Why It Works
- The combination of árbol, japones, and Kashmiri red chiles offers up a fiery punch along with fruity and bright flavors.
- Frying the shallots and garlic in the same oil used in the chili crisp yields maximum flavor.
- A high ratio of fried shallots and garlic results in more texture and crunch than in the original chili crisp.
- The addition of MSG and mushroom powder lends savoriness and umami.
- Pouring hot oil over the dried chiles and spices allows them to quickly bloom, releasing their aromatics.
My favorite feature of Laoganma’s Spicy Chili Crisp is its realistic serving size. Thanks to its nutrition label, which boldly declares that a 210-gram jar constitutes four servings, I’ve finally found a condiment that fully understands me. Let’s be honest: No one is stopping after just a spoonful of this spicy, tingly, salty, crunchy, aromatic, funky, and flavor-packed perfection.
For those who haven't yet been initiated into the Spicy Chili Crisp fan club, this condiment, made by the Laoganma company, has amassed a cult-like following, quickly rising as China’s top-selling sauce. It owes its addictive nature to a winning combination of málà sauce and crunch. Málà sauce is a chile-oil condiment made by simmering chiles, Sichuan peppercorns, and spices in oil. The resulting aromatic oil is both numbing (má) and hot (là), but what sets Laoganma’s chili crisp apart is the "crisp" side of the equation. Packed with roasted soy nuts, fried onion, and fried garlic, it truly has everything you’ll ever need.
Laoganma’s line of sauces and oils was started in 1996 by a woman named Tao Huabi. She had originally opened a noodle shop in 1989, but the spicy chile sauce she tossed her noodles in soon became more popular than the noodles themselves, so she did the world a favor and started bottling it.
My version isn’t exactly like the original; it's more like the love child of Laoganma and Frito-Lay. I’ve jam-packed my chili crisp with such an unreasonable amount of fried shallots and garlic chips that it risks slipping into snack territory. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve been known to dig straight into this stuff with a spoon.
Beyond the crunch, I opt for a triple threat of heat from árbol, japones, and Kashmiri red chiles. All three of these varieties pack a serious punch, which silently increases in intensity as the finished condiment lurks in your pantry. If you prefer less of a full-frontal palate attack, substitute them with any other, milder chiles you have around.
To prep the chiles, I first de-seed them—not to lower the spice level, but to improve the texture of the chili crisp. The seeds in dried chiles tend to be leathery and tough, so it’s important to remove most of them.
In larger dried chiles, it’s a quick and simple task—just snip off the top and shake out the seeds. For smaller chiles, like the árbol and japones chiles in my chili crisp, handling each one individually can be a long and tedious chore. Because a few seeds won’t hurt the final condiment, I instead quickly snip the chiles with kitchen shears, or crush them with gloved hands over a wire rack set in a sheet tray. After a quick shake, most of the seeds will sift off, leaving the cleaned chiles behind.
Next, I pulse the chiles in a spice grinder until they're broken into pieces just larger than a standard chile flake. I transfer the chile flakes to a large heatproof bowl before topping them with the other spices. Of course, I include a generous amount of ground Sichuan peppercorns for their floral aromatics and numbing powers, but I also add bonus spices for a subtle backdrop to all that peppery bite—black pepper and fresh ginger for additional layers of heat, along with cumin, red cardamom, and star anise. But feel free to mix and match, or even leave out these extra spices entirely.
Besides that, I add kosher salt, sugar, MSG, and mushroom powder—a trick Chef Danny Bowien, of the Mission Chinese Food restaurants, uses to add extra umami and natural MSG to his own chili crisp recipe. Both the MSG and the mushroom powder give my chili crisp the mouthwatering and addictive quality found in the original Laoganma version. If you prefer not to use MSG, you can also omit it.
For the "crisp" side of the crisp, I prefer peanuts over soy nuts for their fatty crunch. And, because I want a surplus of crunch running through the chile oil, I thinly slice my shallots and garlic, using a mandoline, before frying. The key to achieving evenly fried shallots and garlic is to start with uniform and thin slices, and the mandoline is the best tool for the job. (You can find a rundown of our favorite cheap mandolines here.)
To fry the shallots, I start them in cold peanut oil over high heat and stir constantly. As the shallots lose their moisture and the bubbling subsides, they quickly transform from flaccid and pale to golden and crisp.
When they're a shade lighter than tan, strain the shallots through a fine-mesh sieve, reserving the oil. They won't appear truly crisp and golden until they've come out of the oil, after which the residual heat will help them reach a crisp, golden brown.
