This chili oil recipe has become one of the most popular on the blog, and for good reason. It is as much a foundational ingredient for many of our recipes as it is a delicious condiment. Also, learning how to make chili oil yourself means:
1. having a much more flavorful result
2. knowing exactly what goes into it
Over the years, we’ve received many questions and comments from readers on this recipe, so we’ve updated it with more detail and instructions, as well as options to tailor it to your exact liking!
CHILI OIL MAKES EVERYTHING BETTER
If you hang around our blog, it doesn’t take long to realize that we are obsessed with all things chili oil and hot sauce.
Spicy sauces and oils show up in our fried rice and noodle recipes so often that my dad had to point out, “hey, you know there are people out there who may not like chili oil,” a statement my sister and I met with blank stares before piling more chili oil onto our bowls.
A plate of noodles or a bowl of fried rice isn’t as good without some delicious chili oil on top.
Dumplings and bao are a shadow of what they could be without chili oil–it is a crucial ingredient in our Perfect Dumpling Sauce.
HOW TO MAKE AUTHENTIC CHINESE CHILI OIL
If you go to any Chinese restaurant (in the US or China) worth their salt and ask for chili oil, they will bring out a deliciously fragrant, dark red, viscous chili oil that could make even a piece of shoe leather taste good.
For a while, we tried to approximate these tasty chili oils at home with only limited success. There was some secret that we just needed to get–some key elements and execution details that would lead us to the perfect chili oil recipe.
Well. After many kitchen experiments (we had many mediocre jars of chili oil at the back of the fridge to prove it), I’ve created the perfect chili oil.
The secret is to infuse the oil with a special blend of aromatics first, then pour it over Sichuan crushed chili flakes.
These flakes are brighter red and have fewer seeds than your run-of-the-mill Italian crushed red pepper flakes, which tend to be roasted longer and darker (pouring hot oil over them results in a burnt, dull-flavored chili oil, and no one wants that).
This chili oil has a magical ability to elevate EVERYTHING. In fact, every time we eat it, we still engage in silent, solemn head-shaking in awe of how good it tastes. And the best part? Homemade chili oil is actually extremely simple to make. You KNOW you want some. Find Sichuan red chili flakes at Chinese grocery stores. You can also find them online from Asian grocery merchants like sayweee.com and The Mala Market. The Mala Market, in particular, sources their Sichuan Chili Flakes directly from small producers in China.
Okay, let’s quickly talk about ingredients. Here’s an overview of what you need and what’s optional in the recipe:
- Oil: Ideally, a neutral flavored oil, such as vegetable, canola, peanut, soybean, or grapeseed oil. Traditional Chinese caribou is also a great option if you can find it (it’s available at The Mala Market). It’s related to canola oil, which is cultivated in a low-acid, more commercially viable seed and treated differently in many parts of the world (canola is actually a brand name, kind of like “bandaid”). Light olive oil can also work, but it has a lower smoke point and a tendency to harden in the refrigerator. These days, avocado oil is also becoming a popular healthy oil option. Still, you’re better off saving that for other applications, as it holds up well but has a tendency to set in the refrigerator (albeit less intensely than olive oil will). The more aromatics you use, the more oil you can add. If using “the minimum” of aromatics, use 1 1/2 cups. If you’re using almost all of the aromatics, you should net out at 3 cups. It is okay for this to be imprecise.
- Essential spices: At a minimum, you’ll need four aromatic spices: star anise, cinnamon stick (preferably cassia cinnamon), bay leaves, and Sichuan peppercorns.
- Optional spices & aromatics: If you want a bit more flavor and complexity, you can also add three additional spices: black cardamom (Cao Guo; pinyin: caoguo, or tsao-ko), dried sand ginger, and cloves. If you’d like to deviate from a pure spice flavor, you can also add fresh garlic and shallots to the oil infusion.
- Chili flakes: You will need Sichuan chili flakes for best results. Avoid regular crushed red pepper flakes. We recommend the Sichuan Chili Flakes from The Mala Market, whether you need access to a Chinese grocery or are looking for premium quality chilies!
- Salt: Necessary to bring out the flavor of all the spices and aromatics!
- Optional final add-ins: Whether or not you add anything further is totally up to personal preference. Add-ins include toasted sesame seeds, Chinese black vinegar, sesame oil, soy sauce, and raw garlic. *Note: raw garlic should be added to smaller amounts of chili oil to be consumed immediately or not too long after that and definitely stored in the refrigerator if you are making ahead.
CHILI OIL RECIPE INSTRUCTIONS
- Oil temperature: Getting the right temperature when you infuse the oil with the aromatics and when you pour it over the chili flakes. You want the oil to be hot enough to toast the spices and release flavor but not so hot that the spices burn.
- How long do you infuse the oil?
- Any add-ins used and when they are added
- We’re going to break it all down into four easy steps!
STEP 1: PREPARE AROMATICS
- There are many differing opinions when it comes to the best aromatics for chili oil, as well as many variations. In the years since I first posted this recipe, I’ve experimented with more variations and have outlined some additions you can use, as well as the bare minimum you’ll need to make a great chili oil.
STEP 2: PREPARE OIL
- Place oil and selected aromatics into a pot with at least two inches of clearance between the oil and the rim of the pool. If using minimum aromatics, 1 1/2 cups of oil should do it. If using all the aromatics, you can add up to 3 cups of oil.
