I’ve been on a spicy food kick lately, more than usual, mostly from recipe testing for my cookbook. Many of my meals end up being all heat, such as dan dan noodles and spicy stir-fried shrimp with a dollop of kimchi on the side (I keep a jar in the fridge just to satisfy kimchi cravings, not for recipe testing). But, I rationalize, the more spicy food you eat, the more tolerance for spicy food you build up. So I’m actually bettering myself every day. And that’s what January is all about.
Two weeks ago I found myself needing chili oil, on one of those snowy, slushy, windy days that we in the Northeast have been seeing too many of. Chinatown and Sunset Park were too far just for one item, and for some reason neither of the two supermarkets by my apartment had chili oil in stock. I’ve previously made chili oil in small batches just to use for a specific meal, but decided it would be as good a time as any to make enough for a bottle.
So here’s a recipe to try if you, like me, can’t find chili oil near your house or just want to have the good homemade stuff without any preservatives. You’ll need just 3 ingredients: some peanut oil, sesame oil, and dried red chili flakes (or chopped dried red peppers). You’ll also need an oil thermometer (if you have a candy/oil thermometer, you’re golden) and a small, heavy-bottomed pot or pan. I use about a third of a cup of dried red chili flakes, which makes a medium-spicy oil that takes a second for your tongue to register, but feel free to adjust the amount to your liking.
You can also try this homemade chili sauce and chili bean sauce, two of the backbones of Sichuan and Hunan cooking.
(Below) Red chili flakes begin to foam.
Homemade Chili Oil
Makes 1 cup chili oil
3/4 cup peanut oil
1/4 cup sesame oil
1/3 cup dried red chili flakes
1. Heat the peanut oil and sesame oil in a small, heavy-bottomed sauce pot until your instant-read oil thermometer registers between 225°F and 250°F. Stir in the chili flakes (they should be foaming a little). Remove the pot from the heat and let sit at room temperature for at least 2 hours, or ideally overnight for the chili flavors to infuse.
2. Strain the oil through a fine-mesh strainer and discard the red pepper flakes. Store the chili oil in a clean bottle. The oil will keep for a few months if you store it in a cool, dark spot.