How to Make Chili Oil from Scratch and Impress Your Guests

It's the easiest thing to master in the kitchen.

Updated 10/22/19

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Whether you're looking to spice up your weeknight go-to meal of meat and veggies or you're looking to make a homemade dipping sauce for your favorite dumplings, homemade chili oil is the way to go. It's so easy, you don’t even need a recipe. Seriously! You just need to know some proportions and technique, and once you have that mastered, you can do anything.

How to Make Chili Oil

Every single chili oil dream you have can probably come true, as long as you follow these steps:

  1. Heat up oil until it shimmers
  2. Add a few pinches of chili
  3. Cook on low for 3-5 minutes until ultra-fragrant
  4. Allow to cool to room temperature
  5. Pour into a jar without straining

That’s the technique! Whether you want to make only a few teaspoons for a particular dish, or a cup or two to keep in the fridge, the method is always the same.

If you like things super spicy, add about a tablespoon of dried chili flakes for every cup of oil; if you’d like your oil to be subtler, take the chilies down to a teaspoon.

Find Your Flavor

Once you have the steps down, you can start experimenting and come up with your own special blend. You can use dried chilies from any part of the world, with any flavor profile you’re particularly fond of.

A good basic chili oil can be made from the crushed red pepper flakes you can find at any supermarket.

If you live near a market that specializes in international goods, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to find multiple varieties of dried chilies to work with. Each has a different flavor profile, so don’t expect the same results across the board. If you can, use your sense of smell to get a basic idea of each chilies flavor profile. Don’t worry if you can’t find “fancy” chilies to work with, though — crushed red pepper, which is usually made from cayenne seeds — works wonderfully for all sorts of chili oil styles.

Choose Oil Wisely

When it comes to oil, don’t use anything too expensive or fancy, since the strength of the chilies will overwhelm any delicate flavor notes that may have made the oil remarkable. If you’re doing an Italian-style oil with Calabrian chili, use an affordable bottle of extra virgin olive oil. If you’re making oil with Asian or Latin American influence, use vegetable or canola.You can also add aromatics like garlic or ginger to bump up flavor and add some complexity. But beware: if they burn to black, they’ll irreparably ruin your chili oil.

To keep things foolproof, keep your aromatics in large pieces that you can easily fish out if they begin getting a bit too brown; cut shallots into thick rings, ginger into thin slices, keep garlic cloves whole and just smash them flat.

A good amount of flavor extraction happens during the cool down, when whatever is in the oil steeps just like like a teabag. Add your aromatics right when you remove your pot from the heat, gently stir, then move to the back of the stove where it can cool to room temperature safely. 

Keep your chili oil in the fridge in a tightly lidded glass jar, which will help prevent accidental spillage. You should use freshly made chili oil within a month.

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