Aside from a quick mania for Harry Potter when I was 11, on principle, I never believed in magic. That is, until I discovered the mystical culinary powers of Lao Gan Ma chili oil. No joke, this simple condiment has changed my gastronomical life for the better in the short span of just a couple of weeks.
For those who aren’t familiar with it, Lao Gan Ma is a popular mild chili oil that is incredibly flavorful and speckled with bits of delightfully crunchy roasted peanuts and crispy, dried chili. The oil flavoring itself is, to the woefully unrefined palate like mine, savory with an umami flavor (whatever that means), making even the blandest foods taste good.
I first found out about Lao Gan Ma when my mom purchased it and began using it for her cold, marinated cucumber dish, a classic Chinese appetizer that involves marinating cucumber slices in chili oil and other condiments. I didn’t realize how good it was at first, and it wasn’t until I tried using a spoonful of the oil on a bowl of plain white rice that my culinary eyes were opened to the world of flavor that comes with Lao Gan Ma. Now, I’m addicted to the condiment. I’ve made meals out of bland filler topped with this flavorful oil to completely cheer it up. And I’m not alone in my love for Lao Gan Ma: Customers rave about it on Amazon, one reviewer saying, “It is Chinese crack, and you have been warned.” I completely agree!
A reason why Lao Gan Ma is the perfect condiment is how universally appealing the sauce is. Contrary to its name, it’s hardly spicy, so it doesn’t alienate those who can’t stand the burning sensation of spice, like me. It’s not overpoweringly pungent either, so it works well in elevating what’s already there rather than drowning out the flavors. It’s highly concentrated, so you only need to use a small teaspoon for each serving, giving you the most bang for your buck.
For those who are looking to try out a bottle of Lao Gan Ma and aren’t sure where to start, try it out by just adding a small spoonful of it to a bowl of rice and mixing it thoroughly with chopsticks until the grains are evenly coated with the oil. You can also try making cold, marinated cucumbers by adding a small spoonful of chili oil to about four thinly sliced cucumbers, mixing to incorporate the flavors and letting them marinate for an hour. Or just try it out on whatever you’re eating at the moment! It truly goes well with everything, and I’m a firm believer that the best combinations are found through exploration.
In the end, if you’re looking for an easy way to spice things up in the kitchen (pun intended), definitely check out the Lao Gan Ma chili oil. You won’t regret it!