Ma-La Oil

Whereas many Chinese cooks will combine peanut and toasted sesame oils in a pan and then bring them to heat with a bit of ginger, chili, and Szechwan peppercorn before stir-frying a dish, I have long practiced the northern Chinese method of infusing oil with these flavors, and using it then as a seasoning as opposed to a cooking oil. In northern China with its colder climates, such oils are kept easily. In my Western kitchen, not only do they keep but they lend a dimension of flavor to a dish that otherwise cannot be had.

Ma-La, or “numbing and spicy, ” is a classic central Chinese configuration of tastes that combines Szechwan peppercorns and chilis. This oil combines them both, as well as ginger, scallion, and toasted sesame.

Like all infused oils, this one should be stored in an impeccably clean glass jar or plastic container at cool room temperature. The oil may turn cloudy, but its flavor will not be affected. If mold develops from a contaminated utensil or it smells off owing to age or heat, toss it out and make a fresh batch.

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  • 1 cup corn or peanut oil
  • 1 cup Japanese sesame oil
  • ½ cup thinly sliced green and white scallion rings
  • 15 quarter-size coins fresh ginger, smashed
  • 2 tablespoons Szechwan peppercorns
  • 2 tablespoons shockingly pungent dried red chili flakes
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt


  1. Combine all of the ingredients in a heavy, non-aluminum -quart saucepan. Rest a deep-fry thermometer on the rim of the pot. Over moderately low heat, bring the mixture to a bubbly 225°F, stirring occasionally. Let simmer for 15 minutes, checking to ensure the temperature does not rise. Remove from the heat and let stand until cool or overnight.
  2. Strain the oil without pressing on the solids; then, discard the solids. Store the oil in an impeccably clean glass jar at cool room temperature.