Chili oil is essentially dried chilies, preserved in oil. It adds a delightful kick to whatever dish you’re using it in. Commonly used as a finishing oil for risottos, pastas and seafood, it’s also a great oil for any stir fry or sauté.
As you’re about to learn, making chili oil is very easy. Using it however, requires a little more consideration. Fresh chili oil – or chili oil that has just been made – will be relatively mild. But once the oil is stored, the chilies will continue to release heat. Rule of thumb? Test your oil before using: A little goes a long way.
Choose chilies wisely
The variety of chili you use will also impact the flavour of your oil. A dried Thai red chili will have an acute spiciness to it, whereas an Ancho chili will be spicy with a hint of smokiness. Decide what flavour you’re looking for when you’re selecting the chili.
Know your oils
The oil you use to preserve them with will have a similar impact. Vegetable and peanut oils are good, neutral oils to use if you intend to cook with the chili oil. If you think you’ll be using it more as a finishing oil or garnish, you may want to look for more flavourful oils – like a good-quality olive oil. Sesame oil is also nice to use, but it’s quite unique tasting. It also breaks down when exposed to high heat, so it’s best to use it as a garnishing oil.
The key to making chili oil is to expose the chilies to enough heat that they begin to release their flavour, but not so much that they start to cook or – even worse – burn. If you burn your chilies in the oil you will have to toss it and start over. (Sorry!) Just stay mindful and all will be well.
Homemade chili oil
- 1 cup vegetable oil (or oil that you choose)
- 2 tsp red chili flakes
- 2 to 3 whole dried red chilies
- HEAT 2 tbsp oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add chili flakes and whole chilies. Cook, stirring, until chilies start to gently sizzle, about 1 min. *If they begin to brown you’ve gone too far and will have to start over.
- ADD remaining oil to pot. Heat until oil is warmed through, but not too hot to touch. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.
- STORE in an airtight bottle or jar. Shake occasionally to disperse the chilies.
Originally published May 12th, 2015.
Watch: How to make chicken kung pao stir fry