Hot Oil

When I first moved to London my friends and I would often go to Thai Cottage, a cheap and cheerful restaurant on D’Arblay Street in Soho. It was notable, not just for food that was affordable to us as the underpaid new-kids-in-town, but for a distinctive chilli oil dip that sat in little pots on each table.

They made the news in 2007 when capsaicin-filled clouds produced whilst making this dip were mistaken for a chemical attack by terrorists and the surrounding streets sealed off.

I made some chilli oil yesterday. It hurt my eyes a bit but, thankfully, the police were notable by their absence.

The decision was a response to all the various chillies that had been bought fresh but left sitting in the veg rack for so long they were now dried. Do you do this? Please say it’s not just me who invites a constant parade of peppers into my home, using just one or two form each batch and forgets about the rest?

chilli oil

I ground them up in a food processor, put the bits in a pan, covered them with oil and fried those things until they were nearly burned. A few cloves of crushed garlic went in near the end too. Some salt afterwards. And it’s great. Spicy, obviously, but with more complex undertones. Slightly bitter and there’s something that reminds me of Szechuan pepper too.

chilli oil
chilli oil
chilli oil

Drizzle it over almost anything that needs a kick (here, Avocado Toast because even though it is a massive cliche, I still like it). Or use it in the dressing below.

avocado toast with chilli oil
courgette and chickpea with chilli oil dressing

Roast Courgettes, Cherry Tomatoes & Chickpeas with Chilli & Preserved Lemon Dressing (serves 4)

Man that is a long title. Sorry. I have no literary allusions today.

Ingredients

  • 8 tbsp olive oil/chilli oil (balanced according to how much of a heat-seeker you are)
  • 2 courgettes
  • 300g cherry tomatoes
  • 1 tin of chickpeas, drained
  • ½ garlic bulb
  • 1 preserved lemon
  • 1 tsp sugar

Method

  1. Heat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6
  2. Put 2 tbsp oil in a roasting dish and add the courgettes, cut lengthways into quarters and then into bite-size chunks, and the cherry tomatoes. Toss to coat. Also put in the garlic, separated into cloves but unpeeled.
  3. Roast for 20 minutes, adding the chickpeas halfway through.
  4. Remove from the oven and drain through a colander, collecting the juices.
  5. Put the juices in a blender with the remaining 6 tbsp of oil, the preserved lemon and the roasted garlic cloves, squeezed from their skin. Add the sugar and blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper and then mix the dressing back into the roast vegetables. Serve with green leaves and grilled halloumi.

Ifs And Ands

  • If you’ve got leftovers, heat them up with stock and blend to a soup. Top with chopped herbs.
  • I used olive oil to cook the chillies in but only because it was what I had most of to hand. Groundnut or rapeseed would probably be better as they can withstand higher temperatures. Or sesame for an Oriental taste.
  • You could add all sorts of other flavourings. Thyme or rosemary with the chilli would be amazing on pizza or pasta. Dried shrimps (like Thai Cottage) or Sesame seeds (like cult ramen joint Tonkotsufor rice, noodles or stirfries.
  • Blend the oil once cooked for a smoother finish or drain out the bits if you don't like them. If you do leave them in, be aware your oil with get hotter over time.