Field Notes

Master Class: Chinese Chili Oil

In our kitchen, the simplest things end up getting the most mileage. And our current so-simple-it-feels-like-cheating obsession is chili oil, that condiment thrown in with the packets of soy sauce in your favorite Chinese delivery order.

In the States, much of the chili oil we encounter comes straight from the jar. This is a downright shame, since making your own is a) ridiculously simple and long lasting, and b) far more flavorful. The only slightly tricky part might be the sourcing: most Asian markets will have whole Szechuan chilies (not to be confused with Szechuan peppercorns), but ground Korean chili flakes will do just fine.

The only real technique here is in bringing your oil up to the right temperature: too hot, and you’ll burn the chili flakes, resulting in a bitter flavor; not hot enough and the flakes won’t release their maximum flavor. It’s worth investing in a deep-fry thermometer if you don’t have one.

Once you’ve made your chili oil, store it in a lidded container at room temperature for up to 1 month. Drizzle it on everything from dumplings to hard boiled eggs.

Chili Oil

Yields 2 ½ cups

  • 4 ounces Szechuan or Korean red chili flakes (or, 4 ounces whole chiles, seeds removed, toasted and ground in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle)
  • One 1-inch piece unpeeled ginger
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 cups vegetable oil
Place the chili flakes in a heatproof bowl with the ginger and garlic cloves. In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat until it reaches 300° on a deep fry thermometer. Remove the oil from the heat, let sit for 30 seconds, then slowly pour into the bowl with the chili oil, stirring well to combine (the chilies should sizzle a bit). Let cool completely and let sit overnight before using.