Chinese Garlic Chili Sauce

I’ve made this Chinese Garlic Chili Sauce several times in the last few months, with various kinds of red and orange chilies. It’s very addictive and was the favorite among 4 homemade chili sauces at our recent Lunar New Year dinner party. This Chinese Garlic Chili Sauce recipe comes from beloved Chinese food memoir “At the Chinese Table” by Carolyn Phillips, who was my mom’s dear friend when they lived in Taiwan together in the 1970s. Her memoir is a must-read, with poetic descriptions of Chinese dishes and Chinese daily life – so evocative that I missed China intensely, deeply while reading it. Each chapter includes a few recipes, and this little chili sauce has become a favorite. When I taught in Nanjing, many of my students brought jars like this to campus, homemade chili sauces from their mothers to doctor up institutional cafeteria food.

Many popular Chinese chili oils or “chili crisps” use ground dried chilies, but this recipe uses fresh chilies, gently simmered with garlic and oil until they become velvety-soft. We are using it for noodles & dumpling dipping sauces, as well as non-Asian things like avocado toast & tacos.

Note that this calls for a large amount of fresh chilies. Even if you mince them in a food processor, you still need to remove the stems and seeds, which can make your hands burn. I highly recommend using gloves. Last time I made this, I was cavalier about touching the chilies, then I could not sleep that night because my hands burned so badly, even after alternating baking soda and yogurt hand soaks. Please use gloves to avoid my mistake.

Chinese Garlic Chili Sauce

8 fat garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 pound / 500g fresh red chilies, seeded and finely chopped

1 tablespoon fine sea salt, or more to taste

6 tablespoons light vegetable oil

2 teaspoons sugar, or more to taste


Chop the garlic and chilies. Make sure to remove the chili seeds so the sauce will be smooth. You can use a food processor to mince them. Place the garlic and chilies in a medium bowl, sprinkle with the fine sea salt, toss, and let sit for about 5 minutes so that they sweat.

Pour the oil into a wok or a large frying pan and set it over low heat. Add the garlic and chilies and cook slowly for about 10-15 minutes, stirring every minute or so as they gently bubble away and dissolve into a slightly mushy and aromatic sauce.

Mix in the sugar, cook for another minute, and then taste. Add more salt or sugar as desired.

Scrape the hot chili sauce into a sterilized jar. When the sauce has cooled, screw on the lid and refrigerate.

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