Chinese

Chinese Style Asian Greens With Oyster Sauce And Garlic Oil

Asian greens prepared with oyster sauce and garlic oil is a popular dish in Chinese cuisine. Asian greens such as bok choy (known as “xiǎo báicài” 小白菜 in Mandarin), choy sum (“cài xīn” 菜心 in Mandarin) and Chinese broccoli (“jiè lán” 芥兰 in Mandarin and “gai lan” 芥蘭 in Cantonese) can be used.

Chinese woks (known as “chao guo” 炒锅) are traditionally made from cast iron and these woks, coupled with a very strong, high flame tend to give the best results. Cast iron woks retain heat better than other materials and the temperature does not fluctuate much compared to woks of other materials. Consequently, once the greens are thrown into the boiling water, some woks may see a sudden drop in heat levels which generally does not happen when cooking with cast iron woks. This sudden drop in heat level means the greens take a longer time to cook which does not produce the best color, aroma, texture and taste compared to greens that are cooked quickly at a high temperature.
This advantage of providing a uniform and stable heating level is a key reason cast iron woks produce superior results when cooking Chinese food.

Additionally, well-seasoned woks impart a distinct “wok flavor” to the food known as “wok hay” 鑊氣 in Cantonese (usually spelled “wok hei” but the pronunciation is closer to “wok hay”) which literally means “wok energy” (wok qi). However an intense flame is necessary to achieve this effect and thus may be extremely difficult to achieve with home stove top flames.

A well-seasoned cast-iron wok is highly durable and could last for generations and there are families today that cook with cast-iron woks passed down from the grandmothers or great-grandmothers of the family. For instance, the cast-iron wok used by my maternal grandmother (who was born in 1928) is still treasured and frequently used by her children.

When blanching the greens, an overcrowded wok must be avoided; if the wok is overcrowded, the leaves don’t cook quickly and end up “sweating” and slow cooking instead, resulting in greens that are limp, discolored and bland.

Chinese food tastes best when consumed hot and freshly cooked, so serve straight away.

Serves: 2
Ingredients:

  • 1/2 lb Asian greens such as bok choy or choy sum or Chinese broccoli
  • 1/2 teaspoon oil
  • 1-2 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 2 teaspoons light soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons boiling hot water
  • Freshly ground white pepper as desired (optional)

For garlic oil:
2 tablespoons oil
4-5 cloves of garlic – very finely minced

Method:

In a small glass / ceramic bowl, combine oyster sauce and light soy sauce. Mix well and set aside.

Prepare the garlic oil. Heat up a wok over high flame. Do not add oil until the wok is well heated up.

Pour 2 tablespoons oil and let the oil heat up.

Swirl the wok to evenly coat the oil around the wok.

Add minced garlic, fry till garlic turns brown and fragrant. Stir frequently. Do not burn the garlic.

Pour this garlic oil into the bowl of oyster sauce and light soy sauce. Stir and set aside.

Wash greens thoroughly to remove dirt and grit. Optionally, cut into halves or quarters lengthwise.

Have a bowl of cold water ready. Set aside.

In a cast iron wok, bring some water to a rolling boil over high heat.

Add salt and 1/2 teaspoon oil.

Then add the washed and drained greens.

Toss quickly then cover with a lid, until greens are cooked through yet retains its vibrant green hue, fresh taste, crunch and texture. This usually takes just a few minutes, depending on the strength of the flame and the type of wok (cast iron woks retain heat better than other metals and hence generally require less time).

Once cooked, immediately take out the greens and soak them in the bowl of cold water set aside earlier.

Once cooled, arrange the greens neatly on a plate.

Pour two tablespoons of hot water (some take two tablespoons from the boiling water used to blanch the greens) into the bowl of oyster sauce mixture prepared earlier. Mix well.

Drizzle the sauce over the freshly cooked greens.

Serve straight away with rice.

