Making Chili Oil the Easy Way


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Sichuan chili oil made with Mala Market chilies

Facing Heaven in a Jar of Chili Oil

Chili oil is a must-have ingredient for Sichuan cooking, and particularly for sauces that go on “cold dishes,” such as noodles and chicken, that are some of the cuisine’s most loved snacks and starters. It doesn’t make sense to buy your everyday chili oil (and for my family it is every day) when you can so easily make it yourself and control the type of oil, the quality and heat of chili flakes and the freshness. Just do a taste test of this chili oil recipe compared to the store-bought version and you’ll know the effort’s worth it.

Americans are finally discovering the joys of Chinese 红油 (hóngyóu) red oil through their growing acquaintance with Lao Gan Ma, China’s most-loved brand of chili oils. LGM deserves its worldwide cult following and will always have its place at the table, but homemade chili oil will always rule for homemade food.

Ground chilies at the Chengdu spice market
Chili flakes from super coarse to super fine at the Chengdu spice market

I originally wrote this post in 2014, but after four additional years of making hongyou (red oil), it’s time for an update. What I’ve learned over the years from reading everyone else’s recipes for chili oil and trying numerous methods myself is that there are as many ways to make chili oil as there are people who like it. And that’s a lot. Most parts of China use chili oil in some form or fashion.

The only things you can count on in a recipe are chilies, oil and heat. Some people start with whole chilies and some start with ground chilies or chili flakes. Some use chilies only, but many add fresh ginger and Sichuan pepper, and some add every Chinese spice they can get their hands on, such as star anise, cassia, black cardamom, etc.  Some people add those spices in ground form, perhaps as five spice, while others infuse the oil with whole spices before they add the chilies. Then there are those people who try to recreate the inimitable Lao Gan Ma Spicy Chili Crisp, adding fried shallots and garlic and bits of crunchy fried soybeans or preserved black soybeans. Some people add peanuts or sesame seeds. And some boost flavor further with salt, sugar, MSG or mushroom powder…

As you can see, the possibilities are endless.

Over the years, I’ve mostly been a purist: Just chilies and oil for most batches. I love the purity of the chili essence, especially when made the Sichuan way, where the chilies are roasty and toasty and impart a slightly smoky edge. I concentrated mainly on getting the right kind of chilies and the right kind of oil to make it taste like it does in Sichuan.

Back then I had to scramble and improvise to find the right kinds of chilies to make a Sichuan-style chili oil recipe; they mostly weren’t available in Asian markets and I (and everyone else) suggested a substitution of Korean coarse red pepper powder. But since then, I have not only gained access to the perfect chilies for a perfect oil, I import them myself! (Who’d a thought?)

Nowadays, in addition to The Mala Market, you can also sometimes find Sichuan ground chilies in Asian markets. Or you can start with whole chilies, which is still the preferred method in Sichuan. Last summer I got to see this in action when I was in Chongqing and had the remarkable good fortune to be in a rice noodle restaurant in the late afternoon when they were making their chili oil.

I could see through the kitchen passthrough that they were frying large batches of whole chilies in a wok full of oil until they were crispy (but not too browned or burned!). They then fished them out into bamboo platters and let them drain and cool. There were two kinds of chilies, which I believe were a facing heaven, for flavor, and a xiaomi for heat. The waitress then dumped some of each kind into her giant stone mortar and went to work with the giant pestle, pounding away at the chilies in a methodical rhythm until they were coarsely ground.

Whole chilies in large bamboo strainer for chili oil
To make chili oil from whole chilies, you first pan-fry or deep-fry them until crispy
waitress in chongqing restaurant sits on wooden bench grinding chilies with a giant stone mortar and wooden pestle
This waitress in Chongqing gets the job of grinding the two types of chilies for the restaurant’s oil
Ground chilies in a mortar and pestle
A coarse grind of fried chilies including the seeds makes for a spicy, toasty red oil

Only when these giant batches were ground could they then make the chili oil. Of course most of us are going to prefer a shortcut, which is why Sichuan ground chilies are the best choice, as the factory has already done all of these steps for you, lightly toasting the chilies in vegetable oil before grinding and packaging. Our Fragrant Hot Ground Chilies (Xiang La La Jiao Mian) at The Mala Market are a mix of facing heaven (for flavor), xiaomi (heat) and Sichuan’s own chili, erjingtiao, for color and fragrance. As you can guess, they make a multidimensional chili oil. (We also carry all of these dried whole chilies as individual products.)

