You know how, every so often, something comes into your life and you think: "truly, honestly, how did I ever live without this thing before?" One of those things just may be spiced Chinese-style chile oil. It certainly is for me (...written as I notice a smear of it on the side of my hand, left from sticking my finger in the jar this morning). This chile oil doesn't pack a wallop of heat. Rather, it's a pool of savory, aromatic je ne sais quoi (how do you say that in Chinese?) to be spooned and drizzled over everything (except those things that you don't want to drizzle with savory je ne sais quoi).
The obsession/devotion/eternal love was sparked in advance of a dumpling party I threw last fall, during which it was stirred with lobster, Chinese chives and cilantro for shumai, and with black vinegar as a dipping sauce (Bon Appetit's Sichuan chili oil served as general inspiration). Right out of the pot, it gets the job done. After three days in the fridge, it's even more enticing. After a week and a half: wow.
Use it to sauté hearty greens, to fry eggs, to sauté zucchini ribbons or roasted spaghetti squash, or actual spaghetti, made aglio e (chile) olio style. Drizzle it over soft-scrambled eggs, roasted carrots or cabbage, labneh or lentils. Stir it with white miso, rice vinegar, orange juice and grated ginger for a knockout vinaigrette, or with minced cilantro and lime as a topping for roasted fish.
Spiced Chile Oil
Makes a 16-ounce jar of chile oil
4 large (or 6 small) unpeeled garlic cloves
12 ounces grapeseed or canola oil (I use Spectrum organic grapeseed)
A 2-inch knob of ginger, sliced into coins
1 tablespoon star anise
1 tablespoon pink or black peppercorns (or a mix)
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
2-3 small bay leaves
½ cup chile flakes (any basic crushed red pepper will do)
Give the garlic cloves a gentle smash with the side of a knife to crack them a bit. You want some of that garlic juice to be able to seep out, but the skins to stay semi-intact so that the garlic doesn't burn. In a small pot, combine the oil, garlic, ginger, anise, peppercorns, fennel seeds, coriander and bay. Crank the heat to medium, bring to a simmer, and let it gently bubble away for 30-45 minutes (if you have the time, give it a full 45). Check the oil every so often: you want to see the garlic and ginger begin to look toasty, but not burnt. If it gets too brown, turn it down.
After 30-45 mins, turn off the heat, cover the pot, and let it steep for at least an hour. Invite someone over for tea / so they can say: "whoa, what smells so good?" Post-steep, turn the heat to medium-high and bring the oil to a boil. Put the chile flakes in the bottom of a 16-ounce jar. When the oil is piping hot, pour it through a strainer and over the chile flakes; they should fizz and swirl. Place the top on the jar, put it in the fridge, and give it at least three days before you break out your drizzling spoon.
*Note: Adding a good pinch of salt to the chile flakes helps pump up the flavor, but I usually leave it out (and just season as I use it)
And hey, while we're at it...
Makes approximately 24 dumplings
2 1½-pound lobsters
¼ cup minced Chinese chives
¼ cup minced scallions (white and light green parts only)
½ cup cilantro leaves, minced
1½ tablespoons spiced Chinese-style chile oil (see above!)
1½ tablespoons high-quality soy sauce
30 round dumpling wrappers (preferably Shanghai-style, for steamed dumplings)
Make the filling: Place lobsters in the freezer for an hour to slow them down, or kill them with a swift knife to the head. Bring a large pot of water to a simmer then remove from the heat. Remove the claws and tails from the lobsters and place in the pot of hot water. Let the tail poach for 2 minutes then remove; let the claws poach for 3-4 minutes.
Using lobster crackers, kitchen shears, fingers, etc., remove the meat from the claws and the tails. Chop the meat into small pieces and place in a mixing bowl. Add the chives, scallions, cilantro, chile oil and soy sauce, and stir well to combine.
Make the dumplings: Place a heaping teaspoon of filling in the center of a dumpling wrapper. Dip your finger in water and run it around the perimeter of the wrapper (to help the wrapper adhere to itself). Making a series of pleats, fold the wrapper up and around the filling, leaving a small opening at the top (or try what this guy does).
Line a bamboo steamer with parchment paper, brush the paper with a thin layer of oil, and set the dumplings on top. In a wide pan over medium-high heat, bring an inch of water to a boil, and then place the steamer in the pan. Cook until the dumpling skins are glossy and cooked through, about 7 minutes.