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Szechuan Fish Fragrant Eggplant 鱼香茄子 (Yu Xiang Qiezi)

A plate of Szechuan Fish Fragrant Eggplant "Yu Xiang Qiezi" 鱼香茄子 served with white rice and Chinese tea.

A plate of Szechuan Fish Fragrant Eggplant “Yu Xiang Qiezi” 鱼香茄子 served with white rice and Chinese tea

Featuring a fusion of salty, sweet, sour and spicy flavors, fish fragrant eggplant or “yu xiang qiezi” is a signature Szechuan (or Sichuan) dish prepared with Asian eggplants flavored with a hot garlic sauce.
“Yu xiang qie zi” 鱼香茄子 literally translates into “fish fragrant eggplant” (“yu” 鱼 means” “fish”, “xiang” 香means “fragrant” or “flavored” and “qiezi” 茄子 means “eggplant”, or “aubergine” as it is known in the UK or “brinjal” as it is commonly known in South Asia).

Despite its name, the dish contains no fish and so is actually vegetarian. The meaning behind the name stems from the seasoning mixture which is known as “yu xiang” 鱼香 (which literally means “fish fragrance”). Dishes that belong to the “yu xiang” family, i.e., prepared with “yu xiang” seasoning ingredients typically have “yu xiang” affixed to their name, in this case “fish fragrant eggplant” is “yu xiang qiezi”.

A very common ingredient in traditional Szechuan dishes, doubanjiang 豆瓣酱 is a salty paste of fermented broad beans and soybeans.

Chinese rock sugar, known as “bing tang” 冰糖 is milder than the granulated refined sugar popularly consumed in the West. Bing tang usually comes in irregular-sized lumps which must be broken into pieces before they can be used.

It is generally accepted among Chinese that bing tang is healthier and produces a superior appearance and flavor when used for cooking. While some recipes for this dish may call for regular granulated sugar instead of bing tang, for a quality and authentic outcome bing tang is recommended.

Ingredients:

  • 500 grams Asian eggplants/aubergines/brinjals
  • 3 Szechuan pickled red chili peppers – sliced
  • 1 tablespoon doubanjiang
  • 1 1/4 cups (about 300 ml) cooking oil if deep frying / 2-6 tablespoons cooking oil if shallow frying
  • 1 tablespoon ginger – minced
  • 2 garlic cloves – minced
  • 2-3 spring onions – white and green parts sliced separately

Sauce:

  • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon black vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine
  • 3/4 teaspoon potato flour mixed with some cold water to form a thick paste
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon Chinese rock sugar “bing tang”
  • Sea salt as desired

Method:

Wash and cut eggplants into 3 inch slices ensuring every slice has skin.

If deep frying, soak eggplants in cold water for about 15-20 minutes. This helps to remove any bitter tastes.

If shallow frying, sprinkle salt over the eggplants and let it sit for about 1 hour to let it release moisture.

In a small bowl, combine ingredients for sauce. Mix well. Set aside.

Heat up a cast iron wok over high flame.

Add cooking oil and let it heat up.

Carefully dip a pair of wooden cooking chopsticks into the oil (ensure the chopsticks are dry. Water droplets could make the oil splatter violently potentially causing burns). If it sizzles, the oil is ready.

Add the eggplant and fry until golden on the outside but soft inside. The flesh will be creamy white color (not roasted) and the skin will be a vibrant purple hue.

Take out eggplants and drain on paper towels.

Drain out oil leaving about 1 tablespoon.

Add garlic, ginger, Szechuan pickled red chili peppers and white portions of green onions.

Stir fry till aromatic.

Add doubanjiang and roast until red oil seeps out.

Add fried eggplants.

Add the sauce. Stir to coat the mixture evenly.

Take off heat, garnish with sliced green onions.

Serve hot with white rice.

