powder or chopped chili pepper. Many other ingredients can be added alongside to enrich flavor such as Chinese black vinegar, minced garlic, dried ginger skin, sesame seeds, sesame oil, Sichuan peppercorn, cinnamon, star anise and bay leaf. There are also many condiments derived from chili oil, such as Lao Gan Ma, made with chili oil and Douchi (豆豉, fermented black soybeans).
Chili oil can be consumed directly with other food. It is used extensively in cooking all over China especially in Shaanxi, Sichuan, and Hunan cuisine. Like Hóngyóu chāoshǒu (紅油抄手, wonton in red oil) and Dàn dàn Noodles (擔擔麵).
Now, as it happens, there are elements in virtually every style of Chinese chili oil that I both like and dislike – I have cherry-picked my favorite elements of each style into one master chili oil that to me is simply unsurpassed. For example, I am fond of the dried seafood used only in the Cantonese style, as well as the nutty tea seed oil used in Hunanese preparations. Sichuan style uses fermented black beans, which I am very partial to as well. Using all 5 of my God-given senses, I have forged a hybrid style that incorporates everything I love – one condiment oil to rule them all!
For my recipe, you’ll only need a few specialized ingredients. First – tea seed oil, which unsurprisingly is made from the seeds of the tea plant (it is NOT tea tree oil!)! You can purchase top-quality tea seed oil from here – be sure and order the one that says it has a nutty flavor, you want/need that flavor profile for this recipe! This oil has a very high smoke point and is extremely good for you – you’ll find yourself using it in all kinds of things, from vinaigrettes to stir-fry!
For this recipe, I find that the best chili flakes to use for color and flavor are the Korean gochugaru – you can purchase top-quality flakes from here. For a little added heat, I also call for the standard red chili flakes you would use on pizza (do not substitute these for the Korean flakes, your oil will not have the right color or flavor!). For extra umami, I also use the Chinese secret trick of adding in both some powdered chicken bouillon cube as well as some dried seafood – in this case, dried scallops like you find in XO sauce. You want good, but not great-quality for this recipe – this brand fits the bill.
Now, for an EXTREMELY unorthodox (and totally optional) addition to the recipe – I recognize this one is seemingly bizarre, but trust me Citizens – it adds both flavor and umami like you wouldn’t believe! In Singapore, and now throughout Asia, the rage amongst potato chip flavors is salted egg yolk with curry leaves and spices – and it is one of the most addictively delicious things I have ever eaten! One brand in particular – the original – uses only premium salted/preserved egg yolks, spices and fresh curry leaves and the bag is FULL of this savory pixie dust.
Before you eat the chips, dump the potato chips into a bowl, and try and keep as much of that savory powder in the bag as you can. Then, add as much of that to the oil at the specified step as you like – I am generous with it. It truly makes the recipe, but it is also TOTALLY OPTIONAL – leave it out if you don’t trust me. If you do trust me, order several bags direct from Singapore’s Golden Duck snack company here.
Lastly, my recipe calls for ginger, shallot and garlic – but please follow the recipe directions and let them poach in the oil overnight and then discarding the solids. Leaving raw allium (garlic and shallot) in oil longer than this is an invitation to Botulism!
Citizens, I’m very partial indeed to this recipe and I hope you see fit to try it on most anything – both the oil and especially the solids at the bottom are amazingly delicious – great on noodles, great on ANYTHING savory where you want a hit of spicy, umami goodness! It would be especially delicious as an unorthodox but delicious complement to some biang-biang noodle from Shaanxi!
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