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.