Chinese Red Date Tea / Jujube Tea 红枣茶 “Hóngzǎo Chá”

Chinese red dates or jujube (known as hóngzǎo 红枣 in Mandarin) have been used for over 2,000 years in traditional Chinese medicine, often prescribed to increase a person’s “qi” 气 or “life energy”. The concept of “qi” in Chinese culture is similar to India’s “prana” प्राण ; both focus on the vital life energy that flows through the human body.

Dried red dates are boiled with water to make a basic red date tea (known as hóngzǎo chá 红枣茶. “Hóngzǎo”   红枣 means “red dates” and “chá” 茶 means “tea” in Mandarin). Variations of this basic tea would feature the addition of other ingredients depending on various factors such as the weather, state of health etc. For instance, ginger would be added during winter, as ginger is believed to be warming, thus helping to provide warmth and immunity during the cold winter months. Goji berries 枸杞 “gǒuqǐ” (also known as wolfberries 杞子 “qǐ zi” ) and dried longan 龙眼 “lóngyǎn” are commonly paired when making the tea for new mothers during the month-long confinement period (zuò yuè zi 坐月子) to help restore and replenish strength and immunity.

The tea can be drunk hot or cold, depending on circumstance; during cold months, and for new mothers, it is often drunk hot. During sweltering, summer months, the tea finds favor chilled.

The tea is sometimes sweetened with honey or rock sugar, however, this is not necessary as the dates are naturally quite sweet.

Version 1 (Basic red date tea)

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup dried Chinese red dates
  • 2-3 cups water (Adjust quantity of water to your preference. For a stronger tea, reduce the quantity, for a lighter tea, increase the quantity)
  • Honey to taste (optional)

 

Method:

Wash the red dates.

Combine water and dates in a pot.

Over low heat, bring water to a boil, then let simmer until dates are soft. The liquid will turn into a reddish-golden color.

Add honey to taste if desired.

Stop heat and serve.

 

Version 2 (Red dates, longan and wolfberry tea)

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup dried Chinese red dates
  • 1/2 cup longan
  • 1/2 tbsp goji berries
  • 2-3 cups water
  • Honey to taste (optional)

 

Method:

Wash the red dates, longan and goji berries.

Combine the red dates, longan, goji berries and water in a pot.

Over low heat, bring water to a boil, then let simmer until dates are soft. The liquid will turn into a reddish-golden color.

Add honey to taste if desired.

Stop heat and serve.

 

Version 3 (Red dates and ginger tea)

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup dried Chinese red dates
  • 1 inch piece ginger – sliced
  • 2-3 cups water
  • Honey to taste (optional)

 

Method:

Wash the red dates.

Combine the red dates, ginger and water in a pot.

Over low heat, bring water to a boil, then let simmer until dates are soft. The liquid will turn into a reddish-golden color.

Add honey to taste if desired.

Stop heat and serve.

Jiaozi (Dumplings) 饺子

A mainstay of Chinese cuisine, “jiǎozi” 饺子, which means “dumplings” in Mandarin, is a stuffed dumpling with origins in the Eastern Han Dynasty dating back 2,000 years ago.

Although widely consumed in China all year round, especially in the northern regions, these succulent treats are one of the most popular traditional foods consumed during Chinese New Year (also known as Spring Festival 春节 chūnjié) and is often prepared by family members on the eve on the new year. Jiǎozi’s importance as a Chinese New Year staple stems from its shape, which closely resembles the gold and silver ingots used as currency in ancient China and is thus consumed to usher wealth, good fortune and prosperity for the new year. Sometimes, a sanitized coin would be stuffed into a jiǎozi; the lucky one to land the coin-stuffed dumpling is believed to enjoy good fortune for the coming year.

Jiǎozi is also traditionally consumed by folks in northern China during the Dongzhi Festival 冬至 (Winter Solstice Festival), a tradition born out of the belief that eating dumplings helps prevent frostbitten ears.

