Chile Oil ~ Hong You

This chile oil, known as hong you, is made from oil, ground chiles, sesame seeds, and ginger. It’s hot but not lip-blistering so. A classic Szechuan ingredient.

A soup spoon filled with chile oil (hong you)

One of the essential ingredients in Szechuan cold dishes, chile oil, aka hong you is also used in dipping sauces for dumplings and other snacks, including cracked radishes. You can buy Chinese chile oil in most Chinese supermarkets, but it’s generally much spicier than the Szechuan version and often has added ingredients such as dried shrimp. For Szechuan recipes, it’s much better to make your own milder chile oil, which can be used generously for its color and mouthfeel without any overwhelming heat. It’s easy to make, keeps indefinitely, and jars of it can also make rather fine gifts.

Szechuan ground chiles are hard to find in the West, but the mild, aromatic ground chiles used in Korean kimchi have the same deep terra-cotta color and make a wonderful substitute. They are increasingly available in Asian stores.

If you wish to grind your own, try this method, which comes from chef Yu Bo: Snip the chiles into halves or sections and discard their seeds, holding them as far away from you as possible. Stir the chiles in a dry wok over very gentle heat until they are fragrant and crisp. (If you wish, you can sift them to get rid of more seeds at this stage.) Then add a very small amount of oil to the wok and continue to stir the chiles over the heat until they are glossy and slightly darker (their color is referred to in the trade as “cockroach color”!). Turn the chiles into a mortar and pestle and pound them into fine flakes. Avoid grinding the chiles to a powder.–Fuchsia Dunlop

LC Sneaky Szechuan Chiles Note

We admit it. We had a tricky time tracking down Szechuan chiles for this hong you recipe. No, not Szechuan peppercorns. Szechuan chiles. Your local Chinatown or Asian market will be your most reliable source, although we also made the chile oil using mostly chile de arbol (3 1/2 ounces) and a wee amount of dried cayenne peppers (1/2 ounce) with truly memorable—in a good way—results. We also had stellar, albeit inauthentic, results swapping a teaspoon of crushed red chile flakes for the Sichuanese chiles.

☞ Contents

Chile Oil ~ Hong You

A soup spoon filled with chile oil (hong you)
If you want to give your hong you chile oil a bit more of a kick, simply add a dash of hotter ground chiles of your choice to the mix. I almost always buy my chiles ground, because it’s more convenient.

Prep 10 mins
Cook 15 mins
Total 25 mins
32 tablespoons (2 cups)
144 kcal
5 from 1 vote
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  • Candy or deep-fry thermometer (optional)


  • 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons mild cooking oil such as grapeseed oil
  • 4 ounces Szechuan or Korean ground chiles
  • 1 teaspoon sesame seeds
  • Small piece ginger unpeeled, crushed


  • Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until it reaches 400°F (204°C) on a deep-fry or candy thermometer. (If you haven’t a thermometer, the surface of the oil will begin to ripple at this temperature.) Remove the pan from the heat and set aside until the oil cools to around 275°F (135°C), which should take about 10 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, place the ground chiles, sesame seeds, and ginger in a heatproof bowl.
  • When the oil has cooled to the appropriate temperature, carefully drizzle a little of it onto the ground chile mixture. It should fizz gently but energetically and release a rich, roasty aroma. Pour the rest of the oil over the chiles and stir. If you think the oil is too hot and the chiles are likely to burn, simply add a little cool oil to release the excess heat. Do, though, make sure that the oil is hot enough: without the fizzing, it won’t generate the rich, roasty fragrance you need. If, conversely, you pour all the oil onto the chiles, then discover it’s not quite hot enough, you can return the whole lot to a saucepan and heat gently until it smells fabulous and the color is a deep ruby red; just take care not to burn the chiles. (The chiles will seethe and fizz like a witch’s cauldron as you heat them, releasing the most marvelous aromas, but take care, as they can easily burn and blacken.) Let cool completely to room temperature.
  • When the oil has cooled completely, decant it and the chili sediment into jars and store in a dark, cool place. Let it settle for at least a day before using.
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Show Nutrition

Serving: 1tablespoonCalories: 144kcal (7%)Carbohydrates: 3g (1%)Protein: 1g (2%)Fat: 15g (23%)Saturated Fat: 1g (6%)Polyunsaturated Fat: 11gMonounsaturated Fat: 2gSodium: 3mgPotassium: 67mg (2%)Fiber: 1g (4%)Sugar: 1g (1%)Vitamin A: 939IU (19%)Vitamin C: 1mg (1%)Calcium: 2mgIron: 1mg (6%)

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Recipe Testers’ Reviews

This is perfect dip for veggies. Or lightly brush it over flatbread. Orr drizzle it over pasta or Chinese or Thai dishes. Or it can easily brighten up a soup. The uses of this humble and ubiquitous chile oil (hong you) are numerous, limited only by your imagination. I used a combination of dried Chili de Arbol (3/12 ounces) and dried cayenne (1/2 ounce). I heated the wok until a drop of water would bead, added the chiles, and stirred constantly until they changed color. The key is to have adequate ventilation while doing this to avoid a coughing spurt. I added about a tablespoon of canola oil and stir-fried until they turned glossy. All of this took about 5 minutes. I transferred it to a baking sheet and let it cool for about 2 hours. I used a food processor and pulsed it until they became flakes. I heated canola oil to 400°F, let it cool down for a scant 10 minutes, and poured it over the chili mixture. The mixture bubbled, releasing a wonderful aroma. I let it cool for 3 to 4 hours before decanting it. Made a scant 2 cups.

I sort of improvised because I couldn’t find the Korean ground chilies. I may have taken a shortcut here, but I used about 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes as a substitute for the Korean ground chiles in the chile oil. I used grapeseed oil and when it reached 400°F the surface did ripple in appearance. My chile flakes didn’t burn with this hot oil, instead they emitted a wonderfully nutty aroma from the sesame seeds and a bit of heat from the chile flakes. I’m so excited to have some of this delicious oil in my pantry for future use! I think it would be nice to use on roasted veggies or in a stir-fry.

Originally published February 04, 2013


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  1. 5 stars
    I’m eager to try this! I had a bottle of “Chef Chao’s Hot and Spicy Oil” or something along those lines, that I loved, but it finally ran out. I got it on the East Coast and haven’t seen it here on the Left. It was sesame oil, not toasted, chilis and star anise. OMG, that was so delish — drizzled on pot stickers, on noodles, floated on a bowl of broth, just a bunch of stuff.

    Anyway, to cut to the chase, I’m going to give this a try with the addition of the star anise. Do I crack the seeds, do you think??? I even bought a bottle of high heat sesame oil just for this purpose. If this turns out well, I may throw in some dried orange peel for another batch, maybe even a stick of cinnamon for a different kind of heat. Tons of possibilities.

    Oh, also, I want to make kimchi, but I haven’t been able to find the Korean chili flakes, do you think the prep given in this recipe would be the way to go for that???

    1. Hi Ruthie, curious to hear how you like the addition of star anise. I would be inclined to grind it before adding it to this recipe. Then you can easily add it “to taste”.

  2. 1.) If you need to reheat the lot, I’d suggest reserving half or more of the oil (the actual liquid oil) so that you can stop the rest of it cooking quickly—just pour the reheated portion back into the jar containing the reserved.
    2.) It’s certainly not a substitute for fresh sesame seeds, but if you don’t have any you might try a little roasted sesame oil.
    3.) I think more ginger isn’t a bad idea here.
    4.) I could swear that at Chinese places I’ve had chili oils that had bits of nearly burnt onion or shallot in…I’ll try that after I get good at the basic recipe here.

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