The Mala Market's Fragrant Hot Ground Chilies
Our Sichuan ground chili mix includes erjingtiao chilies for color and fragrance, facing heaven chilies for flavor and xiaomi for heat

As for the proportion of chilies to oil, this is pretty much up to you. I’ve seen recipes that call for five parts oil to one part chili flakes and those that use a direct 1:1 ratio. I like a lot of flakes in my oil, but I also like to have plenty of oil for uses where flakes aren’t desired, so I generally use four parts oil to one part ground chilies.

I do sometimes love a fancier oil. I’ve developed my own shallot chili oil recipe and black bean chili oil recipe (published on Food52), copying those I bought from a street vendor in Chengdu. But those are for special uses and are not versatile enough for all uses. Chili oil is normally mixed with other highly flavorful ingredients for sauces and dressings, so you don’t always want additional onions or black beans. Though I do add a bit of both shallots and ginger to my everyday oil, for a touch of sweetness that softens the harshness of the oil.

And I’ve recently come to the conclusion that a spiced chili oil is never a bad idea, as the sweetness of Chinese spices complements the smokiness of Sichuan chilies so well. The question is how to best achieve this marriage. The easiest way is to add some Sichuan pepper powder and five spice powder to your chili flakes before you add the oil, toasting them all together.

The Mala Market ground chilies and oil
The reddest flakes make for the reddest oil.
Bubbling chili oil
Put ground chilies in a heat-proof canning jar and slowly pour the hot oil over them. It will bubble up and toast the chilies to perfection

Remember that the hallmark of a Sichuan chili oil is not searing heat (like Thai chili oil) but a complex toasted chili taste, so it’s important to get the oil to just the right temperature to toast but not burn the flakes. I find this temperature to be 300°F. I have also found that if you follow my method and fry shallot in the oil, the oil will be at the perfect temperature of 300 degrees right about the time the shallots are starting to brown. So you won’t even need a thermometer. I prefer the method of heating the oil and then pouring it over the flakes in their heat-proof jar, as it’s so fun to watch them bubble, fizz and toast. A canning jar can certainly take the heat. But if you are not comfortable with that, make the oil in a metal or ceramic bowl and transfer it later to a jar for storage.

Chili oil with flakes
Once the chili oil has cooled and settled, you’ll have a jar with oil on the top and chili sediment on the bottom, for use in recipes that call for either clear oil or oil with flakes

Making Chili Oil the Easy Way

By: Taylor Holliday | The Mala Market | Inspiration & Ingredients for Sichuan Cooking


  • ½ cup Sichuan chili flakes (toasted and ground chilies with flakes and powder)
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground Sichuan pepper
  • 1 medium shallot, minced
  • 1 inch ginger, peeled and smashed
  • 1 ¾ cup neutral oil


  • Put chili flakes and Sichuan pepper in a mixing bowl or directly into a sealable, heat-proof, glass jar.
  • Pour oil into a small saucepan, add shallots and ginger and simmer over medium-low heat until shallots turn light brown. At this point, the oil temperature should be nearing 300°F. 
  • Place jar in a sink, and carefully pour the oil and shallots directly into the jar over the chili flakes. It should sizzle and toast the chilies but not burn them. Mix well. Cool to room temperature and refrigerate for maximum shelf life. 


Add sesame seeds, whole star anise, 5 spice powder or other ground spices to the flakes before you add the oil to make your own signature chili oil.

Tried this recipe?

About Taylor Holliday

The Mala Market all began when Taylor, a former journalist, created this blog as a place to document her adventures learning to cook Sichuan food for Fongchong, her recently adopted 11-year-old daughter. They discovered through the years that the secret to making food that tastes like it would in China is using the same ingredients that are used in China. The mother-daughter team eventually began visiting Sichuan’s factories and farms together and, in 2016, opened The Mala Market, America’s source for Sichuan heritage brands and Chinese pantry essentials.

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    1. Hi Jacqueline, did you try the “Print” option on the recipe card? You can try taking a screenshot or saving the page as a PDF as well. Thanks for spreading the word and letting us know, that’s awesome!