Aromatic Sichuan Chili Oil (Xiangla Hongyou, 香辣红油)
Published Nov 11, 2021, Updated Oct 21, 2023
Lajiaoyou the Mainland Sichuan Way, ft. Caiziyou (Pt. 2)
Picture this: You’re making your own aromatic Sichuan chili oil at home. The first whiffs of five-spice and scallion-infused caiziyou in this aromatic 辣椒油 (làjiāoyóu)/chili oil bring you right back to your happy place, every time—the one where you’re shoveling down yesterday’s leftovers with an onslaught of 红油 (hóngyóu), literally “red oil,” straight from the jar.
This is Ma’s Traditional Sichuan Chili Oil on another level. Here, aromatics infuse directly into the 香辣红油 (xiānglà hóngyóu), “fragrant-hot” red oil. If you regularly eat noodles, dumplings and rice, do yourself a favor and make a big batch of this next.
Tips for infusing aromatic hongyou
- Caiziyou differs from other vegetable oils. Below 410-464F (210-240C), the rapeseed oil will smell “raw” or grassy. To rid this raw quality, the oil must first be heated until smoking and allowed to cool before using.
- “Low and slow” is a general rule for infusing oils, but this aromatic hongyou base requires a touch more heat to fry the fragrance and moisture out of the fresh ginger, onion and scallions. If the oil temperature is too low, the scallions also won’t dry out, which wastes the oil. You want constant bubbling, something like a robust simmer. It should not splatter. This was around a medium-low heat setting for me.
- Strain the aromatics once the scallions are slightly yellow and make a papery rustling sound when shaken. They should not be limp, which is a sign of moisture remaining.
The exact amount of time required will depend on your wok/pot shape, intensity of flame and size of chopped ingredients. When I experimented with this recipe on higher heat, the edges inevitably burned before the onions or scallions sufficiently dried. Even when stirring continuously, this was unavoidable. Moreover, batches that browned over medium heat within 20-35 minutes dried sufficiently, but at the noticeable expense of final flavor payoff.
On the upside, I achieved the same great results with smaller saucepots (and in smaller batches) and an electric range as with a wok over gas flame. So as long as you have the patience to fry the aromatics a full 40-60 minutes, this hongyou recipe will come through for you, no matter your kitchen setup.
Combining infused oil and chilies for aromatic hongyou
After the aromatics turn deep golden brown and dry out, strain with a mesh sieve and discard. Then reheat to infusing temperature and combine in stages, just like in my Traditional Sichuan Chili Oil recipe.
- Theoretically, the oil and ground chilies each require adding in three distinct phases. The first pour-over at the highest oil temperature extrudes or “forces out” the smoky-fragrant chili aroma (增香, zēng xiāng). The second pour at a middle temperature draws out the attractive red color of the oil (提色, tí sè). The third and last pour at the lowest temperature preserves the spice of the chilis. But it’s the first two phases that are the most important, and many chefs only use high and middle temperature oil in their lajiaoyou. This is further testament that Sichuan chefs use chili oil primarily for fragrance and color, not heat.
Finally, the batch is covered and sealed for at least 24 hours undisturbed to yield the full effect of the fragrance. Failing to rest your hongyou in a closed container means you’ll lose much of the aroma to the atmosphere.
We’re posting this aromatic hongyou recipe to coincide with launching our new DIY Mala Chili Crisp/Chili Oil Kit at The Mala Market. The gift set includes a kit-exclusive mala chili crisp recipe, plus all the specialty ingredients for making it and aromatic chili oil. Mala chili crisp expands on this recipe’s aromatic hongyou base, adding savory bits and crunchy pieces to create a mouthwatering everything topping. While many traditional dishes use hongyou as part of a dressing, you can use the mala chili crisp just like you would Lao Gan Ma.
What’s included in the DIY Mala Chili Crisp and Chili Oil Kit:
- The star ingredient caiziyou, an essential component of Sichuan gastronomy. There is no substitute for its fragrance or use. Caiziyou’s high adhesive quality also means hongyou produced with it clings better to all your noodle, chaoshou and liangban dishes.
