Seasoning oils—oils infused with aromatics and oils pressed from the fragrant, toasted sesame seed—have traditionally played a large part in refined Chinese cuisine. Caring cooks have always made chili oil, ginger oil, fagara oil (infused with Szechwan brown peppercorns), and even orange peel oil in the pursuit of aroma and a special subtlety of taste.
Smash the scallion and ginger lightly with the broad side of a cleaver or the blunt handle of a heavy knife to bring their oils to the surface. Combine the scallion, ginger, chili flakes, and peppercorns in a small dish and put within reach of your stovetop.
Combine the com or peanut oil and sesame oil in a small, heavy saucepan. Stir with a chopstick or wooden spoon to blend, then add 1 or 2 chili flakes to the oil. Heat over moderate heat until the flakes sizzle merrily surrounded by a ring of white bubbles. Let sizzle 5 seconds, then turn off the heat and remove the pan to a cool burner. Immediately add the combined seasonings. Stir once or twice to blend, then cover the pot loosely to allow the steam to escape. The mixture will continue to sizzle from the heat of the pan about 10 minutes more.
If you overheat the oil and the seasonings bum, begin again with fresh ingredients. Otherwise, the oil will be bitter.
For full flavor and rich color, cover the pot completely once the sizzling has stopped, and let the oil stand overnight to a full day at room temperature. Filter the oil through a strainer lined with several layers of dry cheesecloth, and discard the seasonings.
Bottle the oil in an immaculately clean glass jar and store in the refrigerator or in a cool, dark place. Use at room temperature.
© 1982 Barbara Tropp estate. All rights reserved.