My friends Laura and Rob were leaving Beijing, our last party was at a Chongqing xiao’mian noodle place. Rob loves Chongqing noodles. When I asked him what’s he and Laura’s plan after returning the States, he said, “Open a Chongqing noodle restaurant.” That’s dedication, and I understand why.
Chongqing noodle is addictive——I warn you——insanely addictive. The roaring spice will make your sweat and red like you just got an instant fever; it burns your tongue, hurts every part of your body, and yet you just cannot stop reaching out for another bite.
Some have attempted to decode this goodness. The NYTimes says it could be the illegal usage of poppy capsules as part of the seasoning, NPR thinks it’s the Sichuan peppercorn that’s controlling your nerve system, and Serious Eats argues it’s more than just the above.
Whether or not, there are two essential components to any Chongqing noodle: Sichuan peppercorn and chili oil. You can buy the peppercorn at an Asian grocery store, but the chili oil—you gotta make it yourself.
Sichuan Chili Oil:
Dried Chili Pepper Flakes: 1 cup
Vegetable Oil (any non-flavorful oil would work): 2 cups
White Sesame Seeds: 1/3 cup
1. In a pan, bring the oil to smoking hot.
2. Place the chili pepper flakes in a heat-resistant bowl (like a ceramic bowl).
3. Pour the smoking hot oil into the bowl. You’ll see the chili flakes start boiling immediately, step away for a second just in case the splatter might hurt you.
4. Once the boiling has dialed down a bit, pour in the sesame seeds.
This step is crucial: you can’t add sesame seeds in advance, the heat of the oil would be too hot to burn the sesame seeds; you can’t add it later either, because the fragrance of the seeds will only release at a certain temperature.
5. Now let cool. You just made Sichuan Chili Oil.
P.S. The above is just the basics. Sichuan people often infuse the oil with other spices like Sichuan peppercorns, cardamoms, bay leaves, etc, to make their own version. Almost every restaurant in Sichuan has their secret chili oil recipe, and you should have your own too!