- Whole five-spice to infuse your oil, including cassia bark, star anise, fennel, clove and our beloved single-origin 花椒 (huājiāo), Sichuan pepper
- A full bag of premium Da Hong Pao huajiao—this is mala chili crisp, after all, and you’ll need ground Sichuan pepper to bring the numbing power
- Sichuan Pixian Douban Co.’s 豆豉 (dòuchǐ) fermented black soybeans for mala chili crisp and Taylor’s Food52 douchi chili oil variation
- Our Chengdu-made fragrant-hot ground chili blend. This traditional mix includes the chilies Chengdu locals would use for fragrance and spice: 二荆条 (èrjīngtiáo) and the 子弹头 (zǐdàntóu) variety of “Facing Heaven” 朝天椒 (cháotiānjiāo), respectively. Adding 小米辣 (xiǎomǐlà) kicks the heat up another notch.
- A 17-ounce Bormioli Rocco glass jar with latched lid, the ideal storage vessel for your homemade oil
- Step-by-step instructions for mala chili crisp
Aromatic Sichuan Chili Oil (Xiangla Hongyou, 香辣红油)
- Mesh strainer
- Sealable, heat-proof, nonreactive glass or porcelain container
- 400 grams roasted rapeseed oil (caiziyou), divided approx. 1 ¾ cups
- 2-3 bajiao (star anise)
- 1 small stick guipi (cassia bark) or ½ large stick
- 8 grams spices in five-spice bag (not including star anise/cassia bark), approx. 2 tablespoons *if not using five-spice bag, about 2 tsp fennel seeds, 2 tsp cloves, 2 tsp huajiao (Sichuan pepper)
- 2 caoguo (black cardamom) optional
- 1 small fingertip of shannai/shajiang (dried sand ginger) optional
- ½ small red onion, peeled and sliced into ½ inch wedges
- 1 thumb unpeeled ginger, washed and smashed
- 3-4 scallions, washed and dried, smashed and sliced into 2in segments
- 80 grams ground chilies, divided (see note) approx. ¾ cup
Infusing the oil
- In a wok or saucepot, add the cold oil. Heat oil until smoking, about 410°F/210°C on a medium heat setting*, stirring occasionally to ensure heating is even. Turn off heat, leaving pot on burner, and allow to cool on its own. The temperature will continue to climb at first, but it should not exceed 464°F/240°C. *If your heating element is too hot, your caiziyou will heat unevenly, producing smoke earlier on. If this happens (smoking heavily by 375°F/190°C), it's better to turn the heat off early. It's always possible your temperature gauge may not be perfectly accurate, so learning to judge by sight/smell is the most reliable skill for mastering your unique cooking environment!
- Once the cooked oil cools to about 302°F/150°C, add the dry five-spice mix and let bloom 5-10 seconds over medium-low heat, or until fragrant.
- Add in the smashed ginger, chopped red onion and sliced scallions. Stir and let fry over medium-low heat for 40-60 minutes. The oil should bubble vigorously with small bubbles but not splatter. When everything is a deep golden brown and the onion and scallion slices look dry and papery*, quickly strain out all the aromatics, pressing out excess oil before discarding.*Scallions at this stage will be yellowed and make a slight rustling sound when shaken.
Making the hongyou
- Begin with a third of the chili mixture in your heatproof container.
- Reheat infused oil to 360°F* and pour a third of the oil into your container with the ground chilies, stirring constantly. It should bubble vigorously, but not burn. While it's still bubbling, add another third of the ground chilies.*For the right fragrance at this step, the oil must be no cooler than 356°F/180°C and no hotter than 375°F/190°C.
- Once infused oil cools to about 302°F/150°C, pour another third of the oil into the container, stirring constantly. Add the remaining third of the ground chilies.
- Once infused oil cools to about 248°F/120°C, pour the remaining third of oil into the container, stirring constantly. Cover the container and let rest on counter for at least 24 hours before using.
Tried this recipe?