Return the oil to the pot and add the thinly sliced garlic, then fry over medium-low heat until it's barely browned before straining. Garlic can quickly become bitter, so it's important to stop cooking long before it hits golden brown.
The peanut oil is now fully flavored with shallots and garlic, making it the perfect base for the chili crisp. I return the oil to the pot one more time and heat it up before pouring it over the dried chiles, spices, and peanuts. This quickly fries everything, blooming the spices and getting the flavors mingling. Once this málà base is cool, I stir in the fried shallots and garlic chips, and it’s ready.
Sure, technically chili crisp is a condiment, but I prefer to think of it as a lifestyle. I can’t sit down to a meal without it, and making it at home has opened me up to terrifying new possibilities. No longer must it be confined to the tingling world of Sichuan; with just a few tweaks—some clever chile swaps and spice upgrades—chili crisp can go global. Pasilla and morita chiles paired with cinnamon, cloves, and achiote take it in a direction that resembles Mexican salsa macha, the crunchy, nutty chile oil from Veracruz. Or, use Kashmiri red chiles combined with garam masala and diced mango pickle to take it on a trip to India.
Luckily, regardless of where you take your chili crisp, you know you can confidently put it on anything. If you’re a purist, toss it into noodles or use it as a topper for rice and ramen. Or be reckless and scoff at tradition, stirring it into creamy risotto and stuffing it inside a fluffy tamale.
- 27g (1 cup) dried árbol chiles, stems removed (see note)
- 20g (3/4 cup) dried chiles japones, stems removed (see note)
- 25g (3/4 cup) dried Kashmiri red chiles, stems removed (see note)
- 1/2 cup (50g) roasted, salted peanuts, chopped
- 2-inch piece (30g) fresh ginger, sliced into thin matchsticks
- 3 pieces whole star anise
- 2 red or black cardamom pods, split in half
- 3 tablespoons (28g) freshly ground Sichuan peppercorn (see note)
- 3 tablespoons (12g) porcini or shiitake mushroom powder
- 2 tablespoons (20g) sugar
- 5 teaspoons (30g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use about half as much by volume or the same by weight
- 2 teaspoons (6g) freshly ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon (4g) MSG (optional)
- 3/4 teaspoon (2g) freshly ground black pepper
- 2 1/2 cups (500g) peanut oil, or any other neutral oil
- 2 cups (200g) thinly sliced shallots (about 1mm thick; see note)
- 3/4 cup (65g) thinly sliced garlic (about 1mm thick; see note)
Put on disposable latex gloves.
Place a wire rack inside a quarter- or half-sheet tray. Using your hands and kitchen shears, cut open chiles and place them on rack. Shake rack to sift off most of the seeds (don't worry about removing all the seeds). Transfer chiles to a bowl and discard seeds. Using a spice grinder and working in batches, process chiles until they are ground to a size just larger than standard chile flakes. Transfer processed chiles to a heatproof bowl or pot large enough to accommodate bubbling oil (at least 4 quarts in size). Combine chile flakes with peanuts, ginger, star anise, cardamom, Sichuan peppercorn, mushroom powder, sugar, salt, cumin, MSG (if using), and black pepper. Set aside.
Set a fine-mesh strainer over a 2-quart heatproof bowl. In a 4-quart saucepan, combine oil and shallots. Cook over high heat while constantly stirring. Once shallots become light golden brown, strain. Pour oil back into pot and add garlic. Cook over medium-low heat, constantly stirring, until light golden brown, then strain. Return oil to pot once more. Set aside fried shallots and garlic.
Heat oil to 375°F (190°C). Pour hot oil over chiles, spices, and other seasonings. Stir well to distribute hot oil throughout. Set aside to fully cool, about 30 minutes or until bowl or pot is cool to the touch.
Once chile-and-oil mixture has fully cooled, remove star anise and cardamom pods. Mix in fried shallots and garlic. Pour finished chili crisp into jars and store in the fridge for about 3 months. It can be served immediately, but for best flavor, eat it the next day. Stir well before serving.
These chiles are all very spicy. If you're interested in a milder condiment that's still packed with flavor, swap in an equal amount by weight of less fiery chiles. Good options are guajillo, Aleppo, or Maras chiles. You can find Sichuan peppercorns online at The Málà Market.
The easiest way to thinly slice the shallots and garlic is to use a mandoline.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 3 months.