I grew up in a household eating copious amounts of chilli at every mealtime: heapings of chopped bird’s eye on eggs, extremely liberal lashings of Tabasco in popcorn, huge dollops of hot sauce consumed straight from the spoon.
It was the idyllic childhood, probably because I spent most of it in a hot and heady daze, tongue burning and mind pleasantly blissed out in picante pleasure.
These days, I make my own chilli oil whenever I’m feeling particularly nostalgic. The right chilli oil feels transportive.
For the less sentimental, it also just tastes great on almost any savoury dish, banishing weak-flavoured woes. Neil Perry recommends it on steamed silken tofu; Kylie Kwong drenches dumplings in the stuff; Meera Sodha tops vegan noodles with a light smattering for extra oomph.
There are many variations out there, but I favour a very simple recipe of just four ingredients. You will need: a good handful of chilli flakes, salt, minced garlic, and vegetable oil. Eyeball everything. Throw it all into a pot at medium heat and let it simmer until the garlic just turns brown – the result is a brilliant red condiment with crispy garlic bits.
The great thing about chilli oil is that it lends itself to experimentation: anything (and everything) goes. Add sesame, or cardamom, or grated ginger, or shallots, or Szechuan peppercorns on repeat attempts.
Does too much of this chilli oil make my stomach ache with an intense burning sensation as I lay awake at 3am? Yes. Will I continue making it and then over-indulging anyway? Also yes.
Reader beware: if you are unlike me in that you are sane, just a light patter of this chilli oil is sufficient to add requisite zing to your dish. My perfect lazy dinner is chilli oil on rice, but it’s also easily dressed down in toasties, soups and salads, or dressed up à la Ottolenghi.
And for the extra lazy, Lao Gan Ma offers an iconic store-bought version that’s available in the international aisle (as well as all Asian groceries). John Cena approves.