Effortless and effective recipe for homemade Chinese chilli oil, an essential condiment for Chinese cuisine. Great company for noodles, dumplings and salad.
Having many great recipes to share with you, it took me quite a long time to choose which one to be the first for my new-born blog. When Chinese chilli oil came to mind, I knew straightaway that this was the one.
Apart from the 10 Must-have Chinese Condiments, I always made sure to have homemade chilli oil in the cupboard. Like my dear mum, my taste buds favour hot and sour flavours.
My love of spicy food started when I first tasted street snacks back in China. Those wonderful down-to-earth delicacies from the Northwest region of China have trained my palate to enjoy very spicy food from an early age.
This opened the door to a more extensive gastronomic world. Perhaps you now understand why I include the word SPICE in the title of my blog.
As a huge fan of spicy food, I always encourage those who say “no-spicy-food-please” to train their palate. Once at a dinner party my Swiss friend Ricardo said he was very sensitive to spicy food. He complained that “it just burns your mouth. That’s all!”
I didn’t argue, but still served him homemade dumplings with a small saucer of my favoured black rice vinegar and chilli oil. “Just try a little. You have nothing to lose,” I suggested. Luckily, he did try. Not just a little. He asked for a top-up and later I gave him a jar of homemade chilli oil to take home.
Why make your own
Chinese chilli oil is available in shops. They come in different flavours and textures. Some are not too bad, but nothing can replace homemade one for its unique flavour, freshness and healthiness (no colouring, additives or preservatives). What’s more, it is super simple to make. Once you’ve done the shopping, you just need 10 minutes to assemble everything and to cook it.
My homemade Chinese chilli oil is more sophisticated than simply being hot. It impresses your palate across several dimensions. When slowly heated in oil, the spices ( Sichuan peppercorn, fennel seeds, star anise, bay leaf, cassia cinnamon, Tsao-ko, etc.) release a variety of aromas.
Among them, Sichuan peppercorn is perhaps the most interesting and appealing. Not only has it a rather unique fragrance, but it also gives your mouth a numbing sensation. Then when the chilli mixtures meet the infused hot oil, its powerful scent will envelop the air and linger in your kitchen for quite a while.
Control the oil temperature
The only tricky thing is that the oil needs to be at the right temperature to bring out the best fragrance from the spices. It will be less flavoursome if the oil is not hot enough. Yet overheated oil will burn the chilli, leaving an unpleasant taste.
I have my own way to control the temperature. Instead of directly pouring hot oil onto the chilli flakes, I transfer the very hot oil into an empty bowl, which reduces the oil’s temperature immediately. Then I add half of the chilli flakes. I put in the other half when the temperature drops a little further. This is to achieve a redder colour for the finished look.
🛎TIP: take your time to choose the right type of chilli flakes. Check the heat level (hotness). Start from medium if you like. Mild ones are pointless in my opinion. Chilli from Sichuan province in China is generally great. I also use chilli flakes from Indian, Thai or Italian shops.
Let it rest
Wait for at least 12 hours before using the chilli oil to allow all the flavours to combine. Chilli flakes and sesame seeds tend to stay at the bottom of the container after a while. Use a clean spoon to stir before serving.
If your dish (eg. Mouth-watering Chicken) requires pure chilli oil, use a sieve to filter out the chilli flakes and sesame seeds.
How to use
Being immersed in this appetizing smell while taking photographs, I couldn’t help thinking, “What shall I cook next to eat with this chilli oil?”
There are many dishes which deserve the company of Chinese chilli oil: all types of noodles, savoury rice, meat or vegetable cold dishes, tofu, dumplings, potstickers, steamed bao buns, scallion pancakes, etc. My childhood favourite was spreading chilli oil onto hot Mantou (馒头, plain steamed bun), just like one’s love for butter on toast I suppose.
Here are some recipes that call for this magical condiment:
Homemade Chinese chilli oil (油泼辣子)
Group 1: for the chilli
- ¼ cup chilli flakes
- 1 tablespoon chilli powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
Group 2: for the oil
- 1 cup cooking oil
- 1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 star anise
- 1 piece Chinese cinnamon/cassia cinnamon
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 Tsao-ko/Chinese black cardamom, optional
- 3 slices ginger
- 1 stalk spring onion
- In a bowl, mix all the ingredients in Group 1. Have another empty bowl ready. The bowl should be deep, heat proof and completely dry (see note 1). Place a sieve over it.
- Pour oil into a cold wok /pot, add all the ingredients in Group 2. Cook over a low heat. Watch attentively. Turn off the heat immediately when the spring onion turns brown (you should see smoke at that moment).
- Pour the oil into the empty bowl through the sieve. Discard everything caught in the sieve.
- Add half of the chilli mixture into the oil. You should see it bubbling intensively. Add the remaining when bubbling calms down. Stir well with a clean dry spoon.
- Leave to cool uncovered. Wait for at least 12 hours before using to allow all the flavours to combine. Then transfer to a container of your choice (see note 2).
A simple version
- You can reduce the ingredient list to four essentials: chilli flakes, sesame seeds, ginger and oil. Try the complete version whenever you have a chance. It is truly worth the effort!