It Began with Hot Sauce and Continued From There.
You know how it is when you set out to make one thing and it turns into something else? Well, in this case I actually ended up with what I started out to make, but had a bonus which ended up being the main character.
This adventure began with the idea of making my own fermented hot sauce. It’s not a big deal. A bunch of Fresno chilies, garlic, and a little muscovado sugar are ground up and then put aside in a jar until little bubbles appear in the bottom of the jar. Then, it’s left to sit for 2 more days before proceeding. But my son and I put our heads together and decided to make something different, rather than making a typical hot sauce. We wanted it to also have flavors of which we’re particularly fond.
I added a stalk of lemongrass, several makrut lime leaves, and unsweetened shredded coconut to the ground chili mixture and put it aside for 5 days while it fermented. At that point, vinegar and water were added, the lime leaves were removed, and everything else was pulverized again in my Vitamix. The solids were then strained out of the liquid and the remaining sauce was cooked down until it reached our desired consistency and was tweaked for flavor.
But all those solids that were strained out? I tasted them and decided there was no way I was going to throw them away. I spread them out on a parchment lined half sheet pan and dried them out in a 200 degree oven. It took 3 1/2 hours to get them completely dry and more or less crisp. As you can see in this photo, I had a lot of very tasty solids left over. Besides the chilies, there was ground up coconut, lemongrass and seasonings in the mix. I could have ground them up and been left with a great chili flake, but since I’d gone this far I opted to make chili crisp in oil.
My son and I had a ball tweaking the flavors of this concoction. We toasted some tiny dried shrimp in a dry wok, infused a quart of neutral vegetable oil with about 20 lime leaves, removed them, heated the oil to 375 degrees and poured it over the dried chili solids. Having make chili crisp in the past I knew what to expect. As the hot oil hits the dried chilies, it bubbles, splatters, and instantly cooks and crisps them.
After stirring it all up and letting it sit for a few minutes, I added toasted sesame seeds, nigella seeds, the toasted dried shrimp, salt, black pepper, fish sauce, palm sugar, crispy shallots and MSG. You can eliminate the MSG if you have objections, but it most definitely enhanced the overall flavor.
We’ve declared this the best chili crisp we’ve ever tasted. It is truly exceptional. And the good thing about it is you can add or subtract ingredients to suit your own taste. As for us, we wouldn’t change a thing.