Thai Chili Jam

Thai chili jam is a sweet and spicy garnish that goes with nearly anything savory that could use a little pep. Used all over Thailand, there are nearly as many versions as there are cooks and we’re particularly smitten with this one.

A glass bowl partially filled with Thai chili jam and a spoon on the side.

Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen | Bowls | America’s Test Kitchen, 2019

This sweet, savory, spicy jam adds a kick of heat to noodle and soup bowls. Slice the shallots to a consistent thickness to ensure even cooking. Thai cooks also use it on fried eggs, noodles, and white rice, in stir-fries, or even as a sandwich spread.–America’s Test Kitchen

WHAT CAN I SUBSTITUTE FOR ARBOL CHILES?

Bright red and 3 inches long, arbol chiles are recognizable because they don’t turn brown, or even darken significantly when they dry. With a smoky, nutty flavor that’s intensified by toasting, they’re just a little less spicy than cayenne peppers—likely the best substitute you’ll find. To round out the flavor profile, adding a touch of smokiness, you can also add a few very mild cascabel chiles.

☞ Table of Contents

Thai Chili Jam

A glass bowl partially filled with Thai chili jam and a spoon on the side.
The sweet, savory, and spicy condiment called Nam prik pao is the classic garnish for tom yum noodles, but it's too good to be relegated to one single use.

Prep 1 hr
Cook 20 mins
Total 1 hr
Condiments
American
10 tablespoons | 2/3 cup
117 kcal
4.75 / 4 votes
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Ingredients 

  • 1/2 cup mild vegetable oil for frying
  • 2 large (4 oz) shallots sliced thin
  • 4 large (1 oz) garlic cloves sliced thin
  • 10 dried arbol chiles stemmed, halved lengthwise, seeds reserved
  • 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice plus extra for seasoning (2 limes)
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce plus extra for seasoning

Directions
 

  • Set a fine-mesh strainer over a heatproof bowl. In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, warm the oil and shallots, stirring frequently, until shallots are deep golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes.

    TESTER TIP: Keep a close eye on the shallots. Once they start browning, they color very quickly.

  • Using a slotted spoon, move the shallots to a second bowl. Add garlic to hot oil in saucepan and cook, stirring constantly, until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, dump the garlic into the bowl with the shallots.
  • Add the arbol chiles and half of the reserved seeds to the hot oil and cook, stirring constantly, until the chiles turn deep reddish brown, about 1 minute. Pour oil through the prepared strainer and into the bowl; reserve oil and add the chiles to the bowl with the shallots and garlic. Do not wash saucepan.
  • In a blender or mini food processor, blend the shallot mixture, sugar, and lime juice until a thick paste forms, 45 to 60 seconds, scraping down sides of container as needed. If the mixture isn’t blending well, drizzle in a little extra lime juice.
  • Return the paste to the now-empty saucepan, add the fish sauce and 2 tablespoons of reserved oil. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture is thickened and has a jam-like consistency, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.
  • Season with extra lime juice, extra fish sauce, and salt, to taste. (Jam can be refrigerated for up to 1 month.)
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Show Nutrition

Serving: 1tablespoonCalories: 117kcal (6%)Carbohydrates: 6g (2%)Protein: 1g (2%)Fat: 11g (17%)Saturated Fat: 9g (56%)Polyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 1gSodium: 285mg (12%)Potassium: 71mg (2%)Fiber: 1g (4%)Sugar: 4g (4%)Vitamin A: 136IU (3%)Vitamin C: 3mg (4%)Calcium: 11mg (1%)Iron: 1mg (6%)

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Recipe Testers’ Reviews

This Thai chili jam is a nice salty/sweet/funky condiment that could easily be a mainstay in your fridge to punch up any number of dishes. Though a touch time-consuming to make, I found the end result well worth it. Don’t be alarmed by the number of chiles in the recipe—after toasting they add a nice complexity without a ton of heat. If you want it to have more kick, I imagine you could add more of the reserved seeds. When browning the shallots and garlic, make sure to check them very frequently, as they will go from golden to burnt quickly.

This was tossed over a Chinese noodle and served cold with sliced scallions as a side dish to tempura.

This Thai chili jam is the perfect amount of sweet heat for me. Although there are quite a few steps, this was simple to put together. There are three things I’d want people to know in advance of making this.

To prep the Arbol chilies it’s simpler and quicker to remove seeds from half of the chilies and discard them and then just break the remainder into small pieces, seeds and all. Same outcome with half the work.

Don’t turn your back on the shallots. Once they start to brown, they go fast. I turned my back to read through the recipe and they went too far. I threw them out, oil and all, and started again.

Use a mini food processor. I knew using my large processor would probably be an issue but I wanted to test it anyway. Yes, it was an issue. The bowl is way too big for this amount. My mini-processor made a thick paste in about 60 seconds.

This recipe made 2/3 cup. I served this in a noodle bowl with chicken broth and a jammy egg. I eat noodle and rice bowls often so this is a keeper for me.

This Thai chili jam promised sweet, savory, and spicy and it sure delivered. My yield was only 1/2 cup but I had a few rogue players that refused to grind and that I removed prior to proceeding. I also tasted several times (7…according to my strewn teaspoons in the sink). These two factors might have been the cause of the reduced jam yield. Also, I ended up with 2 tablespoons of strained and reserved shallot garlic oil. I jarred this oil and refrigerated it as a bonus condiment.

Another slight discrepancy was the texture of the jam in the photo. Mine was only slightly chunky and most of my seeds remained whole. The photo is showing a very chunky jam with no visible chili seeds. I used my blender instead of my food processor as the jar was already stained from another hot pepper sauce. It usually pulverizes everything but as I mentioned before, some of the peppers remained whole. As I was wanting a spicy jam, I didn’t bother with splitting the dried chilies or removing the seeds. I saw this as a futile endeavor that perhaps would spread heat to unsuspecting surfaces or skin. In the end, the heat was just perfect combined with the sweet. However, using the whole pepper might also explain why a few were resistant to becoming a paste.

For finishing, no additional salt was required. I did add an extra tablespoon of fish sauce and another of lime juice to brighten up the jam. I took these for a quick spin in the blender before adding them to the jam. This was mostly for the blender’s sake. It sure helped with clean-up.

Enjoyed it right away in a ramen recipe and tasted it again cold to ensure there was no quality degradation with temperature change.

This Thai chili jam was surprisingly delicious! I added it to homemade vegetable pho and it was by far my favorite accoutrement. The deep shallot flavor added some depth to my broth and the lime and fish sauce notes added a beautiful sour note. I wasn’t anticipating how oily the jam would be but ended up enjoying the deep flavor of the oil since the same oil is strained and reused throughout the recipe.

I enjoyed making this and felt it came together quite easily. I especially like all the dimensions of flavors and how they all complement each other. I’m looking forward to using it on crab fried rice and Korean beef stew.

Originally published on June 17, 2021

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