One look in my fridge and the first thing you'll notice is how many condiments I have, some are homemade, while others are store-bought, but one thing that a lot of them have in common is chili peppers. I'm not a hoarder by nature, but when it comes to hot sauce, I have a weakness, and it's hard for me to resist buying something new and novel in addition to staples like Marie Sharp's, sriracha, and yuzu kosho.
One thing I've stopped buying is chili oil. It comes together in minutes from just a handful of ingredients I already have in the pantry, and making it myself allows me to control exactly how spicy it is while adding seasonings that turn it into a versatile condiment that makes almost everything taste better.
What is Chili Oil
Là jiāo yóu (辣椒油), literally means "chili oil" and is a popular Chinese condiment and ingredient. Sichuan Province located in southwestern China is renown for its fiery cuisine, and chili oil makes frequent appearances both in the kitchen and on the table.
Because of its broad geographic distribution across China, there are dozens of methods of preparing chili oil, but I'm going to break down the components below and give you the info you need to come up with a household recipe for your own chili oil.
Ingredients for Chili Oil
Use a neutral flavor vegetable oil with a high smoke point for making this. You don't want to use something like olive oil or unrefined sesame oil which both have a distinct flavor and low smoke points. I also like to stay away from oils that have a strong green color like Avocado oil, as it will make your chili oil a funny color.
In China, it's common to use soybean oil or peanut oil for making chili oil, but grapeseed oil or even canola oil will work. Personally, I like using rice bran oil. Not only does it have a high smoke point, but it also has a beautiful golden color that combined with the right kind of chilies, will give your piquant oil a vibrant red hue.
The Chili Peppers
While using Chinese chili peppers like Jing Tao, or Chao Tian Jiao would be the most authentic way of making chili oil. They're not always easy to find, and I've found that coarse ground Korean Gochugaru tends to be easier to find and works pretty well.
Gochugaru has an excellent chili flavor and vibrant red color, but it's not the spiciest pepper, so if you like a lot of heat you may want to augment by blending in something with a bigger kick like cayenne, or arbol chiles. These two chilies are great for adding a bit of heat, but I wouldn't recommend using them alone as they'll crank up the heat to mouth-melting levels, and have a dull color (more orange/brown than red).
Aleppo chilies are another reasonably good choice, as they have a deep red color, aren't crazy spicy, and have a great chili flavor. Given that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of cultivars of domesticated chili peppers I'm sure many other types of chilies will work well for this recipe as well. If you end up experimenting and find a good combo, leave a comment and let me know!
For my version of chili oil, I've simply used garlic and ginger which are fried in the oil. Scallions, shallots, and onions are all delicious options here, and if you want to go for a more complex flavor profile, you can use herbs such as ginseng, or even fragrant mushrooms such as shiitake.
I like using a combination of ground Sichuan pepper and Chinese five spice for my chili oil. Along with the herbal punch of the five spice, that's redolent of star anise, cloves, and cassia, the Sichuan pepper gives the oil the unmistakable málà (麻辣) balance of numbing and spicy that's a hallmark of the region's cuisine.
My reason for using ground spices, instead of whole, is that the flavor of the spices infuses the oil faster when ground, and you don't have to pick them out later. I do recommend buying your Sichuan Pepper whole and grinding it yourself though as this is one of those spices where the aroma and taste degrade rapidly once ground. One thing you want to be sure of when you grind your Sichuan pepper is to pick through it and remove and discard any hard black seeds or twigs (i.e., you only want to use the red hulls). The seeds are rock hard and will give your ground pepper a gritty sandy texture that's very unpleasant.
I also have a recipe for Chinese Five Spice Powder, if you'd like to make that from scratch as well.
Seasoning your chili oil is optional and depends largely on how you plan to use it. For me, this is one of those condiments that I pour on everything, so to max out its taste as a stand-alone condiment, I like to season it with some soy sauce and perhaps a bit of salt. When you pour the oil over the chili mixture, the liquid evaporates, leaving your red oil with the umami-rich flavor of caramelized soy sauce.
