One of the world's essential hot sauces, chili oil is a cinch to make at home (just heat a neutral-tasting oil and dump over dried chilies) and worth keeping around at all times. But what to do with it all once you have a batch? Our panel of pro chefs chime in with some unexpected uses.
Make Your Own Easy Olio Santo
Proud Clevelander Jonathon Sawyer has improved the city's dining culture with restaurants like Trentina, The Greenhouse Tavern, and Noodlecat and stadium restaurants Sawyer's Street Frites, Sausage & Peppers, and SeeSaw Pretzel Shoppe. A Food & Wine "Best New Chef" recipient and 2015 James Beard Award winner for Best Chef of the Great Lakes, Sawyer has appeared on Bizarre Foods America with Andrew Zimmern, Iron Chef America, Dinner Impossible, Unique Eats, The Best Thing I Ever Ate, and most recently The Chew.
I don't buy peppercorn or chili oil. Ever. I just use a great extra virgin olive oil and make my own olio santo—Italian chili oil. We blend fresh, dried, powdered, and whole chilies with olive oil. We age it, and as we take from it we add more of everything back—the oil we're still using started at my house 10 years ago. It's like a never-ending batch.
A Sweet and Spicy Sauce for Game
Since first learning to cook at his father's restaurant at age 11, chef Michele Brogioni developed a passion for food from his native Italy that would lead him to 20 years of culinary experience and a Michelin star as head chef of Relais & Chateaux "Il Falconiere" in Cortona, Italy. As head chef of Maison Dellos Catering, he cooked for U.S. Presidents and other heads of state. He's currently the executive chef at the Italian Leopard at des Artistes in New York City.
Chilies are an integral part of our Italian cuisine, especially from the southern part of Italy. We use cocoa powder with chili oil, cinnamon, and red wine to make a meat sauce for wild boar or deer. It works well with those meats because the acidity draws out more saliva, which then highlights the sweetness of the cacao and the gaminess of the meat.
Hot Chocolate Bananas
Edward Kim is the executive chef and partner at the Bon Appetit "Best New Restaurant" Ruxbin and Mott St. in Chicago, Illinois. His eclectic menus feature a variety of soulful, sincerely crafted dishes that highlight seasonal ingredients and big, bold flavors.
We use chili oil a lot at Mott St. We like to sprinkle it on different applications that people might not jump to right away. We love Sichuan peppercorns, but since they can be really strong, we use an oil to control their heat a bit more.
And we love that oil on our chocolate banana dish. We take small, sweet Thai bananas, wait until they're ripe, put a popsicle stick into them, freeze them, and then basically make a Magic Shell with chocolate and coconut oil melted together. Then we drizzle them with the chili oil when they're set so it sticks to them a little.
North Carolina native chef Joe Kindred combines Southern traditions with global influences at Kindred, where a rotating menu always keeps things interesting. He's worked at noteworthy restaurant across the country, from the original Nobles (Charlotte, NC), Tru and The Pump Room (Chicago), and Delfina (San Francisco).
I feel like I'm giving away one of my best tricks! One of my favorite ingredients is Calabrian chilies. We combine the oil they're packed in with tzatziki sauce and garnish it with micro celery. Call me a redneck, but it's kind of like a nostalgic take on Buffalo-style chicken wings.
A Multi-Faceted Dessert Garnish
Pastry chef Miroslav Uskokovic worked under Jean-Georges Chef Joe Murphy (and former chef Johnny Iuzzini) before creating his own menus at George Mendes' Aldea and, currently, at Union Square Hospitality Group's Gramercy Tavern.
We actually use a lot of chilies in pastry at Gramercy Tavern, since they boost other flavors really well. Look for a chili coil with a subtle dried fruit or cherry flavor—aleppo or urfa peppers (both from Turkey) complement desserts nicely. We use the chili oil as a garnish on bright desserts—anything with avocado and lime—or a flourless chocolate cake with a dried fruit like prunes, to bring the flavor of both the chocolate and prunes out.
Spicy Chocolate Truffles
Pastry chef Katie Meddis started her culinary career as a teenager, finding work in the kitchens of Aurora, Magnolia and Blossom, and Chez Panisse before opening Rose's Meat Market and Sweet Shop in Durham, NC with her butcher-chef-husband Justin. There she makes innovative but comforting pastries and confections for Durham's bubbling food community.
I've added it to chocolate, doing either a chocolate truffle for a hint of heat or making a ganache to help spice up a tart. Whenever you're adding your hot heavy cream to your chocolate, whisk a splash of chili oil in for some heat.
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