As a little old lady declares in a memorable advertisement for a well-known hot sauce that was released more than a decade ago, “I put that sh*t on everything.” When it comes to chili crisp, the spicy condiment that’s been sweeping the nation, food writer James Park has similar sentiments.
The author of Chili Crisp: 50+ Recipes to Satisfy Your Spicy, Crunchy, Garlicky Cravings, Park has not had a lifelong love affair with the topic of his book. The traditional Chinese condiment was not on the tables he dined at while growing up in Texas and Alabama. A native of Korea, Park didn’t discover chili crisp until he came to New York City. For Park, discovering the condiment was a life-altering moment.
“I fell in love,” Park tells InsideHook. “I discovered the beauty and the power of chili crisp by walking around in Chinatown. That really helped me unlearn all the things that I put on myself by growing up in the South and really gave me this empowerment to explore my own identity and kind of figure out my own spicy flavors and celebrate that. Chili crisp and I became inseparable in many different ways.”
Now, chili crisp is Park’s companion for breakfast, lunch, dinner and even dessert and brings far more than spice to the table. “A lot of people think it’s just spicy and has one type of note and flavor,” he says. “It’s so versatile, and you’re going to get a different flavor experience depending on which chili crisp you’re using. When you taste Fly By Jing, which is one of the most popular brands out there, it’s a really different experience than when you taste Lao Gan Ma, the OG chili crisp. When you incorporate chili crisp into different stages of cooking, you really unlock the full potential of what it can do. Just a dollop can really change the whole flavor of a dish and make something that’s fine into something incredible.”
Park, who took about two years developing the book’s recipes in his home kitchen, examines two elements when he’s analyzing different versions of chili crisp. “I look at the oil-to-crisp ratio in the jar and read the label to see what the flavoring add-ons are,” he says. “That gives you an idea of what kind of experience you’re going to get. For example, Lao Gan Ma is very, very heavy on the crunch — you can hear the crispiness of those chili pepper flakes. Fly By Jing is quite oily, but it has a lot of different elements like fermented black beans and Sichuan pepper flakes that add flavor. One of my favorite store-bought chili crisps was developed by Filipino chefs and is called KariKari. It’s very heavy on garlic and all the other salty, sweet and spicy elements create a wonderful balance.”
A quarter-cup of KariKari sometimes finds its way into Park’s preferred hangover cure: a spicy tomato and egg soup that’s somewhat reminiscent of eggs in purgatory, which he believes offers the same level of comfort as sipping a hot cup of coffee.
“Eggs and chili crisp go hand-in-hand perfectly, and I often make a tomato-and-egg stir fry that’s super homey,” Park says. “I wanted to make that into a comforting soup with scallions and a little bit of broth. When the chili crisp is incorporated into the soup, it brings out different and deeper flavors of the eggs and tomatoes. I eat it with rice or noodles, and it’s a perfect comfort food to get cozy, especially as the weather gets colder now. That little bit of spice really wakes you up, and the soup makes a big difference in your energy throughout the day, especially if you have a hangover. It works like magic for me every single time.”
The next time you tie one on, grab some chili crisp and put Park’s morning-after remedy to the test.
Spicy Tomato and Egg Soup
- 1 Tbsp. neutral oil, such as vegetable or canola
- 4 green onions, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, minced (about 1 Tbsp.)
- 3 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped into 2 to 3-inch chunks
- 1 tsp. kosher salt, plus more as needed
- ¼ cup chili crisp
- ½ medium yellow onion, sliced
- 2 cups chicken broth or water
- 1 Tbsp. light soy sauce
- 2 tsp. rice wine vinegar
- 1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
- 2 tsp. cornstarch
- 3 large eggs
- Warm rice or cooked noodles, for serving
In a large pot over medium-high heat, heat the neutral oil. Set aside 1 Tbsp. of the green parts of the chopped green onions, and add the rest of the green onions and the minced garlic to the pot. Sauté for 30 to 60 seconds or until fragrant. Add the tomato chunks and salt and cook for 2 to 4 minutes, until the tomatoes are softened. Add the chili crisp and sliced onion to the pot. Cook for 1 minute while stirring.
Add the broth or water and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low, season the soup with soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and sesame oil, and let simmer for 5 to 10 minutes.
While the soup is simmering, prepare a slurry by mixing the cornstarch with 1 Tbsp. of water in a small bowl. Set aside.
Crack the eggs into a bowl and beat them until the whites and yolks are fully mixed, preferably using chopsticks.
Bring the heat to medium-high, then slowly pour the beaten eggs in a circular motion into the simmering broth. Don’t touch the eggs for 2 minutes, or until the curdled eggs come up to the surface. Then gently break the eggs apart with a spoon.
Stir in the prepared cornstarch slurry, and let it simmer for a few minutes more or until the broth gets slightly shiny and thicker. Season with more salt, if necessary.
Serve immediately with the reserved chopped green onions for garnish. Serve with a side of warm rice or cooked noodles for noodle soup. The leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to four days.
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