While most sauces like sriracha aim to get the bright, acidic bite of fresh pep- pers, we go for that deep, fiery, earthy heat of roasted chile peppers. So while our chili oil might look red and intimidating, it actually caps off quite early in terms of spice level, and instead focuses on the flavor and fragrances of spices like star anise, cloves, and bay leaves. I add it to eggs, congee, and any and all noodles. A drop or two will add a small but powerful kick; a splash will make your mouth water; a spoonful will make you sweat. And let’s not even get started on the chile pepper seeds that soak in this powerful stuff.
This type of heat doesn’t come easy. In the stores, we go all out with thirty different ingredients sourced from all over the world, but at home, I make this pared-down version that’s just as good and not as annoying to make— although it’s still pretty annoying, to be honest. The recipe calls for oil to be heated up to 450°F (232°C), ready to give you some severe burns or start a fire if you don’t watch yourself. My recommendation: Deck yourself out with all the protective gear possible (definitely do not cook naked with just an apron on), and have a fire extinguisher on standby. And if you live in a tiny NYC apartment, your smoke detector will go off.
Note: Make sure none of your pots are near any open flames and are all set securely on stable surfaces. You want to make sure the pot won’t tip over when you’re pouring out the hot oil. Serious burn injuries may be sustained if the oil touches your skin—it’s happened to me, and it’s not fun.
- Preheat the oven to 200°F (90°C).
- Wash the peppers in cold water and blot with paper towels to dry.
- In a large bowl, toss the peppers in the oil and place them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast in the oven for 15 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally to avoid sticking.
- Cover a plate with paper towels. Remove the peppers from the oven and carefully set on the paper towel–lined plate to cool.
- Once cooled, use a spice grinder to grind the peppers into powder form, and store at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 1 month.
- Place the red chili powder into a large, heat-safe pot or bowl big enough to pour the hot oil into later. Set aside on a stable surface.
- Add the oil to a second pot and set over medium heat. Heat until the thermometer registers 300°F (150°C).
- Add the Sichuan peppercorns, star anise, cloves, and bay leaves. Immediately after, carefully place the green onion, onion, and ginger into the hot oil as well. This will bring the temperature of the oil down; bring the temperature of the oil up to 350°F (177°C) and maintain it there by carefully moving the pot off the heat if too hot and putting back on the heat if too cool. Fry the spices at 350°F (177°C) in the oil for about 3 minutes, until the spices are fragrant but not blackened. Use a strainer to remove everything solid from the oil (reserve these aromatics to enhance a broth or stew later).
- Heat the oil up to 450°F (232°C), then turn off the burner and carefully remove the pot from the heat.
- You might want to wear long sleeves for this next step. Very carefully, while wearing oven mitts, gradually pour the hot oil into the bigger pot with the red chili powder, stirring carefully to make sure every bit of the chili powder is cooked by the hot oil. This will create a lot of smoke, so if you can, do this step outdoors or be ready to deal with smoke alarms. Don’t inhale the smoke.
- The temperature of the oil will drop quickly. Add a splash of black vinegar to add more flavor but also to bring down the temperature so the chili powder doesn’t get burnt.
- Leave the oil to cool to room temperature, and let it rest, covered, for 10 to 12 hours or overnight. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 month.
Recipes reprinted from XI’AN FAMOUS FOODS: THE CUISINE OF WESTERN CHINA, FROM NEW YORK'S FAVORITE NOODLE SHOP by Jason Wang with Jessica Chou. Photography by Jenny Huang. Published by ABRAMS.