As the story goes, during one particularly cold winter, Zhang Zhongjing 张仲景 , one of China’s most distinguished physicians who lived during the Han Dynasty, saw many local people suffering from frostbitten ears. In an effort to alleviate their situation, the kindly doctor mixed some traditional Chinese medicine, meat and other ingredients and made a new kind of food with vague resemblance to ears – dumplings. These dumplings were distributed to the local people who were cured of their frostbite. Word went around that consuming dumplings cured frostbite which grew into the tradition we see in northern China today. Zhang Zhongjing 张仲景 is also thus credited as the inventor of jiǎozi.

Jiaozi’s delicate wrapper or skin, known as “jiaozi pi” 餃子皮 in Mandarin is made with wheat flour. The wheat grain, a staple of northern Chinese cuisine (rice is the staple or southern Chinese cuisine) has been milled for thousands of years in China.
Initially, flour milling was a grueling affair where equipment such as the saddle quern were operated by hand to grind wheat grains into flour. Later, mechanized flour processes let to increased productivity gains; the Chinese were believed to be one of the first users of water powered milling equipment.
After grinding the wheat grains, the resultant flour needs to be sifted to separate the finer grains from the coarser ones (so the coarser grains could be discarded or reground). The Chinese again are believed to be the pioneers of flour sifting, having extrapolated the prevalent technology for weaving silk using a fine mesh. Evidence exists that the sieving of powders for human consumption was practiced in China before such processing began in the West.

The jiaozi wrapper is made by mixing the flour with an adequate quantity of water. The amount of water required would vary with the quality of the dough, humidity conditions etc. Thus, it would be difficult to specify a fixed ratio of flour to water and seasoned Chinese cooks rarely go by any recipes when making jiaozi dough.

Traditionally, boiling water is used to form the dough because it helps produce a softer and elastic dough (cold water does not produce the same qualities and hence results in an inferior dough). Needless to say, freshly ground floor produces a better quality dough resulting in a jiaozi that is superior taste-wise and nutrition-wise.

Jiǎozi’s versatility has given rise to a plethora of stuffings such as beef with celery, shrimp and eggs with leeks as well as vegetarian stuffings. Arguably the most popular traditional stuffing is a mixture of ground pork, Chinese cabbage, scallions, soy sauce, salt, sugar and monosodium glutamate (MSG).

Jiǎozi are traditionally boiled or steamed. When the dumplings are pan-fried they are known as guōtiē 锅贴 which in Mandarin literally means “stuck to the wok”.

Boiled jiǎozi, known as “shuǐjiǎo” 水饺 in Mandarin, is made by dropping the dumplings in boiling water and boiling them until they float and the skins turn somewhat transparent. The traditional method calls for boiling the jiaozi three times, each time after adding a certain quantity of cold water.
Steamed jiǎozi, known as “zhēng jiǎo” 蒸饺 is made by steaming the dumplings in circular bamboo steamers stacked over a wok of boiling hot water.

Jiaozi wrapper:

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups wheat flour
  • Boiling water as required to form a dough

Method:

Sift flour.

Bring water to a boil.

Slowly add a portion of the boiling water to the sifted flour.

Mix with chopsticks until the dough forms a crumbly texture. If the dough is too dry add more water.

When dough is cool enough to handle, take out and knead until it forms a soft, pliable and elastic texture. The dough should not be sticky. Add flour or water as required.

Wrap the dough with a damp cloth and set aside to rest for about 1 hour.

After an hour, divide the dough into quarters. Roll each quarter into a rope about 1 inch (about 2.5 centimeters) in diameter.

Cut the rope into 5/8 inch (about 1.5 centimeters) pieces.

Flatten each piece with your palms and roll into rounds with a rolling pin. Each round should be 3 – 3 1/2 (about 7.5 cm – 8.5 cm) inches in diameter and 1/16 – 1/8inches (about 0.1cm – 0.3 cm) thick.

Keep the skins covered to ensure they stay moist and don’t dry out. Ideally, assemble the jiaozi immediately after rolling out the wrapper.

