Homemade chili oil, revisited

We finished the mason jar of chili oil I had made months ago, and for whatever reason, I decided to put off making a new batch until the new year. Even though I was decently satisfied with the recipe I was using (which was a mash of three different other recipes I had found), I still wasn’t fully satisfied. But I got reminded of the chili oil need when we had a number of different chili oils during our December travels in Australia, and I thought they were standouts. One of the hot chili oils I loved the most was at Shandong Mama, one of my favorite little restaurants in Melbourne CBD. We had ordered dumplings and noodles for takeaway to eat at home, and they gave us some small containers of their house made chili oil. Even though the chili oil containers were small, the chili oil packed a huge punch; it was not only extremely flavorful and clearly infused with multiple spices, but it was HOT. I still think about how fragrant and flavorful it was now. I needed to find a way to recreate this “wow” factor in my own version.

So I started looking up other techniques to infuse more flavor, and I came across a recipe that required you to steep and simmer whole spices (whole Sichuanese peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon stick) for a full hour. This seemed a bit scary to me because I was scared the oil would burn after such a long time over heat. Then, after the hour was done, you’d strain the whole spices from the hot oil directly into a heat-proof bowl with your choice of chili flakes. I used a combination of ground Sichuanese peppercorns for the “ma la” numbing heat, regular red pepper flakes for heat, and Korean gochugaru for color and smoky flavor. Because I was scared of the oil burning, I turned off the heat periodically after checking the temperature with an instant-read thermometer and just let the oil sit with the whole spices steeped. When I tasted it a couple hours later, it seemed like it had a slight burnt after taste — this is when I took a small spoonful and put it directly in my mouth (I love doing this, though it’s advised not to…). But when I drizzled the oil on top of vegetables and dumplings this evening, I didn’t get the burnt after taste at all, and Chris thinks I’m being overly critical.

My main goal is to recreate the multi-dimensional flavor of the Shandong Mama hot chili oil. So, after this jar is done, I will continue on the chili oil perfecting quest.

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