Chile crisp and salsa macha are taking over the kitchens of spicy food lovers

Chile crisp in jars. Chile crisp relies on infusing a mixture of chiles and aromatics like onion and garlic, along with proprietary spice in a generous bath of hot oil. Photo by Ken Concepcion.

Evan Kleiman predicts 2021 to be the year of peak chile crisp and its cousin salsa macha. Both chile crisp and salsa macha rely on infusing a mixture of chiles and aromatics like onion and garlic, along with proprietary spice in a generous bath of hot oil. Often nuts and seeds are added. Versions range from truly fiery to a friendly bit of sting, depending on the chiles used.

We’ve already become condiment crazy over the past several years, so it’s no surprise that these crunchy, spicy, umami bombs are being spooned over everything from noodles to ice cream. 

Currently Kleiman has six different versions in the pantry. If you’ve never experienced the utility genius of crunchy chiles with various additions, then start with the original Lao Gan Ma Chile Crisp, the Chinese standard that inspired many small businesses. Kleiman first tasted it many years ago when pocketing a bottle from a secret stash at Sang Yoon’s restaurant Father’s Office. There was something about the open yet serious gaze of the founder Tao Huabi on the label that pulled her in. She devoured that first bottle in less than a month. There are as many ways to use it as there are humans with inquisitive palates. 

Kleiman believes that chile crisp/salsa macha is more food-like than most condiments so it “liases” readily with almost anything that lets you preserve the crunch. She uses it spooned on quesadillas, aglio e olio pasta, seared green beans, feta cheese and even garnishing a float of sour cream in a soup. One could go on and on. 


Salsa macha with peanuts, made by Taco Maria. Photo courtesy of Jorge Gaviria.

Different types of salsa macha, made by Taco Maria. Photo courtesy of Jorge Gaviria.

Along with the original Lao Gan Ma, some personal small business favorites are: Momfuku Chile Crunch, Fly By Jing Sichuan Chile Crisp, Boon, Umamei Chili Oil, Drip Calabrasian which is a genius combo of chile crisp and Calabrian chile paste, and Taco Maria’s Salsa Machas (there are three of them).

If you prefer to make your own condiments, here are two good recipes.  First up is Extra Crunchy Chili Crisp from the Los Angeles Times. And then there is Tejal Rao’s Salsa Macha from the New York Times.

Get ready to create another craving, but one that’s easily tamed.