D.I.Y: Sichuan Chili Oil

 

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Toronto is blessed with dozens and dozens of Chinese restaurants, and in almost all of them you will find that indispensable condiment, Sichuan chili oil. The recipes may vary slightly from restaurant to restaurant, as each establishment will have its own, treasured recipe, but the heat, aroma and flavour are unmistakable; so good that you might want to sneak some home! No need for that, though. Why not make your own?

The most important ingredient for Sichuan chili oil is the Sichuan peppercorn. Interestingly, the Sichuan peppercorn is neither a chili nor a pepper, but is actually a member of the citrus family- so it’s a cousin of the orange, not black pepper. This explains its lovely, fruity aroma, often described as similar to lavender, a delicate fragrance that shines in its other most famous application, one of the five spices in five-spice powder.

 

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To make Sichuan chili oil you will want to use this peppercorn, as well as a good amount of dried chili flakes and other aromatics and spices: ginger, garlic, scallion, cinnamon, star anise and clove are just some of the other ingredients most often used. Sesame is also a major ingredient, as both sesame oil and toasted sesame seeds will go into this recipe. Steeping the Sichuan peppercorns and other aromatics in the hot oil for a couple hours infuses the oil with all that beautiful aroma, heat and flavour.

 

if you don't have a candy thermometer look for a hint of sizzle around the garlic

if you don’t have a candy thermometer look for a hint of sizzle around the garlic

 

This is a really simple recipe, and the aroma of the fragrant oil steeping on your stove is a major bonus. The oil can be kept in your fridge for six months. But I bet it won’t last that long; you will find yourself reaching for this incredible condiment over and over again, to drizzle on rice dishes, sautéed vegetables like broccoli, rapini or bok choy, on spring rolls and steamed dumplings, chicken, pork, eggs, tacos, and, well you get the idea. Sichuan chili oil is very habit forming!

Sichuan Chili Oil

Makes about 1 1/4  cups

½ cup chili flakes

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

1 cup vegetable oil

¼ cup toasted sesame oil

fresh ginger, peeled, about half the size of your thumb

the white part of a scallion

1 clove garlic

4 pieces star anise

1 piece cinnamon bark (about 3 inches)

3 tablespoons Sichuan peppercorns

5 whole cloves

3 or 4 bay leaves

Place the chili flakes in a mixing bowl. Place the sesame seeds in a pan over low heat and gently toast for about five minutes until they are golden and fragrant. Add to the bowl of chili flakes. Put the oil in a pot on low, heating to 240 F. Add the ginger, scallion and garlic and the rest of the ingredients. The garlic, ginger and scallion will darken and cook over the next couple hours but will not burn at this temperature. After two hours, remove the pot from the heat and strain it over the steel bowl, mixing all the ingredients together. When completely cool pour into a jar and place in fridge.

 

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