Chili oil (hong you)
Chinese red oil (红油, or the equivalent, Japanese raiyu らい油) is a critical ingredient in any number of Sichuanese dishes, including sesame noodles, or husband-wife boiled beef slices. It’s great with black vinegar, as a dumpling sauce. And it’s versatile enough to use with other kinds of cuisine as a spicy condiment. It’s a beautiful ruby red color, and has a fantastic toasty aroma. You can buy it, if you like, but it’s ridiculously simple to make. It might look intimidatingly fiery, but the flavour is a mellow, slow heat (even if you use spicy chili flakes).
— Brad, Ulli
The version given here is from Fuschia Dunlop’s “Land of Plenty”. The version pictured is a mimially plain version, without the aromatics — like black cardamom, Sichuan pepper, star anise, or cinammon — that are common in other recipes. This makes it a little more versatile, imho. We often use star anise and sichuan pepper, though. Ms Dunlop suggests heating the oil with a crushed piece of ginger in it, but this only seems to slow down the heating process, and we didn’t discern much of an effect on the taste of the final oil. We usually use peanut oil, but other high-heat oils, like canola, should work just as well (and taste more neutral). You can add black beans (as some recipes recommend) and you’ll end up with something very much like the famous Lao Gan Ma.
If you follow the instructions here, we’ve found we always get a bright coloured, perfect chili oil. You might want to be more precise and actually measure the temperature. If so, we hope you have better luck than we did. Any thermometer we tried, promptly died in the high heat.
– 3 cups (750ml) oil, like peanut or canola
– 2/3–1 cup chili flakes (150-250ml, or even more)
– 3 tbsp (45ml) Sichuan pepper (or less, if you aren’t a huge fan)
– 3-4 star anise
– 1 2-inch (5cm) stick cinnamon
Place the spices into a heat-proof container, large enough to hold all the oil and the spices. Put the oil into a thick bottomed saucepan. It’ll be better for you if the saucepan has a decent handle. The last thing you want is to burn your fingers, or worse — splash super-heated oil all over yourself. Heat the oil over a hot, or medium hot setting. Bring it to the point that it starts to smoke. This might take a while. Keep an eye on it. You don’t want clouds of smoke in your house, and you really don’t want it to catch fire.
Once it’s definitely smoking, turn off the heat. Let the oil cool down for ten minutes. Be careful — it’s still very, very hot, but it should be cool enough now that it won’t burn the chili flakes (225-250F, or 110C).
Gently pour the oil over the chili flakes (and other spices, if you’re use them). It will bubble and froth vigorously. Keep pouring.After the bubbling has subsided, the chili oil should be a beautiful red color. Let it settle and cool. Most of the chili flakes will settle to the bottom, and will keep settling over a few days. You can then strain the oil, if you want, or store it with the chili and other spices still inside (it looks wonderful, and the crunchy chili flakes are great on noodles and other dishes).