Why Chile Crisp Should Be in Your Pantry 24/7 (and 11 of the Best Ones to Try)
There are a handful of condiments that our fridge and pantry would be woefully incomplete without. The list includes mayonnaise, ketchup, sriracha, ranch dressing and chile crisp, a crunchy, spicy chile oil that tastes divine on just about everything (and, dare we say it, straight from the jar). We tapped Chef Tom Gray, a Jacksonville restauranteur known for his homemade chile crisp, for all the details on this cult-favorite condiment, plus rounded up a few of our favorite chile crisps to add to your collection.
What Is Chile Crisp?
Chile crisp is a type of spicy chile oil (which is basically just a blend of oil and chile flakes, BTW) that’s concocted with various other ingredients—like fried garlic, sesame seeds, anchovies or onions—for flavor and crunch. While chile crisp is Chinese in origin, it’s a common condiment in many Asian countries, like Thailand and Japan. They vary greatly in terms of flavor, texture and heat, but most chile crisps are spicy and savory with a touch of sweetness and tang. Different spices can also be added for nuance, like cinnamon sticks, ginger and star anise. And in terms of texture, Gray has experimented with using everything from peanuts to crispy shallots to give it a little crunch.
After years of widespread popularity in Asia, chile crisp has become uber popular stateside recently, and Gray chalks it up to Americans’ lasting love affair with heat. “Chile crisp has taken off in the U.S. probably due to the fact that a high spice profile is more mainstream now, even more so than a decade ago,” he explains. “These days you'll see an emphasis on spicy options at fast food restaurants all the way up to fine dining.”
What Are Some Great Ways to Use It?
Most chile crisp recipes call for drying and toasting the chile peppers (Thai, puya, Japones and even chile de arbol are common pepper choices, but Gray uses Calabrian chiles in his), blending them into flakes or powder, then cooking hot oil, garlic and other aromatics in a saucepan. After about a half hour, the chile flakes and oil are combined and cooled, then it’s ready to drizzle onto pizza, eggs, noodles, dumplings, fried chicken, seafood or even vanilla ice cream. We also love using it in marinades for fish and vegetables, as well as adding a spoonful to mayonnaise or yogurt to create a spicy spread or dressing. Chile crisp can also be added to a hot pot of water to create a flavorful soup broth. Gray’s favorite way to use it is in Prati Italia’s fresh rigatoni with sugo. “The heat melds nicely with the tomato-based meat sauce and kicks the entire dish up a notch. In the mornings, I'll drizzle it over eggs or avocado toast.”
While you can make it at home yourself (we’re partial to Pepper Teigen’s recipe that calls on dried red chiles, shallots, sugar and a *ton* of garlic), buying a premade one is the fastest route from zero to chile crisp heaven.
Our 11 Favorite Store-Bought Chile Crisps
1. Lao Gan Ma Spicy Chili CrispIt’s the chile oil that started it all. Lao Gan Ma has been slinging chile crisp since 1997, when Tao Huabi brought her take on the sauce to her noodle shop in China’s Guizhou province, a rural region where most of the country’s chile peppers are harvested. Translating to “old godmother,” Lao Gan Ma is notably sour compared to other chile crisps, making it prime for noodle dishes that are commonly drizzled with Chinese vinegar. It’s umami-rich, thanks to MSG, and not excessively spicy.
2. Fly By Jing Sichuan Chili Crisp
Founder Jing (Jenny) Gao was born in Chengdu, a Sichuan city known for inconspicuous hole-in-the-wall restaurants that serve incredible food. Fly By Jing’s recipe is unique, as it honors chile crisp’s traditional elements while also incorporating modern, natural ingredients, like fermented black bean, mushroom powder, seaweed and ginger. Ginger offers the chile crisp a uniquely fresh heat while the others impart a ton of umami. All Fly By Jing sauces are vegan, non-GMO and free of artificial additives and preservatives, including MSG.
