These days when I open my fridge, I am greeted by a stack of crispy chili jars. I’ve been collecting them for months now; I currently have at least 10 different chili chips and oils ready to turn up the volume for anything I do. I do not think that I am alone. From Sze daddy sauce from 886, a Taiwanese restaurant in NYC, for the classic Lao Gan Ma, which sparked the chili oil boom in America, Chili-Crisp – which is simply a spice made from oil and chili flakes – is so hot right now.
There are two things to keep in mind when trying a new chilli chip: the oil-to-crunch ratio and any flavoring. Most of the time, the name suggests whether it’s more like an oil or a crisp; The latter has more chili flakes and other flavorings – like garlic chips, fennel seeds, anchovies, or canned black beans – that add more texture to the mix. Some options are so potent that they should be used as the dominant flavor profile when cooking: think of chili oil-soaked pasta with fresh coriander and cucumber, which usually contain an oil with intense, tangy flavors. Other varieties are more like spices and are mostly used as a mild, non-overwhelming finish that creates a perfect balance with other ingredients.
I love using both the oil and the crispy bits of chili oil as a flavor enhancer for toast, pizza, fried eggs, and fried chicken (my personal favorite). I often combine softened butter and chili chips and cut them over fried chicken for fantastic results. I add a spoonful of chili oil to the water to make a quick broth for the soup. And I mix and match different chilli chips to give my noodles a complex finishing touch.
There is so much you can do with this powerful condiment other than drizzle it on dumplings. Here are the ones to know:
This crunch is by far the most famous, a pantry style for many households and the one that opened my eyes to the world of chilli crunch. There are other varieties under the iconic Lao Gan Ma brand, including fried chilli in oil and chilli oil with black beans, but the flavorful chilli crisp is from god. Tasty without being assertive is my choice when cooking with chilli crunch and excellent when tossed with pasta or added to a marinade. Eat with: A shortbread biscuit and crispy Popeyes fried chicken.
This chilli crisp, while not spicy, does add a ton of crispy texture: roasted dried onions, dried garlic, dried red bell peppers, and other crispy pieces are bound with olive oil, resulting in a mild flavor. You can use it for anything without overwhelming it. It’s a great topping for salads and toast. Eat with: Congee, a perfect canvas for textured toppings.
If there’s one jar of Chili Crisp I’ve used more than any other, this is it. The tangy, wonderfully numbing, hearty spice made in Chengdu, China, has an ideal ratio of oil to chilli flakes. It’s a great introduction to Sichuan cuisine, known for its numbing flavor. The small, spicy, preserved black beans soaked in spicy oil make you want more. Eat with: Use a spoon (or more) with your store-bought spring onion pancakes and dumplings.
As the name suggests, the first thing you will notice when you open this Janese chip is an abundance of dried garlic chips. The spice content is quite mild and extremely subtle, making it ideal for dishes that require more texture, such as risotto, rice, and ramen. Eat with: Salads and fried eggs.
This crispy crisp was developed by David Chang’s Momofuku kitchen team and is full of umami. What sets it apart from the others is the use of shiitake mushroom powder, which contains naturally occurring MSG. It’s garlicky, onion-like, deliciously spicy, and pretty much like a spice powder from Shin Ramen. Eat with: Dairy Products: Serve this with baked brie and you will be amazed.
If you love a numbing peppercorn flavor, this Sichuan style crisp in Taipei is for you. It’s flavorful, but not overwhelming, but strong enough that you can use it as an essential cooking ingredient: the mala tingle you get from this crunch makes a particularly good mo-tofu. Eat with: Toast or dumplings.
This Mexican chilli crisp made from serrano peppers has a different kick: A spoon tastes like a bite of spicy, crispy, dried serrano pepper (which means it can be very spicy). Think of this as a dried chilli salsa with a little oil. Eat with: Cheesy nachos; It works well as a substitute for jaleno peppers.
Unlike every other chili oil I’ve tried, I couldn’t really tell what was in this sauce – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. All ingredients like spring onions, garlic, star anise and more are ground into fine textures, making them extra silky and flavorful without hurting your taste buds. Chef Eric Sze The 886 in New York City proudly serves this tasty chilli sauce, which is used in almost everything in the restaurant, including the popular beef noodle soup. And as the chef suggests, it’s more than just a finishing touch and can be used as a main ingredient in flavorful dishes such as Mo tofu, Bacon ramen, and spicy dumplings. Eat with: Your next Popeyes order. Thank me later.
Black garlic, which has a surprisingly sweet, molasses-like texture, is mixed with chili peppers, creating a unique chili oil that’s tastier than spicy (the presence of kombu and shiitake mushrooms add to the effect). A spicier version of the oil is available for those who are looking for more warmth, but this too is less tickling and jaleno-spicy. Eat with: Poached chicken breast as a dip.
Chef Jae Lee adds a Korean twist to the chile oil, usually made from Sichuan peppers. By mixing paprika with Korean gochugaru, known for its subtle, fruity flavor, this chili oil achieves a balance without being overly spicy. There are also plenty of sesame seeds available that add crunch. Eat with: Avocado toast, like Lee’s NYC restaurant.
Created by the chef Max BoonthanakitThis spice is a product of his love for Chinese chili crisp and its Thai roots. What is unique about this sauce is the use of crispy anchovies that absorb additional flavors from ingredients like shallots and fennel. It’s better for cooking because of the anchovies, so use it as part of your pasta sauce or broth. Eat with: As the chef suggests, it goes well with Shin ramen.
Developed by 2014 Eater Young Gun and Top chef Season 12 winner Mei LinAs the name suggests, this chilli oil is filled with spices and umami. The first hint reminds me of a combination of deep hearty oyster sauce and XO sauce, and when you stir the jar, the beautiful seeds of dried peppers float in it. Eat with: Chicken porridge so that the oil soaks comfortably into the bowl.
If you want to experience real, sparkling, burning, very hot chili oil, this is the place for you. Just a small amount can add serious heat to your dish. Developed by the chef Lucas Sin This fiery spice from Junzi Kitchen hits your palate perfectly. I recently used a spoonful of it on some pasta and I’ve been a sweaty mess. Eat with: Compared to other varieties, this is a heavier oil spice. Therefore, use it to prepare dishes like dan-dan noodles.
Created by Christine Yi, known as @cy_eats This mala chile oil has cultivated a following on Instagram. With more oil than mala pepper flakes, it is smoky, hearty, mouth-tinglingly sharp and is great for cooking vegetables and proteins, especially steak. Eat with: Dumplings like Christine does.