“Knowing whispers. Rapt excitement. Swift proselytizing.” This is how writer Cathy Erway describes the fervor that has bloomed around chile crisp in recent years. The invigorating condiment has it all: a fiery red vibrancy, the heat of chiles, the crunch of fried garlic, and, most important, a rich oil scented with the aroma of Sichuan peppercorns, cardamom, star anise, ginger, sesame seeds, fennel seeds, and anything else you happen to decide to add to your personal batch.
While many home cooks grew up with jars of Lao Gan Ma in their refrigerators (a brand that was founded in China’s Guizhou province in 1997), there are endless permutations of the basic formula. Making your own jar can be as simple as heating some vegetable oil and then steeping some spices and aromatics in it. And because every iteration has its own slightly different flavor profile, the condiment has become an art form for chefs to riff on, with restaurants like Momofuku, Xi’an Famous Foods, Junzi Kitchen, Mister Jiu’s, and 886 selling tubs, packets, and jars of their proprietary recipes.
The best part of this recent boom is that when you’re trying to put together a hurried meal in your own kitchen with just a few ingredients, someone else has done the work of carefully sourcing and combining spices and layering those flavors into an oil. A bowl of Lucas Sin’s tomato and egg noodle soup or a delicate pasta al limone may come together in just a few minutes, but adding a great chile crisp will transform it into something that tastes complex and looks camera-ready.
You might be loyal to one particular chile crisp brand or at-home recipe, but why not keep a whole collection on hand? Since they last for a few months in the refrigerator, I like to keep a jar of Lao Gan Ma handy for when I need a hit of salty umami, a jar of Fly By Jing for when I’m craving the slightly chewy texture of fermented black beans, and a homemade concoction with cinnamon and bay leaves for some fresh chile heat. Here’s how to get started building your own collection and some ideas for what to cook once you have it.
- Savory, versatile Fly By Jing, made from all-natural Sichuan-sourced ingredients, has quickly become a fan favorite in the world of chile crisps since it was founded in 2018 by Jing Gao.
- Xi’an Famous Foods sells their famous chile oil in 2.5-ounce packets so that you can keep a few with you at all times, in case of emergencies.
- Momofuku’s chili crunch splits the difference between Lao Gan Ma and a crunchy Mexican salsa macha.
- S&B’s chile oil is not too spicy, and it’s packed with salty-sweet fried garlic. TASTE assistant editor Tatiana Bautista is a big fan of mixing it with Kewpie mayo to dip fries or karaage into.
- Inspired by the Met’s Asian Art collection, Lucas Sin of Junzi Kitchen is selling two limited-edition flavors of his chile oil, and a portion of the proceeds will be donated to the museum.
- Chef Eric Sze’s Sze Daddy chile sauce pays tribute to both Sichuan flavors and Taiwanese shacha sauce, with a smooth, paste-like texture.
- Cathy Erway digs into Lao Gan Ma’s cult following.
- In January, we talked to chef Lucas Sin about why he loves chile oil and ranch dressing so much.
- Eater’s James Park tells you which chile crisps and oils are perfect for drizzling onto pizzas, bowls of congee, and even a buttery biscuit from Popeyes.
- Epicurious shares a few of their favorite brands for chile crisps to meet any mood or heat level you could desire.
- Grub Street has the intel on some great local New York–made chile oils.
- The internet is changing the way we shop for ingredients. Katie Okamoto opens up the pantry door and puts the spotlight on the products that are thriving as a result.