A friend of mine wrote something on Facebook this week about Yum Cha. Now you’ve all heard me moan about how difficult it is to get good authentic Chinese food here in France, so naturally I got myself a little bit hungry for a dose of siu mai (steamed dumplings, ancestor to the humble Aussie dim sim), cha siu baau (fluffy white steamed buns filled with BBQ pork), & cheong fan (sheets of steamed rice noodle rolled up with meat or prawns). Being in the wrong country (on their national holiday no less) for a quick fix, I had to settle on Chinese food for dinner instead. Hello beef with bok choy & rice noodles in soup.
Now, I quite often add chilli oil to this dish, either when I’m marinating the meat, or eating it, or both. First, I’m going to tell you how to make it, then I’ll tell you about the discovery. Ready to hit the shelves?
- A bag of dried chilli flakes. Get them from a good Asian supermarket. Cannot go wrong. If you get options for heat intensity, get the hotter ones. You can always dilute the oil later, but you want maximum flavour.
- A bottle of light-tasting oil. Canola’s fine, peanut’s great. Don’t use olive, it tastes too strong.
- A bulb of garlic.
- A glass jar or jars with a good tight lid. Washed out jam jars or whatever work just fine.
Here’s where it gets insanely easy. Make sure the jar is obsessive-compulsively clean and as dry as a tasteless simile. Peel enough cloves of garlic to cover the bottom of the jar kind of in one and a half layers, and make sure to cut off the little woody bit at the bottom of each clove. Give ’em a quick smash with the side of your knife, and drop them into the jar.
Pour the chilli flakes in until the jar is three-quarters full. I like to drop a few Szechuan peppercorns in as well, but I’m a bastard like that. Fill it to the top with oil, give it a jiggle to let all the bubbles out and top it up again.
Lid on, give it a shake, and leave it for a month.
This is where it gets interesting.
I used the last of my current jar of oil in my marinade tonight, and while scraping around the greasy chilli flakes in the jar for a satisfying teaspoon of red gold, I found a larger, more solid object. It was pretty shapeless, but a beautiful deep shade of reddish brown, partly translucent and looking like a deeply preserved morsel of spicy wonder. My smashed garlic, over the course of several months had essentially loaded itself with chilli oil & flavour. I abandoned ship looking for a spoonful of oil, this smashed garlic was going to give me everything I needed. So I chopped it up & added it. The smell was incredible, can’t wait to try it.
I’m brewing schemes to get a whole pot of chilli-preserved garlic rolling. I think I’m going to need a bigger jar, and a lot of oil already steeped. Stay tuned.