We had just gotten off the bus from a day trip to Monte Albán - a spread of pre-Columbian ruins 20 minutes outside Oaxaca - when we passed a building with its garage-like doors rolled up. Inside, there were buckets, bags, tubs, and trays all filled with colorful chilies and beans; we couldn't resist stepping inside. One of the workers was more than happy to navigate us through the different chili varieties, explaining their individual roles in Oaxacan cuisine. We followed along as best as we could, using our broken Spanish to ask questions such as "es picante?" and "para la salsa?" In my head I was trying to recall what types of chilies I'd seen the women at the markets adding to their moles and hot sauces. We ended up leaving with three large(ish) bags of vibrant chilies: smokey mora, spicy arbol hidalgo descolado, and pungent arbol indu. I felt slightly ridiculous walking down the crowded street with my arms full of chilies, wondering what in the world we would do with them all.
Later, as we unpacked our bags back home, the musky, earthy scent of smoked chilies wafted through our house and permeated our cupboard where we eventually stashed them. Some were given away as gifts and some were made into this cayenne-colored infused oil. So far we've used the oil to spicen up Asian stirfrys, add heat to black bean quesadillas, and as a quick condiment for hard boiled eggs. We still have 2 1/2 bags of chilies left, so we'll definitely be making more.
You can find the entire account of our trip on Noah's website.
// Infused Chili Oil // Makes 500 mL
While tend to stay in the safe zone of mild-medium when ordering Thai or Mexican, I do enjoy some heat. This chili oil is great for cooking or using as a condiment because it's not out-of-contol spicy and you can control how much you want to use. The longer it sits, however, the more potent the flavor! Try using it in stirfrys, on top of pizza, or in marinades/sauces.
1 cup dried red chilies, thinly sliced* (chili de arbol are a good choice)
5 cups safflower or sunflower oil
1. In a medium sauce pan, heat oil until small bubbles form
2. Turn off heat and add chilies. Let chilies steep in hot oil until oil cools to luke warm
3. Pour oil into a sterilized 500 mL glass bottle. Cork or cap and let sit in a cool, dark place for 1-2 weeks
*Because I wear contact lenses, I use disposable gloves when chopping any type of chili. I learned the hard way that natural chili oils can stay on your hands long after washing them