Once upon a time, I was AFRAID of chili.
Like many kids, I used to bite my nails. Unlike many kids, my parents were sadomasochistic. Instead of popping down to the nearest chemist and buying some “Stop ‘n’ Grow”, mine would dunk my fingertips in cayenne pepper or hot chili powder. A rather crude and abusive way of getting me to kick the bad habit I think, and solely responsible for my aversion to anything even mildly hot or spicy until my mid teens. Years later, I’ve forgiven my parents for their ‘tough-love’ – my nails look normal, and more importantly my tastes buds have developed and I now love anything with a bit of a fiery kick.
I can’t remember what turned me or at which moment I became a chili fan, but it’s something I can’t get enough these days. It’s not the pure heat I crave (although I have been known to challenge colleagues over Mad Dog 357), I prefer something with more depth, or flavour layers.
This addictive holy grail of condiments can be used on just about anything – it packs a lot of fire but also has an intense depth of flavour from the dried scallops, salted fried dace and black beans. It’s really a hybrid between XO Sauce and a more traditional Chili Oil, and suits western food as well as the more obvious asian dishes, from dim sum, noodles and rice to pork chops and even poached eggs (hangover breakfast!).
It’s surprisingly quick to make and lasts a long time. A typical XO sauce normally calls for dried shrimp, I didn’t have any so used 1/2 a tin of Salted Fried Dace with Black Beans (Dau Si Laing Yiu) – you can get hold of this in any chinese supermarket.
10 cloves garlic, finely chopped 1 inch ginger, finely chopped Small handful of dried scallops 1/2 tin Dau Si Laing Yiu – Fried Salted Dace with Black Beans Rapeseed oil – approx 150ml Steam the dried scallops in a bamboo steamer for 10 minutes then blitz in a food processor till you have fine shreds. Blitz the birds eye chilis till you have a coarse mix. Take 1/2 tin of Salted Fried Dace with Black Bean and finely chop. Add a couple of tablespoons of a neutral oil to a pan and set on a low heat. Add the garlic, ginger, scallops and salted dace with black beans and cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to stop it from catching. The mix will turn a deep brown colour. Take off the heat and stir in the dried chili. Transfer to a sterilised jar. Heat approx 150ml of neutral oil in a pan till its hot but not smoking. Then pour into the jar over the chili mix. Give it a thorough stir, then seal and allow to mingle for at least a few days before using. Add a teaspoon or two during cooking or drizzle generously at the end.