Of the revolving collection of condiments in my refrigerator Sichuan chili oil holds a permanent spot. I often reach right past the sriracha or any other chili sauce and go straight for that unmistakable, deep-red jar of spicy goodness. The rich, toasty heat from the chili flakes wonderfully contrasts the warmth of star anise, cinnamon and ginger. It’s a two-note addition to any dish—heat and depth.

My favorite way to use this is on dan dan noodles where the chili oil is a main feature of the dish. But don’t feel confined to Sichuan cuisine. It’s great on any number of other Asian dishes. It can elevate a boring old stir-fry or spice up a bowl of ramen. I love drizzling it over fried tofu or braised greens. I’ve even put it on flatbreads and pasta dishes.

This recipe has evolved from a number of differing iterations to a point that I find it highly versatile. It has a nice heat to spice ratio as written, but feel free to experiment with more or less chili flakes depending on your tolerance. In the same vein, freely add, subtract or omit spices as you like. If you don’t have Sichuan pepper handy simply leave it out; the oil will hold up without it.




Makes about 1 pint

-2 cups peanut or vegetable oil
-1/2 cup Sichuan or Korean chili flakes + 2 tbsp (see note)
-3 star anise pods
-1 cinnamon stick
-2 tbsp sesame seeds
-1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
-1 bay leaf
-1-inch nob of ginger, peeled

1.     Pour oil into a saucepan and put over medium heat. Add star anise, cinnamon, sesame seeds, Sichuan peppercorns, bay leaf and ginger. When ginger begins to sizzle, cook for about 5-7 minutes or until ginger and sesame seeds begin to brown. Remove from heat and allow to cool for about 2 minutes.

2.     Place 1/2 cup chili flakes in a heatproof bowl. Pour oil and spice mixture through a strainer, discarding spices, and into bowl with chili flakes. The flakes should sizzle for a minute or so. After the oil cools for about 5 minutes, add the remaining 2 tbsp chili flakes. When oil cools to room temperature transfer to a glass jar. I like to strain off most of the spent chili flakes, keeping about 2 tbsp in the oil. Will keep in the refrigerator for several months.

Note: I like to add 2 tbsp chili flakes after the oil has cooled a bit in order to add a less toasted chili flavor along with all that toasty flavor.