By seasoning the oil, this allows me to use it as both a seasoning and a hot sauce, which makes it great in noodle soups and stir-fries but also works over hot rice, or scrambled eggs.
For additional flavor, I also like to add dried scallops to my chili oil. This provides a powerful boost of savory umami without making it overtly fishy, like adding dried shrimp would. If you want to make you chili oil plant-based, you can and shiitake mushroom powder instead.
How to Make Chili Oil
The process for making chili oil is straightforward. Some recipes will have you fry all the ingredients in oil, but chili flakes burn very easily, and they turn bitter when burnt. That's why I find it safer to pour hot oil over the other ingredients, which helps coax out the color and capsaicin without scorching the peppers and spices.
Since aromatics such as garlic and ginger have a lot of moisture that needs to burn off, I fry these in the oil before adding them into the dry ingredients. The aromatics get fried until golden brown and crisp, which gives the chili oil a wonderful nutty flavor while increasing its shelf-life. If you want a more intense garlicky flavor you can reduce the frying time; however your chili oil won't keep for quite as long.
For liquid ingredients such as soy sauce, you want the moisture to evaporate, but adding a liquid to hot oil is a bad idea. That's why I incorporate a small amount into the chili peppers before pouring the oil over them. If you want to add more flavor, I recommend using freeze-dried forms of the liquid, or just using salt.
- 30 grams chili pepper flakes (I used Korean Gochugaru)
- 15 grams sesame seeds
- 4 grams Sichuan pepper
- ⅛ teaspoon Chinese five spice powder
- 15 grams dried scallops (optional)
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 30 grams garlic (finely minced)
- 15 grams ginger (finely minced)
- To grind the Sichuan Pepper, first pick through the peppercorns to remove any black seeds or twigs. Add the peppers to a spice grinder, or use a mortar and pestle to grind them into a powder.
- If you're going to add dried scallops, put them in a spice grinder or small food processor and pulse until coarsely ground. Add this to the chili peppers mixture and mix.
- Add the chili pepper flakes, sesame seeds, dried scallops, Sichuan pepper, and five-spice powder to a bowl and stir to combine.
- Add the soy sauce to the pepper mixture and stir to distribute evenly.
- Add the oil to a saucepan over medium heat and heat preheat until hot. Add the garlic and ginger and fry until golden brown and not sizzling as much. The idea is to get the garlic crisp, without burning it.
- Once the garlic is golden brown, immediately pour the hot garlic and ginger oil into the chili flake mixture. The oil is extremely hot, and it will sizzle as you add it to the chilies, so be very careful.
- Stir your chili oil until the sizzling subsides and then let the mixture come to room temperature before bottling, it's best to let the mixture steep for a day or two to get the maximum flavor into the oil. Store the chili oil in the refrigerator.
I don't know how to rate this but the maximum amount of stars isn't enough. There are a couple of errors in the recipe, it says it has 24 servings, but I'm pretty sure after I tasted it, this is going to yield only 4.
I'm an American, so measuring things by the metric system isn't standard, so I weigh all my ingredients. The amount of Sichuan peppercorns yielded a mountain on my scale, so I tossed in what would seem reasonable. There is the mind-numbingly tingly sensation that can only come from the Sichuan peppers.
I made your Five Spice recipe for this and wow what a punch that has! I need to find what else I can use it for besides this, but since this recipe only yields 4 servings in my kitchen, perhaps it will all get used up making this.
I made Garlic Chili Crisp Rice Noodles - super easy - prepare the rice noodles and dump this in heaps on top. Add cilantro for pretty, and ignore the rest of the world. Fabulous.
This recipe is missing a warning about how dangerously addictive it is. Thank you so much for this. It's life-changing.
Marc Matsumoto says
Hi Laura, I'm glad to hear you enjoyed this so much! I double checked the quantity of the Sichuan peppers and it seems correct. I usually set my scale to measure in milligrams when I'm weighing such small quantities as anything from 3.5-4.4 grams will get rounded to 4 grams (which is a pretty huge discrepancy). As for the servings, I know what you mean, it's pretty addictive and might be difficult to stretch to 24 servings, but this should make about a cup and half of chili oil, so if you figure the average serving size to be 1 tablespoon, it should yield enough for about 24 servings😉
1 tablespoon as a serving size is not enough for anything, and I'm not American! LOL
I'm gonna make it and double the quantities as soon as I get hold of some quality Sichuan pepper here in Europe..
