An upgraded variety of chili oil that is usually boosted by crunchy chiles, MSG and other ingredients, chili crisp has been gaining popularity since an enterprising woman named Tao Huabi began bottling her version of the condiment, Lao Gan Ma, and selling it in China’s Guizhou province in 1997. After Huabi’s chili crisp became the best-selling chili-sauce brand in China and made her a billionaire, it began to gain a cult following in the U.S. and other places that continues to grow to this day.
Chef Calvin Eng, a rising star in the NYC culinary world, used to make the chili crisp oil that sat on the tables at Brooklyn’s Win Son but is now making a CBD-infused version of the spicy condiment called Loud Grandma that pays homage to Lao Gan Ma.
“There’s an insane amount of chili oils out right now from chefs, restaurateurs and home cooks,” he tells InsideHook. “Everyone is doing it for whatever reason. Everyone has a different approach to it so they all taste very different, but at the end of the day, it’s chiles and oil and a couple of other things. Everyone has their own way of doing it, but Lao Gan Ma paved the way in the U.S. to make it more popular and accessible to the masses. It is a super humble condiment that you toss on everything, and it’s inexpensive.”
Raised in a Cantonese household in Brooklyn, Eng didn’t really use chili oil growing up but got addicted to it after discovering Lao Gan Ma about a decade ago.
“My family is from Southern China, so we don’t eat a lot of spicy stuff. It’s not really in our diet,” he says. “So, I discovered chili crisp oil fairly recently. When I finally bought a jar, I was hooked. I’m sure it’s because of the MSG and the Szechuan peppercorn and all the super addictive flavors. I started throwing it on everything. I would just eat a bowl of white rice with that on it and be satisfied.”
A self-confessed chili crisp oil addict, Eng thought it would be prudent to start making his own version of the condiment so he could violate the fourth of Biggie’s “Ten Crack Commandments” and start getting high on his own supply.
“You get your dry ingredients, whether it’s chiles, Szechuan peppercorn, sesame seeds or cinnamon sticks, grind them up into the desired consistency and then heat up oil. You basically just pour hot oil over these ingredients and fry and sizzle them to bring out the flavors even further and let them melt together,” Eng says. “As it cools, it marries together over time and gets even better. When you first taste it, it doesn’t taste good. The next day is when you really get the full flavor of it. When you eat it, you could just use the oil or just use the crisp or you can use both. The beauty of it is it has texture.”
Also beautiful about chili crisp oil? We have a recipe for a CBD-free version of it below.
Calvin Eng’s Simple Chili Crisp Oil
- 1 pint Grapeseed oil
- 1 Tbsp Tomato paste
- 1 cup Tianjin chilies, course ground
- 1 Tbsp Szechuan peppercorn, fine ground
- 1 Tbsp Goshugaru chili flakes
- 1 Tbsp White sesame seeds, toasted
- 1 Tbsp MSG
- 2 Tbsp Salt
- 1 Tbsp Sugar
- ½ cup Fried shallots, course ground
- In a 2-3 quart saucepot, heat up the grapeseed oil and gently toast the tomato paste over medium heat.
- Use a rubber spatula to scrape and stir to avoid scorching.
- When your oil starts to gently smoke, add in all the dry ingredients. and stir in well to incorporate. (Do not add the shallots.)
- Remove from heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes.
- Add in the fried shallots from section 3 and incorporate.
- Allow to cool completely and store in the refrigerator.
Notes from Calvin
- Any neutral oil with a high smoke point can work. I prefer grapeseed oil for its higher smoke point, neutral flavor and health benefits.
- Canola oil, soybean oil, vegetable oil, peanut oil and even lard are all okay to use.
- The fried shallots or fried red onions can be found in Asian supermarkets and are added separately to avoid burning since they are already fried.
- Feel free to experiment with different chilies.
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