These days when I open my fridge, a stack of chile crisp jars greets me. I’ve been collecting them for months now; I currently have at least 10 different chile crisps and oils, ready to turn up the volume on anything I make. I don’t think I’m alone. From Sze Daddy sauce from 886, a Taiwanese restaurant in NYC, to the classic Lao Gan Ma, which started the chile oil boom in America, chile crisp — which, put simply, is a condiment with oil and chile flakes — is so hot right now.
There are two things to consider when trying a new chile crisp: the oil-to-crisp ratio and any flavoring ingredients. Most often, the name suggests whether it will be more like an oil or a crisp; the latter contains more chile flakes and other flavoring ingredients — like garlic crisp, fennel seeds, anchovies, or preserved black beans — that add more textures to the mix. Some options are so powerful that they should be used as a dominant flavor profile when cooking: Think of chile oil-drenched noodles with fresh cilantro and cucumber, which usually feature an oil with intense, spice-forward flavors. Other varieties are more like condiments, mostly used as a finishing touch that’s mild, not overpowering, creating a perfect balance with other ingredients.
I love using both the oil and crisp parts from chile oil as a flavor boost for toast, pizza, fried eggs, and fried chicken (my personal favorite). I often combine softened butter and chile crisp and slather it all over roast chicken, to fantastic results. I add a spoonful of chile oil to water to make a quick broth for soup. And I mix and match different chile crisps to add a complex finishing note to my noodles.
There’s so much you can do with this powerful condiment beyond drizzling it on dumplings. Here are the ones to know:
This crisp is by far the best known, a pantry staple for many households, and the one that opened my eyes to the world of chile crisp. There are other varieties under the iconic Lao Gan Ma brand, including fried chile in oil and chile oil with black bean, but the spicy chile crisp is god-tier. Flavorful without being assertive, it’s my choice when I’m cooking with chile crisp, and excels when tossed with noodles or added to a marinade. Eat with: A buttery biscuit and crispy fried chicken from Popeyes.
This chile crisp may not be spicy, but it adds a ton of crunchy texture: toasted dried onions, dried garlic, dried red bell peppers, and other crispy bits are bound with olive oil, resulting in a mild flavor. You can use it on anything without overpowering it; it’s a great topping for salad and toasts. Eat with: Congee, which is a perfect canvas for texture-forward toppings.
If there’s one jar of chile crisp that I’ve used more than any other, it’s this one. The spicy, delightfully numbing, savory condiment, which is crafted in Chengdu, China, has an ideal ratio of oil to chile flakes. It makes a great introduction to Sichuan cuisine, known for its numbing spice. Plus, the little bits of savory preserved black beans soaked in spicy oil will leave you wanting more. Eat with: Use a spoonful (or more) with your store-bought scallion pancakes and dumplings.
As the name suggests, the first thing you’ll notice after you open this Japanese crisp is an abundance of dried garlic chips. The spice level is fairly mild and extremely subtle, making it ideal for dishes that need more texture, such as risotto, rice, and ramen. Eat with: Salads and fried eggs.
Developed by David Chang’s Momofuku culinary team, this crunchy crisp is full of umami. What sets it apart from the rest is the use of shiitake mushroom powder, which contains naturally occurring MSG. It’s garlicky, oniony, deliciously spicy, and quite similar to a seasoning powder of Shin ramen. Eat with: Dairy products: Serve this with baked brie, and you will be hooked.
If you love a numbing peppercorn-forward taste, this Taipei-batched, Sichuan-style crisp is for you. It’s flavorful but not overpowering, yet strong enough that you can use it as a key cooking ingredient: The mala tingles you get from this crisp makes a particularly great mapo tofu. Eat with: Toast or dumplings.
This Mexican chile crisp, made with serrano peppers, has a different kick: a spoonful tastes like taking a bite of spicy, crunchy dried serrano pepper (which means it can be very spicy). Think of it as a dried chile salsa with a bit of oil. Eat with: Cheesy nachos; it works well as a replacement for jalapeno peppers.
Unlike any other chile oil I’ve tried, I couldn’t really distinguish what’s in this sauce — but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. All the ingredients, such as scallion, garlic, star anise, and more, are ground into fine textures, making it extra silky and spicy without hurting your taste buds. Chef Eric Sze from 886 in New York City proudly serves this flavorful chile sauce that’s used in almost everything at the restaurant, including its much-beloved beef noodle soup. And, as the chef suggests, it’s more than just a finishing touch, and can be used as a major component in flavor-packed dishes like mapo tofu, bacon ramen, and spicy dumplings. Eat with: Your next Popeyes order. Thank me later.
Black garlic, which has a surprisingly sweet, molasses-like texture, is blended with chile peppers, creating a one-of-a-kind chile oil that’s more savory than spicy (the presence of kombu and shiitake mushrooms adds to the effect). A spicier version of the oil exists for those who are seeking more heat, but this too is less mouth-tingling and more jalapeno-spicy. Eat with: Poached chicken breast, as a dipping sauce.
Chef Jae Lee adds a Korean twist to chile oil, which is typically made with Sichuan peppers. But by mixing peppers with Korean gochugaru, known for its subtle, fruity spice, this chile oil achieves balance without being overly spicy. There are lots of sesame seeds in it too, adding crunch. Eat with: Avocado toast, as at Lee’s NYC restaurant.
Created by chef Max Boonthanakit, this condiment is a product of his love for Chinese chile crisp and his Thai roots. What’s unique about this sauce is the usage of crispy anchovies, which soak up extra flavors from ingredients like shallots and fennel. Because of the anchovies, it’s better for cooking, so use it as a part of your noodle sauce or broth. Eat with: As the chef suggests, it pairs well with Shin ramen.
Developed by 2014 Eater Young Gun and Top Chef Season 12 winner Mei Lin, this chile oil is packed with spice and umami, as the name suggests. The first whiff reminds me of a combination of deeply savory oyster sauce and XO sauce, and as you stir up the jar, the beautiful seeds of dried peppers float within. Eat with: Chicken porridge, allowing the oil to seep into the bowl of comfort.
If you want to experience true mouth-tingling, burning, very spicy chile oil, this is for you; just a small amount can add some serious heat to your dish. Developed by chef Lucas Sin from Junzi Kitchen, this fiery condiment punches your taste buds in the best way. I used a heaping spoonful of it for some noodles recently, and I was a sweaty mess. Eat with: Compared to other varieties, this is a more oil-heavy condiment, so use it to make dishes like dan dan noodles.
Created by Christine Yi, known as @cy_eats on Instagram, this mala chile oil has cultivated a following. With more oil than mala pepper flakes, it’s smoky, savory, mouth-tinglingly spicy, and great for cooking vegetables and proteins, especially steak. Eat with: Dumplings, as Christine does.