Seriously. Everything.
Chili Ice Cream
Credit: Courtesy Fly by Jing

As someone with a very low tolerance for intense spicy heat, I often stay away from things that promise to bring the burn. But an experience in New Orleans with some Korean-style chicken wings was a wake-up call for me. While the vinegar punch of hot sauce is more than I can take, and the eye-watering sear of many fresh chilies will send me from the room, when heat is balanced with sweet, not only does my tolerance increase, so do my cravings. I don't know if sweet fools my tongue into accepting the spice, but when I pair chilies with any form of sugar, suddenly I have time for the pain. 

Chili crisp
Credit: Courtesy Fly by Jing

The delicious appeal of chili crisp

The first time I encountered the now ubiquitous chili crisp condiment that is so popular (if you haven't checked out the life-changing Fly by Jing Sichuan Chili Crisp, now's your moment), I thought I would never be able to stand the punch. But I loved the flavor combination and textural element so much, I started to experiment to see how I might embrace it. And the first eureka moment came when I saw someone recommend putting it on vanilla ice cream. Genius! Cooling dairy and sweetness to balance, and you have a dessert that surprises and delights. And that is when it occurred to me that once again, sweet with heat is something I can get behind.

Next level: making my own sweet chili crisp sauce

So, I started mixing my chili crisp with sweet. From maple syrup to honey, palm sugar syrup to sorghum, adding a sticky sugar element to the chunky oil makes for a condiment that for once, I really can put on almost anything. Yes, of course, still ice cream, but also drizzled over bitter greens or dolloped into rice. Tossed with pasta and scallions for a fast chilled noodle dish or crusted on steak. It makes a killer alternative to Buffalo wing sauce and takes ribs to a whole new place. I have served it with cocktail meatballs and weenies alike for appetizers and swapped it in for jam in a PB&J with terrific success. I add it to salad dressings and stir-fry sauces. Pretty sure it would make a flip-flop delicious.

How to make sweet chili crisp sauce

My ratio is a straight 1:1 liquid sugar to chili crisp, but I am still a lightweight when it comes to heat. Experiment to see what balance works for you. Every brand of chili crisp is a bit different, so this is really a matter of finding the one you like and then slowly adding the sugar of your choosing until you get your preferred blend.

It is essential to use a liquid form of sugar; granulated products won't dissolve. Agave brings sweet with no other flavor if you want something a bit purer, but the intensity of the ingredients can stand up to robust syrups, so don't be shy about breaking out the molasses. Once blended, store in an airtight jar in the fridge nearly indefinitely. I am sure it can go bad eventually, but I promise it won't last long enough to find out when that happens. Even if you are heat-shy, give it a shot. You might find it is the perfect spicy training wheels.