Sometimes I just need a hug.
A hot, garlicky squeeze – instant compression; cold sweat behind the ears.
Sambal, sriracha – to me, they’re all single-note compositions, and while I often appreciate the sharp minimalism of store bought chili pastes, my son doesn’t…and why should he, at his age? For one, it probably hurts! And there’ll be ample time for repetition and deep readings later in life, when he’ll be free to strike up his own contemplative paths and make his own sriracha if he’s so inclined.
As the adventurous, culinarily-inclined parents to two-year old Cyrus, we want to avail him to different flavors and degrees of spice. Hence this recipe for a versatile pepper condiment, a built-in flavor rheostat with a spice profile that builds in complexity more so than pain. Use what you will to achieve the flavor mix you desire. Cy prefers a Level 3 (of 7, arbitrarily enough.)
Plus, I have an overriding urge to eventually fumble my way through a full-blown Sichuan spice repertoire, much to Kel’s discontent (and dyspepsia.)
Slowly, surely I’ll get there. But this first.
La jiao jiang (辣椒酱) is a handy paste around the kitchen – use it to rev up broths, stir fry, or as a cold condiment for steamed fish or tofu (you’ll see what I mean by the end of this post.) My recipe inspirations come from Teeny Tiny Kitchen and NYT Cooking, the former for preparation and general guidance, and the latter for application in context. There are plenty of la jiao jiang recipes floating around out there, though – take Friedsig’s, for example, or the exceptionally appealing preparation featured at The Mala Project. Find the description, ingredients, and visual accompaniment you prefer, and have fun!
La jiao jiang (辣椒酱) – Hot Chili Paste
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 10-20 minutes, don’t overdo it!
- 3 medium-to-large sized jalapeño or anaheim peppers, minced finely (substitute away, heatmongers!)
- 1 head of garlic, minced finely
- 1/4 shallot, minced finely
- 1 liberal tablespoon of vegetable oil
- 1/2 teaspoon lump brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon rice vinegar (or mix with black vinegar, if available)
- 1 splash soy sauce
- 1 splash sesame oil (to finish)
- 1 teaspoon sea salt (to taste)
- 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon finely grated lime rind (optional)
- 1/2 teaspoon finely ground Sichuan peppercorns, (optional; use if you favor the funkiness of ma la spicy)
Once you’ve chopped everything (pepper seeds and all), heat oil and a smidgen of salt in a frying pan over high heat. Add the peppers (and peppercorns,) stirring occasionally. Once the mixture has started releasing its aroma, bring the heat down. Slowly introduce the vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, and lime, cover and let simmer for 10-20 minutes.
As the compound cools and settles, have an airtight jar ready for storage and refrigeration.
La jiao jiang will keep well for a few weeks, and the discrete flavors of pepper, peppercorn, and oil should bond nicely during storage. Break out the paste to enhance fried rice and fish (above left) and steamed tofu (above right). I am a sucker for freshly sliced garlic and cilantro on everything; a dash of rice vinegar and a snap of sesame oil should rouse any kick still latent in the paste.
When you’re ready to test the versatility of la jiao jiang at family dinner time, give me a holler.
I tried my hand at the New York Times’ simple spicy asparagus recipe. And to think I once roundly disliked asparagus? Heh.
Prep by grating some orange zest, then de-bottom and halve a pound and a half of pencil-sized asparagus along the length of the stalk; toss your (ma?) la jiao jiang into a wok or frying pan and let everything sizzle together on high for a moment.
Disperse the orange zest by hand, and remove the production from flame as the asparagus cooks to bright green, firm doneness.
To present, just mound the asparagus with chili paste on a platter and garnish with fresh cilantro, chopped green onion, toasted sesame seeds, and a skosh of sesame oil. Don’t add too much, lest you make dank the mild spring and crackle of the asparagus.
Serve with white rice, if you so desire.
See what I mean? Just look at that smile! Sure beats a squirt of rooster sauce.