I have searched far and wide, looking for a versatile chili oil that could be used with a range of dishes, from Western to Eastern. Unsurprisingly, I haven’t found one. So I decided to make it myself. I considered various flavor profiles and decided that I wanted something that wasn’t blistering hot, but with subtle notes of pepper, ginger and anise and a good dose of savoriness. I rummaged around in my pantry and settled on a mix of dried chilis, Sichuan and black peppercorns, anise, fresh ginger, shallots, and garlic. To really amp up the umami notes, I reached for the Red Boat fish sauce salt and mushroom seasoning. And to let all these flavors take center stage, I use a neutral oil like sunflower or canola.
About the chilis… I am fortunate to live near a Penzey’s Spice brick and mortar store and can get a variety of dried peppers. Penzey’s labels include the heat units of each chili–the 3 highest that I could find are the Very Hot Crushed Red Pepper (40,000), Indian Sanaam (40,000), Chinese Tien Tsin (60,000) and Mexican Chili Piquin (70,000). I use a mix of these but feel free to mix and match to your own specifications. Use more of the higher heat unit chilis for more spice or less if you have less tolerance. For the whole dried chilis, I use a spice grinder or mini-prep to crush them; you will want a consistency close to the crushed red chilis sprinkled on pizza.
My main complaint about most of the chili oil recipes I see are that they cook the chilis in the oil, which I think gives the final product a burnt taste that overwhelms the more delicate scents and flavorings. So for my chili oil, I only cook shallots, garlic, ginger and fresh peppers in the oil before adding all that to the dried chili mix. The result is magical and makes excellent homemade gifts in beautiful little glass jars.
I use my chili oil with so many different dishes. I use it in marinades and as a finishing component. Combined with Chinese black vinegar, crush garlic, and cubed cucumbers make a delicious side dish or snack. I also drizzle it on soups, roasted meats and veggies. With black vinegar it is also delicious as a dipping sauce for dumplings or wontons. My friends have used it in Italian and Greek dishes. And the husband declared that it was good on Greek yogurt! Let your imagination go wild!
⅓-½ cup crushed chilis (use a mix to get the most flavor and the right level of spiciness)
2 anise stars
½ teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns
½ teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon Red Boat fish sauce salt
½ teaspoon mushroom seasoning
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 inch piece of ginger crushed
2 fresh Thai chilis, minced (optional if you want extra heat.
1 ¼ cup sunflower oil (any neutral oil will work)
Squirt of sriracha hot sauce (for color)
- Place all dry ingredients (crushed chilis, salt, etc.) in a 16 oz glass mason jar. Give everything a stir to combine. Break up clumps of fish sauce salt as needed. Place jar on top of a dish towel.
- Heat oil in a heavy pan until hot. Add shallots, garlic, ginger and fresh chilis (if using). Cook until shallots and garlic begin to brown.
- Carefully pour or ladle hot oil mixture into glass jar. Please handle the hot oil carefully as it spills easily and will splatter–that’s what the dish towel is for. Once in the jar, the oil will gurgle a bit.
- Stir chili oil mixture. Mix in a squirt of Sriracha if desired for color. Allow oil to cool before covering with lid. If you cover it before it’s completely cool the oil will look cloudy but it’ll still taste the same.
Note: This recipe can also make two 8 oz. jars of chili oil. Just make sure to scoop out the fried shallots, garlic and ginger to divide evenly between the two jars.
Storage: From what I can tell so far, a jar of chili oil will keep in the refrigerator for 3+ months–if you don’t use it all up first!