This Sichuan red chilli oil recipe makes an essential ingredient in Sichuan cooking and the specialties from China’s Sichuan province. It’s simple to make, adds a wallop of flavour to every dish you use it with, and it lasts forever. Although if you’re like us, it won’t be long before you’re making a new batch.
We love Sichuan cuisine and cook it at every opportunity. If you’re not familiar with Sichuan cuisine – also written as Szechwan and Szechuan cuisine – it’s the cuisine of China’s Sichuan province and, because it’s distinguished by its generous use of Sichuan chilli peppers and garlic, it’s one of the most popular Chinese cuisines with lovers of spicy food.
Sichuan red chilli oil is used as both an ingredient and a condiment in Sichuan cooking, doused on everything from spicy Sichuan style wontons and dan dan noodles to kung pao chicken. The problem is that there are so many different Sichuan red chilli oil recipes out there so which chilli oil should you be making?
My Paprika Recipe Manager tells me I currently have eight recipes for red chilli oil. So before you break open a packet of chillies, you need to think about what you are going to use the chilli oil for and ask yourself it if is going to be used as an ingredient in dan dan noodles or as a sauce for wontons?
While Lara is an “I want chilli sediment in every spoonful of red chilli oil, I don’t care what I’m eating” kind of eater, I want the right chilli oil for the right application. That means we’re making two types of Sichuan chilli oil but we’re using the one recipe.
Sichuan Red Chilli Oil Recipe – How to Make Two Red Chilli Oils From One Recipe
To be clear from the start, store bought Sichuan red chilli oils just don’t cut it for me, as they often contain other ingredients, such as dried shrimp, and can be too hot for some of the dishes with which we like to use them.
Hóng Yóu (红油) translates to ‘red oil’ which gives us a hint to which kind of oil is preferred in most Sichuan kitchens. In this case the red oil consists just of pounded or crushed chillies, oil, and maybe a sprinkling of sesame seeds when finishing the dish that the oil is accompanying.
The richer version of Sichuan red chilli oil which most recipes gravitate to contains at least some dried spices, such as star anise, dried bay leaves, cinnamon bark or cassia bark, cloves, black cardamom, and Sichuan peppercorns.
Another Sichuan red chilli oil recipe includes ‘wet’ ingredients, such as garlic, ginger and shallots. My personal preference is to leave these wet ingredients out as I want the oil to be chilli forward, with the dried spices acting to enhance the flavour, not dominate it, as garlic and ginger can do.
What Chillies to Use in a Sichuan Red Chilli Oil
One of the most-asked questions of home cooks intending to make a Sichuan red chilli oil is what chillies to use in their red chilli oil? This is where things get complicated.
Optimally we want specific varieties of sun-dried Sichuan chillies. Chances of obtaining them are probably slim unless you have an outstanding Chinatown or an Asian supermarket where you live.
The first variety of sun-dried Sichuan chilli is erjingtiao (or Èr jīngtiáo 二荆条) which is a long, slim and curved chilli. It has a strong aroma but is not too hot. It is the main chilli used in red chilli oil as well as in dishes such as Kong Pao Chicken.
The second variety is sun-dried Sichuan chilli is chaotianjiao (or Cháotiān jiāo 朝天椒), known as Heaven Facing Chilli Peppers. These upward-facing chillies are more bulbous and hotter than erjingtiao chillies.
It’s important that you remove the seeds from these chillies (all chillies, really) before grinding them as they are searingly hot and will affect the flavour of your Sichuan red chilli oil – and not in a good way.
How to Prepare and Store the Red Chilli Oil
If you find some sun-dried Sichuan chillies and they are whole, I like to chop each chilli up into three pieces and use a colander with large holes over a bowl to shake the seeds out.
If you can’t find either of these chilli varieties, just use ground Korean chillies. This will make a good red chilli oil but it won’t have that texture you need for a red chilli oil where you want to use the sediment. Try blending these Korean chillies with red chilli flakes but with most of the seeds removed.
A quick note on storage. As our kitchen tends to hover around 30°C, I prefer storing my Sichuan red chilli oil in the fridge. I’ve bought glass jars specifically for the bottom draw of the fridge that can hold around 500ml jars and I usually make my chilli oil with a cup and a half of oil so it nearly reaches the tops of the jars.
