I have a new favorite condiment, Lao Gan Ma Spicy Chili Crisp.
Call it “chile oil plus” with the plus being the super umami bump the oil gets from onion and fermented soybeans.
It also has monosodium glutamate, which might deter some people, but once you taste it, you may not care what’s in it. You’ll just want more.
This latest Chinese condiment is trending, and it’s easy to see why. It’s hard to find a food that doesn’t taste better with it.
The appeal belongs not only to the chile-onion super-savory flavor but also to the crunchy, crisp texture of the dried onions.
There’s a similar product called Sichuan Chili Crisp made by Fly By Jing. Celebrity chef David Chang created a version called Chili Crunch. Trader Joe’s even has a Westernized twist called Chili Onion Crunch made with olive oil and without MSG or fermented soybeans. The latter, as you might imagine, tastes very different and lacks the umami punch of the original, but it’s still tasty.
The Chinese have been enjoying Lao Gan Ma Spicy Chili Crisp for about 25 years. The story goes that widow Huabi Tao had a small noodle shop when she came up with this sauce to toss with her noodles. Tao started making Lao Gan Ma – which translates as “Godmother” – in 1984 and established it as a company in 1997. A Wall Street Journal article said that the condiment is such a success that it made Tao a billionaire.
It hasn’t quite made it onto shelves of the major U.S. supermarkets, but it may be headed there soon.
You can now find Lao Gan Ma brand at any decent Asian food store – including Asia Grocery on Peters Creek Parkway – as well as on Amazon.com.
As far as how to use it, let your imagination be your guide. Its versatility is part of its popularity. Clearly, tossing it with noodles is a winner. For me, it’s enough to eat it with plain noodles, but you certainly could add some vegetables and protein to make a complete meal.
For another simple application, rub some on your toast or biscuit in the morning. It’s not really all that spicy, but it will wake up your taste buds.
Speaking of vegetables, sautéed or roasted vegetables are a great use of Spicy Chili Crisp – probably the way I use it the most.
But I’ve also rubbed it over fish before broiling and stirred some into teriyaki stir-fry sauce. It seems especially well-suited to seafood.
The more I use it, the more I see it as best used in combination with other things. Soups, dips and marinades are all fair game. Grillers, take note: This could be the secret weapon in your killer barbecue sauce.
It’s that kind of condiment that’s happy being a supporting player – it really does make everything else just taste better.