Serve with more soy sauce and chile oil for drizzling (though the dumplings are so flavorful and juicy, they may not be needed!).
My most favorite way to take advantage of Pacific Northwest salmon season? See above: A full red-orange fillet showered with shallots, herbs and citrus zests, drizzled with olive oil and citrus juices, and roasted as low and as slow as you can bear.
The sweetness of the shallots and the orange and the aromatic herbs, which wilt but keep their flavor, are beautiful with the rich, mild fish. But it's the low-temperature cooking that's the star here. Cooking the fish in a gentle oven allows the fat to render slowly, which yields a staggeringly moist, tender result.
I'm partial to wild salmon cooked to medium/medium-well, which means it should be pulled from the oven soon after it begins to sweat its opaque white fat (pic above = raw; pic below = cooked).
**If you're lucky enough to get a sack of roe with your salmon, this is the technique I've used to salt-cure the eggs
Slow-Cooked Salmon with Citrus and Herbs
Makes 2 servings
1 large shallot, shaved on a mandoline or sliced as thinly as possible
Zest of 1 orange, plus a good squeeze of the juice
Zest of 1 lemon, plus a good squeeze of the juice
½ cup chopped basil, tarragon, oregano and/or dill
1 teaspoon honey (if your honey is thick, warm it in the oven or the microwave for a few seconds to liquefy it)
Salt & black pepper
Wild Pacific salmon fillet (King, if you can find it), enough for two people
Preheat the oven to 200 (or 220, if that’s as low as your oven goes). In a bowl, combine the olive oil, shallot, citrus zests and juices, herbs, honey, salt and pepper, and stir well. Place the salmon on a high-walled olive-oil-brushed baking sheet, skin-side down, and pour the dressing on top. Season with another sprinkle of salt and pepper. Place in the oven, on the middle rack, and roast for 30-45 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. It’s done when the filet has begun to ooze its opaque white fat, and the densest part of the fish pulls apart easily with a fork (When in doubt, don't overcook! If it's fantastic, fresh wild salmon, it's best cooked medium- to medium-well.). Serve with plenty of the topping ands spoonfuls of the pan juices.
*I could eat this three times a week during peak wild salmon season... but variety is the spice, I suppose, so last night's topping was sautéed ginger, onion and garlic, drizzled with plenty of olive oil and soy sauce, with dried red chiles and star anise tucked into the pan (and it was damn good).
What to do with the leftovers? How about...
Makes 4 appetizer-sized servings, or serves two for dinner with a big ol' salad on the side
Zest and juice of half a lemon (or more)
3 tablespoons minced dill (and/or tarragon and/or parsley)
1 large shallot, minced
1 teaspoon whole-grain mustard
½ cup Greek yogurt, or a combination of Greek yogurt and sour cream
Salt & pepper
1 cup flaked cooked salmon
In a large bowl, combine everything but the salmon and season to taste. Stir in the salmon and mix well to combine. Season again with salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon, if needed. And a drizzle of fruity olive oil would only improve the situation. Serve with crusty bread, toasted, and (ideally) rubbed with garlic cloves, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt.
The oh-man-so-versatile I-want-to-put-you-in-everything you-make-everything-better ingredient of this summer = pimentón, Spanish smoked paprika made from peppers smoke-dried with oakwood. It's at once savory, nutty, smoky and a touch sweet (and fiery, if you go for pimentón picante, instead of dulce).
Get yourself a jar. And then stir the crimson powder into vinaigrettes made with ground coriander, honey, olive oil and citrus (orange, lemon, lime or all three), or with cumin, garlic, olive oil and sherry vinegar. Or blend it with olive oil and honey and spoon it over a plate of prosciutto and melon (above!), or with lemon, ground coriander, fresh cilantro and olive oil to finish a dish of seared squid with cannellini* beans, served in their fennel seed- and cumin seed-packed cooking broth (below!).
Most recently it added a smoky je ne sais qoui (er, algo especial) to the orange-cumin-olive oil dressing of a quick summer salad of raw corn, slivered snacking peppers, shaved sweet onions, goat-milk feta and mint.
*Speaking of beans, these bad boys from The Beanery in Maine are EXCELLENT. The cannellinis aren't online, but if you give Brooklyn Larder a call and ask real nice, they might send 'em to you if they're in stock...