Thursday, July 8, 2010

Chili Oil Plus

I was curious to see if I could add a new twist to what has become a staple in my house—homemade chili oil. So this time when I used up the last drop of my existing supply, I set out to see if I could create a garlic-chili oil, orange-chili oil, and ginger-chili oil.

In my first attempt, I added only a tablespoon of the secondary ingredient to the chili oil for extra flavor, but this turned out to be far too subtle. The chili flavor completely overpowered such a light touch.

My next attempt was more successful. In the chili-garlic combination, the garlic flavor held its own against the power of the chili and added smoky undertones to the tingling spiciness. The citrus zest added fragrant overtones to the chili oil's spice. The ginger-chili combination was the least appealing of the three, but when mixed with the garlic preparation the flavor became complex and interesting.

Here's the recipe, written for garlic-chili oil, with variations.

Garlic-Chili Oil

1/4 cup red chili flakes
9 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed (with the flat side of a knife)
A pinch of salt (optional)
2/3 cup canola or peanut oil
1/3 cup dark sesame oil

1.    Place the chili flakes, garlic, and salt (if using) in a tempered glass container, such as a Pyrex bowl or a recycled jar.
2.    In a wok or heavy skillet, heat the canola and sesame oils over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Avoid heating the oil to the point where it smokes.
3.    To test whether the oil is the correct temperature, drop a chili flake into the oil. It should be surrounded instantly by foam, but should not turn black. (If the flake turns black, let the oil cool for a few minutes and try again.) Carefully pour the hot oil over the chili flakes and garlic.
4.    Let the mixture cool. I like to let the mixture sit for 24 hours to absorb more flavor, although this depends on personal preference--the longer you leave the mixture, the spicier it gets.
5.    Strain out the chili flakes to get your homemade hot chili oil, which you can store in a cool, dark cupboard or refrigerator.

Themes and Variations
Instead of garlic, use 3/4 ounce of dried tangerine peel (known as chen pi in Mandarin), cut into matchstick-size pieces. In another variation, use 5 cloves of garlic and a 1/2-inch piece of fresh ginger, slivered into 1/8-inch slices.

Especially Good For
Anyone who tends to run cold, or who wants to help blood circulation and reduce cardiovascular disease. This condiment should be used sparingly by those who tend to run warm.

For Those Familiar with Traditional Chinese Medicine
In general, chili oil  helps warm the Stomach, move the qi and Blood, warm the channels, and release pain. Garlic warms the Stomach, strengthens the Spleen, and promotes the movement of qi. Tangerine peel regulates qi in the Lungs and Spleen-Stomach, while fresh ginger is used to warm the abdomen and Lungs, treat exterior Wind-Cold syndrome, and eliminate toxicity.

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