One of my favorite quarantine food discoveries is chile crisp, a spicy condiment from the southern Chinese province of Guizhou. The version I’ve been using is called Lao Gan Ma, and consists of soybean oil, chiles, fermented soybeans, and onion, as well as other spices and additives. The chile-infused oil lends the sauce a rich, citrusy heat, but the addition of fried chiles and onions also gives it a pleasing crunchy texture. Food & Wine magazine says that Lao Gan Ma is the best-selling hot sauce in China, and Chinese media reported that the label had over $700 million in sales in 2019.
Another brand that’s commonly available is Fly by Jing, which is “turbocharged with fermented black beans and fresh Sichuan peppercorns, mushroom powder, dried seaweed, ginger and who knows what else,” according to Sam Sifton of the New York Times. “You could spread that concoction on a mitten and be very happy with your meal,” Sifton says.
I’ve enjoyed chile crisp lately as a condiment for the Lunar New Year dumplings I made last week, both by itself and as a dipping sauce in combination with rice vinegar, soy sauce, and sesame oil. But, inspired by an article by Kenji Lopez-Alt, I’ve also found that it makes a surprisingly tasty ice cream topping. The chile heat offers a pleasing counterpoint to the creaminess of the dessert (I used gelato, but ice cream would work just as well), and the crunchy bits of chile and onion in the sauce provides some textural contrast, just like chopped peanuts or chocolate chips do on an ice cream sundae.
Lopez-Alt says that after testing the combination of ice cream and chile crisp in his restaurant kitchen, he removed the onion, and infused chile oil with garlic and ginger as well as Sichuan peppercorns, star anise, cumin, and fennel. I haven’t tried his recipe for a Sichuan chile crisp sundae, which he tops with peanut streusel, but Lopez-Alt says you can just as easily use Lao Gan Ma chile crisp and crushed peanuts. I don’t see any reason you couldn’t also add whipped cream and a cherry on top.
Have you tried chile crisp or any other condiments as a dessert topping? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!
What I Ate: Vanilla gelato with chile crisp topping