I remember the first time I tasted Sichuan cooking. It was at a now-closed restaurant in NYC and a Chinese friend had brought me there because the food was authentic and affordable. I enthusiastically ordered the Mapo Tofu (side note: I thought this tofu dish was vegetarian, but it’s not, whoops) After a few delectable bites, my mouth started to go numb and I started to panic. Was I allergic? Is this what an allergy attack felt like? Did I need to go to the hospital?!
No. I was experiencing for the first time the taste of the Sichuan peppercorn, a spice from the Sichuan province in the southwest of China, which leaves your mouth tingly and numb. It was a totally foreign flavor for me at the time, but one I’ve since grown to love. And I’ve looked forward to eating Sichuan dishes ever since, but never really considered cooking them at home.
But recently I saw an Instagram story on NY Times cooking about Chile Oil Noodles by Judy Kim. This recipe looked too good not to try, and it was – the flavors are incredible (you can get the recipe here). But then I ran out of noodles and, missing the flavors, began adapting to whatever I had in the fridge, and that’s how I arrived at this recipe for Sichuan Chili Oil Fried Rice. To be clear, this is not a traditional Sichuan recipe, but rather fried rice that incorporates the spicy-tingly flavor of Sichuan Chili Oil.
I love this recipe because it’s fast, easy, adaptable, and delicious. Once you have some of the key ingredients on hand you can make it on repeat and customize with other stir-fry ingredients that you have. I added fresh summer zucchini here, but I encourage you to play with what you’ve got!
There are some key ingredients that are essential for this recipe. First, the Sichuan Chili Oil is a must – I used this one from Blank Slate, and even found it at my local grocery store. The other key is a Japanese chili oil with crunchy garlic which specifically adds umami flavor to the recipe (I used this one recommended in Judy Kim’s recipe). Both products can be made from scratch, but if you’re new to Chinese-inspired cooking and flavors like me, it’s easy to purchase them and they aren’t terribly expensive given how much food you can make with them. I also regularly use Spectrum Culinary’s toasted sesame oil which goes great in so many dishes.
The steps are quick and easy. Start by sautéing your vegetables of choice in sesame oil.
Make the crunchy chili garlic sauce on the side while you’re waiting.
When those are cooked, remove from the heat and scramble your eggs. (Note: If you want to keep it vegan, skip this step, but I haven’t found a suitable protein replacement yet) Remove the eggs and lay the rice in one layer on the pan and let it crisp, flipping it over halfway through. Finally, add the veggies, eggs, and sauce to the fried rice then season with cilantro and, of course, the chili oil.
A word about the Sichuan chili oil because this will control the spice level of the dish. You’ll notice that it’s separated into oil at the top and the peppercorns at the bottom. The more chilis from the bottom you use, the spicier it’ll be. The oil from the top is less spicy. I used a small scrape of peppercorns from the bottom with some oil from the top for a satisfying but not overly strong taste.
Sichuan Chili Oil Fried Rice
Makes 3 cups fried rice (IMO enough fried rice for 2 very hungry, or 3 medium hungry people), 25 minutes
- 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil, divided
- 1 cup zucchini, sliced
- 1/4 yellow onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup chives, minced
- 1 tablespoon crunchy chili garlic
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 2 eggs (optional)
- 3 cups brown short grain rice, cooked
- 1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons Sichuan chili oil (or to taste)
- Large frying pan
- 2 medium bowls
- Heat 1 tablespoon of toasted sesame oil in the frying pan. When it’s hot enough that it sizzles with a drop of water, add the zucchini, onion, and garlic. Fry on medium-high heat until slightly browned, 3-5 minutes.
- While the vegetables are cooking, make the crunchy chili garlic sauce. Combine the chives, crunchy chili garlic, 1 tablespoon of toasted sesame oil, and soy sauce in a medium bowl. Set aside.
- When vegetable are slightly browned, set aside in a medium bowl. In the same frying pan, scramble the eggs until cooked. Set aside in the same bowl as the vegetables.
- Spread the rice into one even layer on the pan on medium heat (if you pan is dry at this point, add a small amount of toasted sesame oil to avoid burning). Let it sit for 3 minutes, then flip in sections using a spatula. The rice should be slightly browned but not burnt. Pack it down in an even layer again to toast the other side for 3 minutes.
- Add the vegetables, eggs, and crunchy chili garlic sauce to the crispy rice. Stir to combine well.
- Remove from heat. Stir in cilantro and Sichuan chili oil, to taste.