Busy cooks know this: life is better and easier when you have a pantry full of things that keep for a long time without refrigeration and can be used in multiple ways at a moment’s notice. That is why this fragrant and fiery chili oil (not to be confused with nam prik pao) is always found in my pantry as well as the pantries* of my loved ones who are often gifted with a jar of it every now and then. We love it so.
Let’s be clear on one thing first, though: you’ll hardly ever see this condiment used in traditional Thai stir-fries, curries, soups, or salads. Even noodle shops in Thailand don’t usually have this available for you on the table as part of their seasoning caddy (on the other hand, you’ll see plain dried chili powder which is the norm). Chili oil is something you’ll most likely see at a Chinese restaurant.
But it doesn’t mean it’s never used in everyday modern Thai cooking. Chili oil can be a great condiment for several Thai dishes of Chinese origin, such as noodle soups, be it a noodle soup with clear broth or soy-based broth. I also use it to season khao soi, the famous curry noodles of northern Thailand, and a few Thai-Chinese dishes. I’m sure you can also think of many other ways to use your homemade chili oil.
This recipe comes from one of my aunts who has a thing for long peppers. She sneaks them into pretty much everything she can get away with. I think it’s brilliant; the long peppers and the Sichuan peppercorns bring to the table the earthiness and fragrance which are not found in dried red chilies alone.
There are many ways to make chili oil, of course. This is just one way—and not a very authentic (whatever that means) way either. I just happen to like it a lot, and I hope you will too.
*Originally misspelled with a missing r.
- 30 long peppers (about 4 ounces)
- 1½ cups dried bird's eye chilies (pequin chiles or chiles de árbol works too—just stick with red, hot, and small)
- ¼ cup Sichuan peppercorns
- One head of garlic, peeled
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- Put the long peppers, dried chilies, and peppercorns in a skillet and toast them over medium heat, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes.
- Put the contents of the skillet into a food processor along with the garlic and oil; blend (do not use a high-speed blender for this; you don't want a smoothie).
- Pour the mixture back into the skillet and put it on medium heat. Fry it, stirring often, until the mixture turns dark reddish brown, about 6-8 minutes. At that point, you'll start coughing, and people in your house will start wondering out loud what the heck that smell is.
- Immediately transfer the chili oil to a glass jar and let it cool completely before closing the lid. (Don't let the chili cool in the skillet as the residual heat will cook it beyond the desired point.) Keep it in your pantry for 3 months after which, even though it hasn't gone bad, the heady fragrance is gone.