Dave Oshana says
Thanks Marc for the most comprehensive and structured chilli oil recipe to be found online.There are so many techniques to experiment, including cooking everything except the chillis and then adding the chillis in 3 stages, to create different degrees of crispiness. Caramelizing the soy sauce is a top tip. I assume the shiitake are cooked until they are no longer moist?
Marc Matsumoto says
You're welcome Dave, I'm glad to hear you found it helpful. For the shiitakes, it depends on whether you're using dried ones or fresh ones. If you're using fresh ones, you'll want to fry them with the other aromatics until they're dried out. If you're using dried shiitakes, you can grind them in the spice grinder and then mix them in with the chili flakes before you pour the hot oil over it.
With everything going on these days you’d think I’d be having a hard time living without flour, yeast, sugar and the like but the ONLY thing I want is a batch of this stuff. Finally found my ingredients and just finished making a double batch. Most ppl use this as a condiment but if it suggests using a couple spoonfuls I’ll use 4 times as much. I think if I had to make a list of the top items I’d take to a deserted island this would now be in the top slot.
Marc Matsumoto says
😆 I love your priorities! This is an indispensable food in our household too!
Patricia Marmion says
This oil is fabulous! I don't like hot, this is just on the verge of hot for me - I describe it to my friends and nice and warm. I use it all the time, but every time I serve it to friends, my jar disappears from my table.
Marc Matsumoto says
Hi Patricia, I'm glad to hear you're enjoying this! Thanks for dropping by to let me know. Sounds like you need to get security lock for your chili oil😉
I’m going to try this recipe, it looks delicious. I was wondering what I can use to substitute the dry scallops with as I’m a vegetarian? Don’t want to miss out on the complexity of the flavors lol. Thanks.
Marc Matsumoto says
Hi Tammy, the scallops are there for umami, so you can sub in any plant-based alternative with a lot of glutamate or guanosine monophosphate (GMP). Some ideas include dried porcini powder or dried shiitake powder (both of these are potent so you won't need as much). You could also go with something fermented such as miso (though it will make the oil saltier).
Hi Marc! Very good recipe but difficult to find right peppers. Do you have an idea what sause or oil to make from fresh Chillies (the small ones, red color, I think is Thai). Or how to preserve them? Usually I just cut them and add olive oil. But I would like something more sophisticated:))))
Marc Matsumoto says
Hi Oksana, I don't have a recipe for it, but fresh chilies are good for making Sambal Oelek (Indonesian chili paste) or Shatta (Syrian Chili paste). Thai chilies tend to be extremely spicy so while you could make a chili paste with them, it might be too spicy (depending on your heat tolerance). I usually like to chop Thai chilies up and soak them in vinegar with just a little salt and sugar. They if you store them in the refrigerator, they will keep indefinitely like this and as time passes, more of the capsaicin will leach into the vinegar. In Okinawa, they make a hot sauce by soaking whole chilies in high proof liquor. Ethanol is a solvent, and it extracts the capsaicin in the chilies very quickly. The traditional liquor to use is Awamori, but you could do this with vodka.
Could you sub fish oil for the dried scallops? Looking forward to making this!
Marc Matsumoto says
Hi Carrie, I would not recommend it. The dried scallops are included to add amino acids to the oil, which creates the taste of umami. Fish oil probably won't have much if any amino acid content so you won't get the desired effect. If you can get dried shrimp that could work as a substitute, or if you're not opposed to using it MSG will work too.
When I used all the oil I still had some spices at the bottom. Can I add more oil or should I throw it away and make a new batch?
Marc Matsumoto says
Hi Veronica, you could add some oil to use it up, but it won't be quite as flavorful. I usually just scoop the dregs into noodle soups and such with a spoon.