Simple Four Ingredient Sichuan Chili Oil
Numbing like Novocaine, spicy, flavorful and addictive. Say hello to a condiment perfect for the IF lifestyle
Sichuan chili oil is so awesome that I make it weekly because it is an essential part of my meals here in Luxembourg.
Why, you ask?
Because I’m always trying to optimize flavor and quality per calorie since I only eat during a six-hour window every day.
The peppercorn adds a tingly sensation with no additional calories. Chili flakes add heat and suppresses your appetite. The oil is a superconductor of flavor and makes you feel full longer.
Below is a basic recipe that you can use to make this addictive chili oil.
1. Sichuan peppercorns: also can be called prickly ash which is name of the tree the peppercorn comes from [5 grams]
2. Red Chili flakes: the kind you put on pizza [50 grams]
3. Salt [2–3 grams]
4. Canola oil: or any other oil with high smoke point, olive oil won’t work [enough to keep the chili flakes submerged]
Unsalted peanuts: if you want additional texture and flavor in your oil mixture
Star anise: to add complexity to your oil
Sesame oil: to add as a finishing touch to your chili oil
1. Pot or wok to heat the oil up to smoke point
2. Wooden chopstick to quickly mix once oil hits chili flakes and peppercorns
3. Small heatproof container to mix hot oil and ingredients together. Make sure there is room for the oil to expand in volume.
4. Coffee scale to measure the weight of ingredients.
There are two secrets to making this addictive Sichuan chili oil. 1) Sourcing the Sichuan peppercorns, and 2) technique.
You can likely find the peppercorns at your local Chinese grocery store or online at Amazon.
Please be careful as you will be working with extremely hot oil.
- Mix the red chili flakes, salt and peanuts together in your heatproof container. If you have the Sichuan peppercorn powder, add as well.
- Put your heatproof container in the sink just in case you spill any oil as you pour into your chili mixture.
- Open some window and turn on your kitchen fan.
- Toast the peppercorns (along with star anise if you have it) over medium heat for a few minutes until fragrant.
- Pour the oil over the peppercorns and let it infuse for a few minutes at medium temperature.
- Strain everything out and discard before any burning occurs.
- Turn up the heat and let the oil get to the smoke point (400°F).
- Turn off the heat and quickly pour the hot oil over the chili flake mixture and stir furiously with the wooden chopstick. The oil will furiously bubble and expand the moment it comes into contact with the chili flakes.
- Add a splash of sesame oil once the oil is at room temperature. You don’t want to add too early because heat neutralizes the delicate sesame oil.
- Enjoy your Sichuan chili oil! It’s great on pizza, eggs, soups, crackers, bread, etc. I even cook with it when I’m looking for additional complexity.
If you are anything like me, you may experience curiosity and anger the moment you try this chili oil for the first time. Curiosity about what the Sichuan peppercorn actually is. And Anger that it’s taken you this long to discover this amazing chili oil.
The Sichuan peppercorn comes from the prickly ash shrub common in the Sichuan province in China. This thorny tree produces the red berries which we refer to as “peppercorns” today. These berries look like peppercorns when dried and always found in spicy dishes.
As you might be thinking, it’s weird that the Sichuan berry is referred to as a peppercorn. Why not just call a berry a berry, and peppercorn a peppercorn?
My theory is that the berries were relabeled as peppercorns for marketing reasons because the connotation for berry is sweet. It would just sound weird to advertise spicy dishes made with “Sichuan berries.” Therefore renaming Sichuan berries as peppercorns just makes it easier to telegraph expectations to the world.
There was another problem though outside of the original name itself. Sichuan peppercorn was rarely available even if you knew where to look and banned in the United States until 2005. You had to go to Canada if you wanted to find dishes made with the elusive Sichuan peppercorn. It took another 11 years until the USDA to recognize that the flavor-killing heat treatment requirement on imported peppercorns was unnecessary as well.
The optimist in me wants to believe the USDA was being extremely cautious to protect domestic agriculture. The conspiracist side of me ponders the now-debunked case of MSG (spoiler alert: it’s not bad for you) and wonders if the Sichuan peppercorn got the same unfair treatment as MSG.
Regardless of the reason, for the past 60 years the Sichuan peppercorn (and chili oil) has lived in the shadows in the United States when it should have been in the forefront with ketchup and sriracha. Missing in action from the kitchens and palates of two to three generations of American families.
Now that availability is no longer an issue as of 2021, my hope is that the popularity skyrockets in the next decade as more people discover this incredible ingredient and recipe which would help with accessibility.
For the uninitiated out there, I encourage you to give this recipe a try at home or find a restaurant that serves a dish using the peppercorn.
For other Sichuan peppercorn addicts out there, I’d love to hear if you have any other great uses or simple recipes in the comments below!