Vegetable oil infused with the color and fire of hot red chili peppers is a staple seasoning throughout north and central China. It is used mainly in cold dishes or as part of a dipping sauce for dumplings or springrolls, but occasionally is sprinkled on top of a stir-fry as it exits from the wok. Some people I know insist on carrying a bottle of chili oil with them most everywhere they go and putting it on most everything they eat, but I am more of a spice-loving moderate. “A little dab’ll do you,” as they used to say in the Bryl-Creem commercials, and that’s my cautionary word on hot chili oil.
Combine the sesame oil and com or peanut oil in a small, heavy saucepan. Heat over medium heat for several minutes, until several chili flakes foam instantly without blackening when added to the oil. When the test flakes foam, add the tablespoon of chili flakes to the oil, remove the pot from the heat, and cover the pot.
If the test flakes blacken, turn off the heat and let the oil cool somewhat. Test with a few more flakes until the oil temperature is low enough for them to foam without burning, then proceed as above to add the flakes and cover the pot. Burned flakes produce bitter oil.
Let the oil sit overnight or until cool.
Strain the oil through a mesh strainer lined with dry cheesecloth to extract the flakes.
Store in a clean glass jar, away from light and heat. A cool, dark cupboard is best. If you must refrigerate the oil, allow it to come to room temperature before using. Stored properly, the oil will keep indefinitely.
Numerous recipes throughout this book.
© 1982 Barbara Tropp estate. All rights reserved.