Saturday, April 12, 2014

Hong You (Szechuan chili oil)

Don't buy chili oil at the Asian grocer! That foul, artificially-colored garbage is the surest way to screw up an otherwise perfect Chinese meal! This takes only a few minutes to throw together and will keep almost indefinitely. Also, it is great as a finishing oil, in salad dressings or marinades, and can add awesomeness to just about any sauteed dish. Note, however, that you need a deep-frying or candy thermometer. You can get one for a few bucks at any kitchen store or big box store that sells kitchen stuff.

For the chilies, you can use plain chili flakes from any grocery store or go to an Asian market to buy specific types of chili flakes. You can also buy whole dried chilies and puree in a food processor.

Prep time: 1/2 cocktail

2 cups canola or peanut oil
3 cloves garlic, smashed with the side of your knife and peeled
6 1/2" sections of ginger, also smashed with the side of your knife
4 whole star anise pods
6-10 black cardamom seeds
6-8 whole cloves
1/2 cup chili flakes
1 cinnamon stick broken in half
1/2 tsp ground Szechuan peppercorns, (optional, grind in a cleaned coffee grinder after a brief dry fry)
1 tsp sea salt

Heat the oil (with the thermometer in it) in a small pan over medium heat until it reaches 285 Fahrenheit. AS SOON as it hits 285, remove from heat and add ginger and garlic. Don't stir.

While oil is heating or right after you add garlic and ginger, combine star anise, cardamom, cloves, chili flakes, broken cinnamon stick, and peppercorns in a small dish. AS SOON as the oil temperature drops to 250, add this dish of spices. Also, don't stir.

As soon as the temperature drops to 200, use a wooden spoon or tongs to fish out the ginger and garlic. If you don't do this, they'll cause the oil to go rancid over time.

Now let the oil cool to room temperature. Stir in salt. Transfer to a glass jar with good lid and let sit at least 24 hours before using. The taste will improve over time and it'll stay good unrefrigerated for at least 3 months. After three days, you can strain out all the solids if you think the taste is vibrant enough, but they can remain in as long as you want to continue to infuse the oil with additional flavor. Also, if the oil is too strong for you, dilute with a cup of plain canola oil.

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