Niamh Shields talks us through how easy it is to make your own chilli oil and how versatile it is in the kitchen
My first encounter with homemade chilli oil was when I was a youngster in Nice. I discovered this fiery condiment and used it to douse my pizza. I haven’t looked back since. I have a huge affection for chilli – not just the heat but the flavour too.
How do chilli oils differ around the world?
My first introduction was an Italian chilli oil, but I was soon to learn it is but one of many. Move outside of Italy and there is a world of chilli oils waiting to greet you, from Chinese chilli oil made with fermented black or soy beans to Thai chilli oil with lots of aromatic ingredients and umami flavours from intense shrimp paste.
How should you use it?
Chilli oil is great on pizza: it's a perfect flavour enhancer and makes it sing. A drizzle brightens up a quick pasta dish, and a little with mashed potatoes or on a cheese toastie will lift you temporarily from the gloom of winter. Consequently, it's always worth spending a little bit of time to make your own, especially as it’s so easy.
How do you make your own?
There are a few things that you need to think about before you start. The first is botulism, an important consideration when making infused oils.
Botulism spores live on vegetables and reproduce quickly in oil due to the anaerobic conditions. So it's essential you sterilise your containers, use dry ingredients instead of fresh, store chilli oil in the fridge and consume it within a week.
Heat the oil to 180°C (356°F), let it cool down a bit so that it is below boiling, then add your chillies and other flavourings. If you add them straight away they will fry and the flavour will be slightly burned.
Dried herbs, unless well sourced usually taste of dust, so I dry my own by just leaving them on the windowsill for a few days. I also like to add peppercorns for their spice and aroma, the fresher the better for flavour.
The beauty of making your own at home is that you can make it as hot or as aromatic as you like, you can choose your favourite chillis, herbs (or none) and you can choose to use whichever oil you want.
I love Calabrian dried chillies (pepperoncino) and also gentler Peruvian aji Amarillo (which are also terrific for ceviche). Sometimes though I just want something very hot to spice something up and I reach for Sichuan red chillies, which you can get in most Chinese food shops.
You can find Niamh's full recipe here.
Lead image: Chilli oil in jar by Jullius/Shutterstock
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