3. Boon Sauce
This small-batch sauce from California was created by Max Boonthanakit, a Thai chef. The ingredients are minimal compared to some other brands, including sunflower oil, chiles, shallots and garlic. Fennel offers vegetal, licorice-like complexity to the sauce, while anchovy holds down the fort on the salty umami front. Peppery prickly ash, an aromatic shrub, gives the condiment a slight numbing effect and a citrusy scent. Boon Sauce is only available in select stores across six states. Luckily, it’s also available for purchase online.
4. Momofuku Chili Crunch
- Momofuku Chili Crunch
5. S&B Chili Oil with Crunchy Garlic
Most chile oils are the market are Chinese in origin, but this savory Japanese rendition is one of our top picks. Known as taberu rayu, Japanese chile crisp tends to be mellower in heat compared to the Chinese equivalent but big on flavor. S&B’s chile crisp stars fried garlic, almond slivers and fried onion, a crunchy trifecta that’s seriously tough to top. Its flavor is extra savory and nutty, due to soy sauce powder, sesame oil and ground sesame seeds in the mix. The chile paste and peppers shine through just enough and can offer mild spice to everything from salmon to roasted broccoli. It’s just the topper for ramen, gyoza and even sushi.
6. Su Chili Crisp
This artisanal sauce made in Taiwan is super exclusive, so much so that only 50 batches are produced per week using an old-school method that champions freshness. It’s a Sichuan-style mala sauce, a seasoning made from chile peppers and Sichuan peppercorn that’s famous for its citrusy notes and the numbing sensation it causes on the tongue. The peppers’ freshness and the addition of star anise make the sauce’s flavor extra bright and tingly.
7. Chile Crunch
Instead of traditional soybean oil, Chile Crunch starts with non-GMO canola as the base for its small-batch roasted chile condiment. Founded by Mexico City native Susie Hojel, Chile Crunch’s Latin influence is more than apparent just by looking at the ingredients, since the condiment’s main source of heat is chile de arbol. Paired with garlic, onion, salt and spices, the taste of the peppers turns complex and flavorful. Scoop it onto fried fish tacos, camarones al ajillo, nachos or salsa.
8. Sze Daddy Chili Sauce
Sichuan-style chile crisp meets Taiwanese shacha sauce, a savory, spicy topping commonly used on beef. Created by Chef Eric Sze of NYC’s 886 restaurant, where this chile crisp is always on hand, Sze Daddy has a luxurious texture due to the aromatics and spices being finely ground before being added to the sauce. While that makes it less crunchy than some others on the market, its spice is unique and enduring, thanks to numbing Sichuan peppercorns, spicy xiaomi chiles and Korean chile powder.
9. Blank Slate Kitchen Sichuan Chili Oil
If you’re always in need of sugar-free condiments, add this versatile powerhouse to your list. Made with a dozen spices and aromatics—including Sichuan peppercorns, toasted sesame oil, fresh ginger and shallots—Blank Slate’s chile oil is free of MSG, sugar and GMOs. It’s made with two types of crushed chiles that boast tongue-tingling heat, making the oil prime for dishes like dumplings, noodles or tofu.
10. Loud Grandma CBD Chili Crisp Oil
Have your CBD and eat it too in the form of Loud Grandma’s sweet-and-spicy condiment. Not only is it infused with full-spectrum hemp-derived CBD, but it’s also equal parts earthy, sweet and spicy without being exceedingly hot. Fermented black soybeans give the oil a funky, slightly bitter flavor, while chile flakes and roasted soybeans offer the crunch you crave. Tomato paste also brightens up the party with just the right amount of acidity and sweetness.
11. AllIDoIsCook Rodo Crisps
Buckle up, y'all: This riff on chile crisp is not for the faint of heart. Made with Scotch bonnet peppers, canola oil and salt, this new condiment is packing serious heat, along with a pleasant fruity, floral aroma. It hails from the culinary masterminds at AllIDoIsCook, a Texas-based food business that ships authentic Nigerian dishes all over the country. If you can take the heat, add the rodo oil to your cart too for sautéing, frying and marinades.