- Set it over medium heat to start, then progressively lower it to medium-low or low heat as the oil comes to temperature. The oil should be at about 225-250deg F / 110-120deg C, causing small bubbles to rise from the aromatics slowly.
- If you notice the spices sizzling more vigorously than that or turning dark too quickly, reduce the heat to cool it down.
- If you are not achieving small bubbles, slowly increase the heat. For novice cooks, hovering around 200-225deg F is the safest way to prevent burning. In this instance, we kept ours at 225degF.
- If using hard spices, the bubbling of the oil should be very tiny but constant. They will cling to the herbs and rise. The oil should not be hot enough to show any additional visible movement.
- If you are using garlic and shallots, the oil will bubble slightly more vigorously due to the water content of the fresh ingredients. This is normal, but you should still ensure that the garlic and shallot are still browning very slowly.
- Once you see bubbles, the heat can hover between 200-225degF. If you want to infuse your oil for less time, it’s best to stay at the higher end of the temperature spectrum.
- If you are at the lowest heat setting and it’s still too hot, take the oil off the heat periodically to avoid burning.
STEP 3: POUR HOT OIL OVER CHILI FLAKES
- While the oil is infusing, prepare your chili flakes by placing them in a heatproof bowl.
- How much chili flake should I use?
- If you used 1 1/2 cups of oil, 3/4 cups of chili flakes is best. For 3 cups of oil, use 1 1/4 cups of chili flakes. You can experiment within this range (if you like more oil and fewer flakes, for instance). Just bear in mind the quantity of oil needed to ensure you get enough flavor and color.
- What kind of chili flakes should I use?
- We bought a few types of chili flakes from our local Asian market to show you some of the differences across brands. Let’s take a closer look.
- You will not get a deep red chili oil, and the flavor just won’t be there. We also get questions about using coarse Korean gochugaru. You could use that in a pinch, but it will not be Chinese chili oil! Gochugaru is also often milder than Sichuan chili flakes.
- The best chili flakes to use are Sichuan chili flakes, but you can see in this photo that there are still slight variations in what you can buy. Some brands are finer than others. Some brands appear slightly more moist. Still others are more roasted and dark vs. bright red. This brings us to oil temperature.
STEP 4: CHOOSE ADD-INS (OPTIONAL)
- Some chili oil recipes call for add-ins like soy sauce, black vinegar, or sesame oil. These can be tasty, but I do want to emphasize that this changes your chili oil into something else.
- ▢ 1 1/2-3 cups neutral oil(350-700 ml)
- ▢ 5-star anise
- ▢ One cinnamon stick (preferably cassia cinnamon)
- ▢ Two bay leaves
- ▢ Three tablespoons Sichuan peppercorns
- ▢ Two black cardamom pods (optional)
- ▢ Four nuggets of dried sand ginger (optional – about one tablespoon)
- ▢ Two teaspoons cloves (optional)
- ▢ Three cloves garlic (optional – crushed)
- ▢ 1-2 shallots (optional – halved)
- ▢ 3/4-1 1/4 cup Sichuan chili flakes (65-110g)
- ▢ 1 – 2 teaspoons salt (to taste)
- Gather all the aromatics you plan to use. Place oil and selected aromatics into a pot with at least two inches of clearance between the oil and the rim of the pool. If using minimum aromatics, 1 1/2 cups of oil should do it. If using all the aromatics, you can add up to 3 cups of oil.
- Set it over medium heat to start, then progressively lower it to medium-low or low heat as the oil comes to temperature. The oil should be at about 225-250deg F / 110-120deg C, causing small bubbles to rise from the aromatics slowly. If you notice the spices sizzling more vigorously than that or turning dark too quickly, reduce the heat to cool it down. If you are not achieving small bubbles, slowly increase the heat. Hovering around 200-225 degrees F is the safest way to prevent burning. Infuse the aromatics this way for a minimum of 30 minutes or up to 1 hour for best results.
- While the oil is infusing, prepare your Sichuan chili flakes by placing them in a heatproof bowl. If you used 1 1/2 cups of oil, 3/4 cups of chili flakes is best. For 3 cups of oil, use 1 1/4 cups of chili flakes. You can experiment within this range (if you like more oil and fewer flakes, for instance).
- You can either heat your oil and pour it through a fine-meshed strainer OR remove the spices first with a fine-meshed sieve. If your spices are very dark by the time you get to this step, to avoid burning, it’s safest to remove the spices entirely before pouring over the chili flakes. Generally, the oil should be between 225-250deg F (110-120deg C) when running over the chili flakes. If you like a darker color, opt for 250-275deg F/135deg C. If your chili flakes are already super roasted, you may want to be closer to 225deg F/110deg C. When in doubt, test the oil on a small bowl of chili flakes before you do the rest. Carefully pour the hot oil through a strainer onto the chili flakes. Stir to distribute the heat of the oil evenly. You’ll know you’ve gotten it right when you smell a “popcorn”-like smell that is not at all burnt-smelling.
- Stir in the salt, and allow the chili oil to cool. Store in airtight containers in the refrigerator. Always use a clean utensil when handling to prevent spoilage. It can last for up to 6 months if taken in this way.