Can I eat spicy food? Yes. Do I handle it well? Not really anymore. Growing up, I learned to love spicy food because my dad would drench everything in chili sauce. As a fun family competition, I tried to out spice him. I ended up beating him eventually. But I had to give it up because I started breaking out as teenagers do and the old Chinese wives’ tale was that spicy foods make you break out more. So I (reluctantly) stopped eating it. Did the pimples go away? NOPE.
My family fridge had all sorts of chili sauces. My ultimate favorite one was Laoganma fried chili in oil. I felt so bad when I recently learned that the person on the label was a woman! I have been referring to it as “man sauce” for some time now. It was the only way I could visually differentiate it from the other chili sauces.
Chinese Chili Oils
There are countless types of chili sauces in Chinese cuisine. But I have always loved chili oil because of their versatility to pair with more types of food. The Chinese name is “la you” which translates directly into “spicy oil.” The concept is simple: infuse oil with chilis and aromatics. There are two very distinct types of Chinese chili oil. The Szechuan chili oil uses numbing Szechuan peppercorns and hot as hell peppers – this type of chili oil basically burns your face off. The opposite end is Chiu Chow chili oil. It focuses on umami by building layers of flavors with garlic, chilis, and other spices for a slow and gradual spicy built up. For me, Chiu Chow chili oil reigns supreme. So, why the drastic difference between the two types of chili oil?
What’s Chiu Chow?
Chiu Chow, or Teochow in Mandarin, style refers to a specific type of cuisine (I’m going to continue to use Chiu Chow as I’m Cantonese). Chiu Chow people originate from an area in Southern China known as the Chaoshan region and have long considered themselves a different ethnicity than Northern Chinese. They refer to themselves as descendants of the Tang dynasty versus the Han dynasty of Northern China. Chiu Chow have their own language, culture, and, of course, cuisine from the rest of China. Due to proximity to the coast, Chiu Chow cuisine relies on fresh, simple, and light flavors that highlight seafood and vegetables.
Your Own Version of Chili Oil
I’m 100% sure that my version of chili oil is not traditional. I think it’s important to learn the concept and history behind something but adapt it to you! For instance, my recipe uses shallots for sweetness and soy sauce for more umami. I also threw in some star anise and cinnamon sticks for some warm tones. Don’t be afraid to play around with different ingredients to make your dream chili oil! My chili oil came out just a hint spicier than a classic Chiu Chow chili oil but I don’t have break outs anymore so I can eat all the spice I want.
Homemade Spicy Chili Oil
- 1 cup avocado oil
- 10-12 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 large shallot, minced
- 1 jalapeño, minced
- 3-4 red chili peppers, thinly sliced
- 1/2 tablespoon freshly ground pepper
- 3 star anise pods
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 1/4 cup dark soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon gochugaru (Korean red chili pepper flake)
- 1/2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- Rock sugar, about 1/2 inch piece (or 2 teaspoons sugar)
- Step 1 In a small saucepan, add oil, garlic, shallot, jalapeño, red chili peppers, ground pepper, star anise, and cinnamon and bring to a simmer over medium heat.
- Step 2 Continue to cook at a gentle simmer for 20 to 25 minutes until the garlic and shallots have completely browned. Stir occasionally with a metal spoon.
- Step 3 When the mixture is evenly browned and the garlic and shallots look crisp, remove the saucepan from heat.
- Step 4 Carefully stir in soy sauce, gochugaru, Worcestershire sauce, and rock sugar.
- Step 5 Allow to cool to room temperature.
- Step 6 Place into a mason jar and store in refrigerator for up to one month.