November 09, 2022 at 10:59am | Suzanne Clark

Chili crisp is hotter than ever.

The tangy, crunchy, spicy infused oil made with bits of peppers, onions, scallions, garlic, and other flavorful aromatics is a crispy condiment that packs a punch.

The spicy spread has been used in China and other parts of the world for decades. And the American market has caught on to the delicious umami condiment in recent years, with versions now seen on mainstream grocery store shelves and as the star of any hot sauce collection. Use it to spice up an omelet, douse it over a slice of pizza, or savor it sweetly with ice cream—chili crisp amplifies flavor.

One of the most tried and true—and commonly recognized—chili crisp brands is Lao Gan Ma, though the hot stuff has been used in China for centuries. It was made by Tao Huabi—who became known as the “Godmother of Sauce”—who began bottling up the condiment in 1997 at her noodle shop in Southern China, according to the brand’s website. The ingredient was so well-liked by customers, it spread like wildfire and eventually made its way overseas. Lao Gan Ma was meant to spice up a simple stir-fry, salmon, fish, pork, chicken, and just about any blank food canvas. The sauce is made with caramelized chilies, fermented soybeans, garlic, peanuts, and MSG for umami flavor. It’s sweet, savory, and, of course, spicy.

“To me, as a chef, Lao Gan Ma is the standard. A lot of people are doing their own versions of it now. I dress it up a bit with blanched ginger, fresh scallion, oil, lime, and a few other seasonings,” says Jeremy Dean, a chef at Lucky Rabbit Noodles in Brooklyn, N.Y. “I’ve also put it in sandwiches like spicy turkey instead of mayo because it adds a little more crunch to it,” he adds.

Today, a slew of new chili crisp iterations in the U.S. are being cooked up by second-generation Chinese and Taiwanese American chefs and restaurateurs putting their own unique spin on the beloved pantry staple.

Here are some sublime sauces worth checking out:

FLY BY JING SICHUAN CHILI CRISP

Made by a Chinese chef from Chengdu, China, Fly By Jing Sichuan Chili Crisp was introduced in the U.S. in 2018 and is made with all-natural ingredients sans MSG. It features the rare tribute pepper harvested from Sichuan farmers with ingredients like rapeseed oil, fermented black beans, seaweed, mushrooms, and ground spices. Eaters are instructed to use the spice on “everything” from vanilla ice cream to fried eggs, pizza, vegetables, dumplings, and meat.

MOMOFUKU CHILI CRUNCH

Taking inspiration from Lao Gan Ma, chef David Chang’s iteration used in the kitchen at his New York City Asian restaurant Momofuku Ssäm Bar features a chili crunch that’s equal parts smoky and garlic-tasting with hints of sesame seeds and a rich umami flavor from mushroom powder and seaweed. It’s made with three types of Mexican chilies, crunchy garlic, and shallots. The hot stuff is so well received, there’s often a waiting list to order it.

CHILE CRUNCH

Mexico City-born Susie Hojel has put her own spin on the household condiment. Her Chile Crunch combines her favorite salsas from Mexico made with roasted chiles de árbol, garlic, onion, and spices.

“I moved to the U.S. and instantly missed the rich diversity of spices and chiles available everywhere in Mexico. Chile Crunch is the product of my vision for a return to the unique, savory blend of flavors from just south of the border,” Hojel describes on her website.

SZE DADDY TAIWANESE CHILI SAUCE

New York City-based chef Eric Sze of Taiwanese restaurant 886 in New York City finds inspiration from his Taiwanese roots for Sze Daddy sauce. His rendition is made with Sichuan peppercorns, Korean chili powder, sesame, scallion, garlic, dried chili, and spices like star anise. Sze Daddy is available for purchase online at Eighteightsix.com and at other online specialty food retailers.


BOON

This condiment comes ranked with a seven out of 10 on the spice scale on its website. It’s made with a blend of chilies, spices, anchovies, shallots, and garlic cooked in better-for-you sunflower oil. It’s made by chef Max Boonthanakit, inspired by his Thai upbringing. Boonthanakit pairs his hot sauce with savory dishes like garlic shrimp, mixed in with tomato sauce for spicy pasta, and over fried rice. It’s sold online at boonsauce.com.

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