Version 1 (Vegetarian filling)
Ingredients:

  • 1 cup Chinese black mushrooms- soaked in warm water, washed and chopped to cubes
  • 3/4 cup carrot – sliced thinly
  • 1lb (about 500 grams) medium sized Chinese cabbage
  • 1 inch sized ginger – minced
  • 4 green onions (white and green portions) – minced
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • Salt as desired
  • 1-2 tbsp peanut oil

Method:

Separate cabbage leaves and blanch in boiling water. Set aside to cool.

Once cooled, slice the cabbage thinly.

Heat a wok over medium high heat.

Add peanut oil and then add ginger.

Fry till fragrant.

Add chopped mushrooms and fry until mushrooms are tender.

Add cabbage and carrots. Fry till tender. Mixture should be mushy.

Set aside to cool.

Once cooled, add sesame oil, soy sauce, Shao Xing wine, salt and chopped green onions.

Filling is ready for jiaozi assembly.

Version 2 (Pork and cabbage filling)
Ingredients:

  • 1 lb (about 500 grams) pork with fat – minced
  • 1 lb (about 500 grams) medium sized Chinese cabbage
  • 2-3 green onions (white and green portions) – minced
  • 1 inch piece ginger – minced
  • 1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp sesame oil
  • Salt as desired
  • 1/4 – 3/4 cup pork stock

Method:

Separate cabbage leaves and blanch in boiling water. Set aside to cool.

Once cooled, chop the cabbage to 1/4 – 1/2 inch pieces.

Combine chopped cabbage with all other ingredients, except the pork stock.

Add the pork stock a little at a time, mixing continuously in clockwise direction, until the mixture turns wet and sticky. You may not require all the pork stock, so don’t add all at once.

Filling is ready for jiaozi assembly.

Assembling the jiaozi:

Take a jiaozi wrapper and set it on the working table.

Moisten the edge of the wrapper with water (this may not be necessary if the wrapper is freshly rolled out or has not been set aside for too long).

Place one tablespoon of filling into the wrapper.

Fold the wrapper, bringing the edges close together but ensure they don’t stick.

Starting from the right side, pinch one edge into pleats, pasting the pleat onto the other edge, thereby forming a crescent shaped jiaozi that is pleated on one side.

Cooking the jiaozi:

Boiled jiaozi:

Pour water to a large wok.

Bring the water to a boil over high heat.

Add as many jiaozi that would cover the base of the wok but don’t overcrowd it. Stir gently to ensure none of the jiaozi stick to the base of the wok.

When water comes to a boil, add about 1 cup of cold water. Cover and bring water to a boil. Repeat this process two times.

When the water boils for the third time, the dumplings are ready.

Steamed jiaozi:

Arrange dumplings in a bamboo steamer basket.

Pour 3 cups of water into a large wok.

Bring water to boil over high heat.

When water boils, place the bamboo steamer basket into the wok.

Steam for about 6-10 minutes.

Roasted Barley Tea (Damaicha 大麦茶 / Boricha 보리차 / Mugicha 麦茶)

Roasted barley tea is a refreshing beverage enjoyed in China, Korea and Japan. In China it is known as “damaicha” 大麦茶, in Korea “boricha” 보리차 and in Japan “mugicha” 麦茶. In all three languages, the word “cha” means “tea”.

Made from roasted un-hulled barley grains, the drink has slightly bitter undertones and thus may be an acquired taste, more so considering the drink is usually consumed unsweetened. Roasted barley tea is appreciated in these countries for its cooling properties with some claiming the drink to be more refreshing than water. In Japan, it is often drunk chilled as a summer drink. Its historic popularity as a summer drink may stem from the fact that barley grains are harvested in the summer season, the freshness of which makes a more flavorful beverage.

Mugicha may be one of Japan’s oldest beverages; according to Japanese history, roasted barley tea was consumed by the aristocrats of the Heian period (794-1185) during which time it was known as “mugiyu” 麦湯 .

