The Age of Chili Crisp Is Upon Us
The condiment is getting a high-end heirloom version, and I'm here for it
If we've spoken in the last six months I have probably told you about Chile Crunch. I've become a condiment evangelist for Chili Crisp, Chile Crunch, and various other combinations of chiles and fried bits of shallots, garlic, and other spices. That's because it is the world's most perfect condiment. Almost anything can be improved by a healthy dose of it—pasta, pizza, soup, oatmeal, eggs, asparagus, and even just a solitary fried egg you're cooking up because it's the last scrap of food in the fridge that isn't a chile-related condiment. I even made my own version, with the guidance of Serious Eats' Sohla El-Waylly.
The difference between Chili Crisp and Chile Crunch is one of flavor and origin. Chile Crunch is made in Denver and has a much milder profile. It's not that spicy, and it doesn't include much in the way of spices to get in the way of the garlic-y, onion-y chile goodness. The creator of the condiment based it on the housemade salsas she grew up with in Mexico City.
On the other hand, when I think of Chili Crisp, I think of Lao Gan Ma, the maker of many fine chile condiments. Lao Gan Ma Chili Crisp has all the chile-garlic-shallot goodness of Chile Crunch kicked up considerably by the addition of Sichuan peppercorns, star anise, ginger, soy nuts for crunch, MSG for that deep umami flavor, and various other delectable spicings. It is, again, so dang good.
I am a relative newcomer to the wonders of chile crisp, so forgive me if you have long ago discovered its wonders. Once you've had it and someone brings it up, it can feel like they're recommending ketchup on your hamburger, or, say, shoes that are not a size too small for long walks. Well, no kidding. Duh.
And now there's even a high-end version of chili crisp coming later this year thanks to Jenny Gao, a Chengdu-based chef who sells Chinese spice mixtures and condiments under the name Fly by Jing. Gao launched a Kickstarter today to bring Fly by Jing chile crisp outside of China and into my arms.
Over at Saveur, Max Falkowitz got a taste of Fly by Jing's Chili Crisp, and he approves: "The sauce tastes remarkably homemade for something that isn’t, a testament to the subtle nuances of Sichuan cuisine, which all too frequently gets reduced to a caricature of bludgeoning heat." At Grub Street, Chris Crowley considers the flavor "calibrated but strong, and you’ll consider whether you should just use the whole jar as a sauce. But it has a robustness that’s a little floral, very aromatic, and laden with savoriness." Sign me up.