Five-Flavor Oil

五味油

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.

  • This is an oil that combines five fragrances—scallion, ginger, Szechwan peppercorn, chili, and sesame—in an amber-auburn blend. The depth of color and spice will depend on the amount of chili you use.
  • Very versatile, it is a superb dressing for cold noodles, dumplings, cold meat and vegetable salads, or a lunchtime bowl of crisp, tossed greens. You may combine it freely with rice vinegar or Western wine vinegar, and with soy sauce, salt, or Roasted Szechwan Pepper-Salt.
  • Note that this is not a cooking oil. The delicacy of flavor would be ruined by reheating, though you may use it freshly made and warm.

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Ingredients

  • 1 hefty or 2 medium whole scallions, cut into 1½-inch lengths
  • 7 quarter-size slices fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon dried red chili flakes
  • 2 teaspoons Szechwan brown peppercorns
  • ¾ cup corn or peanut oil
  • ¼ cup Chinese or Japanese sesame oil

Method

Infusing the oil

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.

Straining and storing the oil

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.

USED IN

Peony Blossom Cold Noodles, and The Five Heaps, and most any time you’d like to replace hot chili oil or sesame oil in a soy-based dipping sauce.

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