Japanese believe barley tea helps to cleanse the body and the beverage is also consumed to promote digestion after a greasy meal. A very popular drink in Korea, barley tea is appreciated for its health benefits and is drunk on a daily basis by most (if not all) Koreans. Koreans consume the drink chilled during hot summers and warm during cold winters. The drink is not as popular in China but its popularity is increasing. Chinese generally drink barley tea hot.

While ready-made barley teas and tea bags are available, the traditional method of making the tea produces a better tasting tea. Ideally, roast the un-hulled barley just prior to making a barley tea since roasted un-hulled barley turns rancid quite quickly.

 

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup un-hulled barley
  • 6-8 cups spring water

 

Method:

In a dry cast-iron skillet over medium heat, toast the un-hulled barley, for about 10-15 minutes until the barley turns a deep, dark brown hue and is fragrant. Use a spatula to continuously stir the barley to ensure even browning.

Turn out the roasted grains to a paper towel and let cool.

In a saucepan, pour the water.

Over medium heat, bring the water to a rolling boil.

Once boiling, add in the roasted barley grains.

Turn heat down to low and simmer for about 10-20 minutes. The liquid will turn a rich brown hue; the longer the tea simmers the darker the color and the more robust the flavor.

Stop heat and let the barley steep a few minutes.

If drinking chilled, let the tea cool. Once cooled, strain the mixture into a pitcher and chill.

If drinking warm or hot, strain the barley tea and serve.

Sichuan Chili Oil 四川辣椒 油 (Sìchuān Làjiāo Yóu)

Sichuan Chili Oil 四川辣椒 油  (sìchuān làjiāo yóu) is a ruby-red colored, aromatic and flavorful chili oil widely used in Sichuan cuisine. This oil forms the base for a number of Sichuan specialties such as Kung Pao Chicken 宫保鸡丁 and Dandan noodles  担担面  and this key ingredient wields the power to make or break a dish.

The type of chilies used is extremely important to make a good quality chili oil. Sichuan grows a wide variety of chilies. The most common and relatively cheaper grade is generally known in China as “la jiao” 辣椒  which means “hot pepper” while outside China it is widely known as “tien tsin” chili. Other varieties grown in the region include the Facing Heaven Chili  朝 天 椒 , Seven Star Chili 七星 椒  and the Yidu Chili 益 都 辣 椒 . These home-grown chili varieties are the better choices to make Sichuan chili oil; any other types of chilies will not deliver the same result. The tien tsin chili, which is probably the hottest type of Chinese chili, is a better choice among the Chinese varieties due to its extra spiciness.

Traditionally, sun-dried chilies were used to make Sichuan chili oil. Sun-dried chilies retain their flavor considerably better than machine-dried chilies and hence contribute greatly to a better-tasting chili oil.

Sichuan peppercorns 花椒 (Huājiāo) are essential when making Sichuan chili oil. Sichuan peppercorn is not actually pepper but is a reddish-brown berry grown in China’s Sichuan Province. When consumed this spice creates the classic tingling and numbing feeling typical of many Sichuan dishes. Sichuan pepper combined with red chili produces the numbingly spicy flavor profile that Chinese call “mala” 麻辣  which means “numbing and spicy” (“ma” meaning “numbing” and “la” meaning “spicy”).

The ginger should be old/mature ginger root, not fresh/young ginger root; old ginger is more potent than fresh ginger and hence has a stronger effect in flavoring the oil. A Chinese saying sums it up – “old ginger is spicier than fresh ginger” 姜还是老的辣    (jiāng háishì lǎo de là). Take note that traditionally the old ginger root is sliced with the peel.

Chinese cassia is substantially different from cinnamon such as the ones from Sri Lanka. Cassia is hard almost like a piece of wood whereas cinnamon bark is fragile and easily flakes off.

