I was offended on behalf of all chili peppers when I learned that "spicy" is technically not considered one of the "tastes" that trigger the taste receptors on our tongues (the five widely recognized tastes are sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and now "umami"). Rather, spicy food triggers the touch receptors on the tongue that signals to the brain the sensation of heat or hotness. The same idea is true when we eat foods that have a cooling effect on the tongue like mint or baked goods with too much erythritol. Although I can't tolerate too much spiciness, I have always stocked hot sauce and chili oil in my kitchen.
Chili oil is quite universal and versatile. Practically every nation in the world makes some sort of a chili oil with locally grown peppers. I grew up eating the chili oil that you find on the table of every Chinese restaurant serving dim sum. Our fridge always had the chili oil or "Spicy Chili Crisp" made by China-based company, Lao Gan Ma, that sports the face of a stern woman on every jar and includes the spicy Sichuan peppers. Our Vietnamese cuisine includes a "satay" sauce that is made from crushed chili peppers. The Japanese make a chili oil called taberu rayu. In recent years, I was introduced to a product called "Chili Crunch" made by a company out of Colorado that is bursting with Mexican flavors. I went to Chef Michael Chiarello's Bottega restaurant in Yountville recently, and they served a Calabrian chili oil with their Italian menu.
When cooking at home, I eat chili oil with practically everything. For example, I add it to my veggies, as a garnish for my creamed soups, and in my Asian noodle bowls. I serve it with flackers that is smeared with cream cheese as an appetizer, mix it into my scallop ceviche, and use it to top crudo or fresh sashimi. I find that "spicy" goes with all five "tastes" perfectly and adds a complexity to the flavors that can't be beat. Of course, chili oil is also a great way to boost the fat ratio in your meals if you're following a RESET lifestyle or a LCHF, Keto, or Atkins diet.
For those of us trying to avoid processed and highly inflammatory vegetable oils, many of the store-bought chili oils are no longer healthy options. When I looked at all of the ingredient labels, one after the other, all of my go-to chili oils failed me. While it's not difficult to throw a few chili peppers into olive oil to infuse the oil with the heat of the peppers, I wanted the chili oils that include bits of peppers and the crunchiness of garlic and onions. So, I researched how to make chili oils with a crunch. Although there are dozens of methods out there, I settled on the process that was easiest and most fool proof. I also came up with a recipe blend that had the mix of flavors that most people would like and not find too spicy or overpowering. I chose guajillo peppers for the mild, balanced heat but feel free to substitute out the guajillos with your favorite dried peppers. Finally, feel free to experiment by adding flavored salts or other spices (like tandor or tikki blends) as the oil is cooling in the jar.
If you love chili oil as much as I do, you'll never be without a jar of this in your pantry again. If you've never tried crunchy chili oil, this will change your life.
CHILI OIL WITH A CRUNCH
1/4 cup freeze dried chopped garlic
1/3 cup dried chopped onion
1/2 cup dried guajillo peppers, chopped in a food processor into tiny bits
1 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1) Heat olive oil in a saucepan on medium high heat until it reaches 325 degrees F. Turn off heat and remove pan from burner. Cool oil to 275 degrees F.
2) Add all of the dry ingredients to a pint sized glass mason jar. Stir until well blended.
3) Pour the cooled oil (at 275 degrees) into the glass jar. Stir well.
4) Let the oil cool to room temperature. Seal jar with the lid and store at room temperature for up to 3 weeks.
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