As we live in a warm tropical climate I find that if the red chilli oil is left out for a while it starts to smell stale and loses its potency. If you live in a cool climate, by all means keep the chilli oil in the pantry.
More Notes on Making This Red Chilli Oil Recipe
The Sichuan red chilli oil recipe below essentially makes two types of red chilli oil. I’ll describe them as ‘red chilli oil’ for the pure Sichuan red chilli oil without any chilli sediment (which is the red chilli oil on the right in the image above) and ‘aromatic chilli oil’, which includes the spices and chilli flakes (which is the chilli oil on the left in the image above).
Note that black cardamom is much bigger and harder to find than green cardamom, but it adds a unique flavour and is worthwhile taking the time to seek it out. If you do find black cardamom, you need to break open the outer shell to reveal the small pods, but you can use the shells in the aromatic red chilli oil mix.
While any neutral oil such as peanut oil (preferred), rice bran oil, vegetable oil, or canola oil can be used to make this Sichuan red chilli oil recipe, note that in Sichuan they use Caiziyou oil (菜籽油), which is a distinct type of toasted rapeseed oil and is darker in colour than most neutral oils. You might be able to find this in a good Chinatown or a specialised Asian supermarket.
Sichuan Red Chilli Oil Recipe – How to Make Two Red Chilli Oils From One Recipe
- ½ cup chilli powder/flakes mix
- 3 tbsp Sichuan peppercorns
- 1 ½ cups neutral oil peanut, rice bran, vegetable or canola
- 4 pieces star anise whole
- 2 pieces bay leaves dried
- 1 piece cinnamon stick or a piece of cassia bark
- 4 pieces cloves
- 1 piece black cardamom broken open with seeds
- If you have whole chillies, toast these in a dry wok for a minute. Once they have cooled off, cut them up and deseed the chillies. If you are making straight red chilli oil add the Sichuan peppercorns and toast with the chillies.
- Once deseeded, place the chillies in a blender and blend to a powder if you want pure ‘red chilli oil’ or simply blend down and leave lots of flakes if you want ‘aromatic chilli oil’.
- If you are making ‘aromatic chilli oil’ toast your dried spices and Sichuan peppercorns in a dry wok until the spices become aromatic.
- Place the oil in a saucepan over low heat and add the dried spices and Sichuan peppercorns and take the oil up to around 130˚C for a few minutes until infused. Strain out the spices. Increase the heat of the oil to 180˚C.
- Place the chillies in a wok, pushing them up the sides of the wok leaving a little bare patch in the centre of the wok. We’re going to pour the oil here.
- With the oil at 180˚C, pour half the oil into the centre of the wok and stir in the chillies quickly using cooking chopsticks or a long silicone spatula. It will splutter and bubble, but you want this for the first pour. Take the remaining oil off the heat.
- Once the oil has been evenly distributed, wait until the oil temperature has reduced to 135˚C and pour in half of the remaining oil and stir.
- When the oil is down to 85˚C, pour in and mix the remaining oil.
- Take the chilli oil mixture off the heat and let it get down to room temperature.
- Place the chilli oil mixture in a clean glass jar and refrigerate overnight.
- If you’re making the ‘aromatic chilli oil’, it is now ready to use.
- If you’re making the ‘red chilli oil’, strain the oil to remove the chilli and place back into a clean jar. The oil is now ready to use.
Do let us know if you make our Sichuan red chilli oil recipe as we’d love to hear how it turns out for you. Feel free to leave feedback in the comments below.
That’s interesting. I’ve only seen the pure ‘red’ one in Asian supermarkets usually from Thailand. They’ve always tasted hot but kind of ‘muted’. The one with the flakes looks like the standard ones you get on street food tables across South-East Asia – but with more oil. I’m going to try and track down those chillies and make some for myself!
Terence Carter says
Hi Jane, I also find the red supermarket ones (mainly from Thailand) hot but dull flavoured – perhaps it gets too hot during transportation. Th chilli ‘sauce’ with the flakes in the caddies in South-East Asia are similar, but usually have garlic and ginger as part of the initial mix. I don’t mind ginger in the chilli oil (in fact a lot of chilli oil recipes have it), but I find garlic ‘muddies’ the flavour, having made oil with it a few times. Good luck finding the chillies – and remember to not substitute those Thai birds-eye chillies, they are too potent for this!