Tsao kuo 草果 is a variety of black cardamom grown in China. Green cardamoms such as those from India, are not an appropriate substitute since Chinese tsao kuo have distinct smoky aromas whereas green cardamoms have sweet overtones.

The oil used in this recipe is rapeseed oil. Peanut oil could be used but other types of oils such as olive oil or coconut oil are not suitable since their strong flavors results in an inescapable difference in the final taste of the chili oil. Chinese rapeseed oil is vastly different from the rapeseed oil of the West which is essentially a flavor-neutral canola oil. China’s rapeseed oil has a strong smell and flavor which contributes significantly towards imparting the characteristic aroma and flavor to authentic Chinese food.

The method of preparation is also fundamentally crucial for best results. For instance as a first step, traditionally the dried red chilies are fried till crispy and slightly burnt; this sets the foundation for a distinctively flavorful and aromatic chili oil. However, in today’s fast-paced world, this critical step is often omitted, inevitably resulting in a chili oil that is sub-par in these two respects. Additionally, the temperature of the oil is critical; the oil should be sufficiently hot for maximum absorption of the flavors and aromas of the spices but not too hot that the spices burn resulting in an undesirable bitter taste.

The following recipe tries to illustrate as close as possible the authentic and traditional method of preparing Sichuan chili oil.

Ingredients:

  • 2 ½ cups of Chinese rapeseed oil
  • 120-170 grams dried Sichuan tien tsin chilies
  • 8-9 slices old ginger root
  • 8-9 Chinese onion – roots only, cut to segments, roots slightly bruised
  • 3 tbsp sesame seeds
  • 2 tbsp dried Sichuan peppercorns – slightly crushed
  • 2 tbsp rapeseed oil – for frying the dried chilies
  • 2-4 dried bay leaves
  • 2-3 star anise
  • ½ stick Chinese cassia
  • 1 tsao kuo
  • ¼ tbsp fennel seeds
  • 1 clove

Method:

Cut the dried red chilies to 1 cm slices.

Heat a wok slightly over low heat and pour about 2 tbsp of oil.

Add the dried red chilies and stir fry them, taking the wok off the heat every now and then to prevent it from getting too hot (if the heat is too high, the dried red chilies will burn). Continuously stir the chilies to ensure the chilies are evenly fried.

Fry the chilies till they are crispy and slightly burnt (but not burnt) at which point the color turns a rich dark red (not black) and the chilies have a slightly caramelized smell (this indicates the chilies are crispy).

Take out the chilies into a sieve and filter out some of the seeds.

Keep chilies aside to cool.

Once cooled, transfer the chilies into a pestle and mortar and grind the chilies to a powder. The powder should be neither too fine nor too course.  Oil made from overly fine chili powder ends up cloudy and will be too dark colored.

Separate the red chili powder into three portions.

Next, pour rapeseed oil into a wok.

Heat up the oil to 160 degrees Celsius.

Add the Chinese onion and old ginger slices.

Fry the Chinese onion and ginger slices until fairly browned and fragrant.

Remove the wok from the heat and add the rest of the spices (except the ground chili).

Fry these aromatics for a while to allow the oil to absorb the flavors.

Stop flame and allow oil to cool a bit and pour the oil through a metal strainer to remove the aromatics.

Turn on the heat and bring oil to about 120 degrees Celsius after which stop the heat.

Add the chili powder from one of the three portions. The powder will begin to crackle and splutter. The fried chilies should have a slightly burnt smell but it should not be burnt (black). This slightly burnt smell contributes greatly to bringing out the aroma of the chili oil.

When the oil cools to below 100 Celsius add the second portion of chili powder. Stir the oil (helps to bring out the aroma).

As the oil cools further, add the remaining portion of chili powder.

Set it aside overnight at room temperature. The oil will taste better, turn clearer and have a richer red hue the next day.

The oil could be used as is, or filtered to remove the solid particles.

This oil is best consumed within a week.