If variety is the spice of life, then, oh boy, do I love variety! For me, food can never be spicy enough — I will coat everything and anything in Tapatío, Sriracha and all manner of chili flakes.
One of the best ways I have found to spice up my meals and add an additional depth of flavor to everyday meals is chili oil. Of course, you can buy pre-made chili oil, Lao Gan Ma is amazing, but you can easily make it yourself. The virtue of homemade chili oil is you can tailor its consistency, flavor and spice level to your own taste.
This recipe provides a base recipe with additional recommendations. I normally use this recipe to make chili oil in bulk, you will just need to proportionally increase the amount of oil and spices you use.
Chili Oil Recipe:
- 1 1/2 cups of neutral oil
- It’s best to use a neutral-flavored oil with a high smoke point — meaning the oil can be heated to higher temps and won’t smoke as easily. I recommend vegetable oil, canola oil or peanut oil. Olive oil will work, but will smoke more easily and will set if refrigerated.
- 3/4 – 1 1/2 cups of chili flakes
- It is generally best to use Sichuan chili flakes, which you can buy online. Other chili flakes will still work but will have a different taste. I have also used different types of whole chilies before but simply blended them into small pieces before using them. You can also de-seed them to reduce the level of spice, if desired.
- Aromatics: You will want to add at least 4 spices/aromatics, and I have listed some different options in my personal order of importance.
- 3-4 cloves garlic (roughly chopped)
- ~ 1 inch of fresh ginger (chopped)
- 3 shallots / 1/4 onion (chopped)
- 3-4 while star anise
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 bay leaves
- ~ 1 teaspoon cardamom
- ~ 1/2 teaspoon fennel
- ~1-2 teaspoons of cloves
- ~ 1 tablespoon peppercorns (Black, White, Rainbow, Sichuan, whatever you have)
- 1-2 teaspoons salt
- a pinch of MSG (if you want/have access to it)
- MSG is a salt-like flavor enhancer found in a lot of restaurant/commercial food products. It adds an umami flavor to recipes, and while previously considered unhealthy, recent research has concluded that it is safe to consume.
- Gather the aromatics you plan to use, roughly chopping the garlic, ginger and shallots if you plan to use them. Place the aromatics and your oil in a pot with at least 2 inches of space between the oil and the rim of the pot. Do note, if you use a lot of different aromatics, you might need to add more oil.
- Place the pot over medium heat and watch the oil, at a distance, as it heats up and begins to release small bubbles. If the aromatics start to aggressively sizzle or start to burn, turn the heat down to low. Keep the oil at a steady bubble for about 30 minutes to an hour to allow the aromatics to infuse their flavors into the oil.
- While your oil is infusing, prepare your chilies. If you are using whole chilies, make sure to blend them into small pieces before using. Place your chosen chili flakes in a heatproof bowl, make sure it is not plastic.
- Once you are satisfied with the infusion of the oil and aromatics, you can either strain your aromatics out with a metal strainer or leave them in. Leaving the aromatics in will create a more chunky chili oil but can lead to your chili oil spoiling faster or create a bitter taste in your oil if they are burnt.
- Take your hot oil, either strained or not, and slowly pour a portion of the oil over your prepared chili flakes. The chili flakes should sizzle gently. Be careful your oil is not too hot (300°+) when pouring because it can burn the flakes and create a bitter taste. Ideally, your sizzling chili flakes should smell toasted and popcorn-like, not like burnt popcorn. Mix the chili flakes and oil slightly before slowly pouring the remaining oil into the chili flakes. Mix the flakes and oil until evenly distributed.
- Stir in your salt and optionally MSG and allow the oil to cool before storing it in an airtight container/jar in your refrigerator. The oil can last anywhere from 2-6 months, depending if you left the fresh aromatics in or not.
- Finally, enjoy! Chili oil can be used as anything, from a condiment or dipping sauce, to acting as cooking oil in different recipes. Do note that if you are using chili oil as your base cooking/frying oil you will want to try to use pure oil, without any chili flakes, as the chili flakes will burn easily and impact the flavor of the meal.