- Chilli crisp is an oil-based Chinese condiment made of pepper flakes, fried garlic, and fermented soybeans.
- It’s commonly used on dumplings and noodles – but can also pair with sweets like chocolate and ice cream.
- There are several popular brands, including the original Lao Gan Ma and Fly By Jing.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Invented in the 1990s by Guizhou noodle shop owner Tao Huabi, chilli crisp is a relative newcomer to the American condiment scene, but it’s become a cult-favourite sauce with chefs and home cooks alike.
What is chilli crisp?
Chilli crisp is a spicy oil-based condiment most commonly used in Chinese cuisine, made by infusing oil with dried red chiles, fried garlic, shallots, ginger, and other aromatics. The result is a fiery, tangy condiment filled with texture.
The types of chilies and oil vary by brand, as does the ratio of each ingredient. And other ingredients like fried fermented soy beans, star anise, sesame seeds, and MSG can be added as well.Lao Gan Ma â€” the one created by Tao â€” is the OG, but in recent years, a slurry of of newcomers are putting their own spin on the sauce. For many, dumplings and noodles are a standby way to use chilli crisp, but there’s much more you can do with your jar.
Quick tip: Chilli crisp and chilli oil have slight differences. Whereas chilli oil is a spicy, smoky sauce made from oil, dried peppers, and aromatics, chilli crisp boasts an additional crunchy texture and umami wok char that’s captured with its fried bits.
1. Mix up a dipping sauce
At MANJU Dumpling Pop-Up in Nashville, Tenn, chef Yuriko Say serves wontons in a dip that combines chilli crisp with dark sweet soy, black vinegar, and orange zest. At home, various kinds of dumplings â€” even the frozen gyoza from Trader Joe’s â€” can be dressed up with a dab of chilli crisp in whatever soy sauce you have on hand.
2. Embellish noodles
At China Live in San Francisco, chef George Chen makes his own chilli crisp with freshly fried shallots and yellow soybeans that toasted in a hot wok until fragrant. His chilli crisp is popular on a variety of dumplings, rice, and noodles dishes at China Live, but it’s especially good in the Hong Kong wok-fried noodles. “It’s a drier dish that begs for some heat and the crunchy texture goes really well with pan-fried crispy-ish egg noodles.”
Tony Gentile, co-owner of Flagship Restaurant Group in Austin, Texas, says chilli crisp is great with any noodle, even the non-Asian variety. His new menu at Anthem features a twist on cacio e pepe that swaps ramen noodles for spaghetti, topped with Sichuan chilli crisp and flying fish caviar. Similarly, James Beard-nominated Pichet Ong, executive chef of NiHao in Baltimore, uses chilli crisp to add a little heat to sea urchin pasta, while award-winning chef Maneet Chauhan even adds chilli crisp to her macaroni and cheese.
3. Make eggs extra
“Sichuan chilli crisp is extremely versatile and can be used to compliment a range of cuisines,” says Macks Collins, chef and co-owner of Piccalilli in Culver City, Calif. “Its crispy texture makes a nice contrast on anything soft or tender, which is why I love adding Sichuan chilli crisp to my eggs in the morning.” Whether it’s a fluffy scramble, soft-boiled, or poached eggs, the crunch is a nice spicy accent to a rich, creamy yolk.
4. Spruce up sandwiches
In Miami, chef Ben Murray created Benh Mi, a Vietnamese-inspired sandwich concept, when he and his kitchen team were furloughed during the pandemic. He uses chilli crisp in the sauce for his lemongrass meatball banh mi. “The sauce is similar to a bulgogi sauce that the meatballs swim in after I cook them,” he says.
Nick Wong, chef de cuisine at Houston’s UB Preserv, recommends whisking chilli crisp into mayo and using it as a sandwich spread. “Chilli crisp is great in mayo because it helps to spread that savoury flavour,” Wong says. He pairs chilli crisp with a tangier mayo such as Kewpie or Duke’s and finds it especially good on veggie sandwiches, like grilled zucchini and eggplant or with mashed avocado and a fried egg.
5 chilli crisp brands to know
- Lao Gan Ma: The cult-favourite classic comes in several variations, including the original Spicy Chilli Crisp that propelled founder Tao Huabi from noodle shop owner to self-made billionaire.
- Fly By Jing: Founded by Chengdu native Jing Gao, this line of sauces sources ingredients directly from Sichuan, along with the province’s signature mouthnumbing peppercorns.
- Chef Chens’ Famous Chilli Crisp: Wok-fried shallots and soybeans give chef George Chen’s version its crunch factor, while the spice comes from dried chilli flakes and cayenne.
- Su Chilli Crisp: Produced in Taiwan, the small-batch sauce only calls for six ingredients â€” soybean oil, Sichuan peppercorns, chilli peppers, sesame seeds, garlic, and star anise.
- Milu: Mushroom powder and preserved black beans lend an extra umami punch to the garlicky pantry staple from this Chinese-inspired cafe.
5. Splash on fresh fruit
Ong says he always has chilli crisp on hand in his kitchen. “I really enjoy eating numbing spicy food in a cold dish since it seems less potent,” he says. Ong is best known for his desserts and whips up a sweet dipping sauce with sugar, dried shrimp, lime, chilli crisp, and maldon salt to pair with raw tropical fruits such as Asian pear, guava, watermelon, or starfruit as a refreshing healthy snack.
6. Spice up dark chocolate
Chocolatier Susanna Yoon of Stick With Me Sweets in New York City has another sweet recommendation: topping chocolate bark and dark chocolate toffees with some of the spicy stuff. To give her dark chocolate bars a kick, she pours tempered chocolate into a mould and sprinkles on her housemade dried chilli crisp for an addictively crunchy finish. Yoon makes her own dried chilli crisp by slicing peppers in half, removing the seeds, and soaking them in warm water for 20 minutes. “Once the chilies are soft, I thinly slice them lengthwise to get them nice and curly,” she says. Season the peppers with kosher salt, a touch of sugar, potato starch and if desired, MSG, then deep fry the peppers in oil until they turn golden brown.
7. Use as an ice cream topper
Portland, Ore.’s Salt & Straw is known for pushing the boundaries in ice cream with whimsical and savoury flavours. For their chocolatier ice cream series in February 2020, they partnered with small-batch bean-to-bar chocolate maker David Briggs of Xocolatl de David to make a salsa macha ice cream, a Mexican version of chilli crisp made with red pasilla, chipotle peppers, and dark chocolate. To recreate this flavour at home, you can top your favourite dark chocolate or vanilla ice cream with a spoonful of store-bought or homemade chilli crisp.
“Chilli oil on ice cream is a magical thing,” says Salt & Straw co-founder Tyler Malek. “A good sweet chilli oil can be used as a topping poured directly on top of ice cream, or really quickly melted down with a bit of chocolate and coconut oil for a quick at-home magic shell. One thing to watch out for when choosing a chilli crisp for ice cream is to avoid strong garlic or onion flavours, both tend to bloom in pretty funky ways when served cold with ice cream.”
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