Roasted Chiles in Oil

This fiery oil is the secret ingredient in Su-Mei Yu's Hot and Sour Shrimp Soup, which she serves at her restaurant Saffron in San Diego. Made in quantity but used sparingly, roasted chiles in oil adds authentic flavor to Thai dishes. Tamarind pulp, shrimp paste, dried shrimp, and nam pla can be found in Asian markets and specialty stores.

  • Yield: Makes about 1 1/2 cups

Source: Martha Stewart Living, January 2001


  • 4 ounces tamarind pulp
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 3 to 4 dried corn husks, soaked in cool water until softened
  • 2 tablespoons fermented shrimp paste, or 3 tablespoons red miso
  • 2 cups vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped garlic
  • Sea salt
  • 10 to 12 (1 cup) shallots, thinly sliced
  • 10 to 12 dried New Mexico or California chiles, or 1 1/2 cups dried de arbol, Japones, or chiltepin chiles, softened in hot water, seeded, and patted dry
  • 1 cup dried shrimp, soaked in warm water until softened, or 1 cup minced grilled chicken
  • 1/2 cup palm sugar or packed light-brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup nam pla


  1. Place tamarind in a medium bowl, and cover with 1 cup hot water. Let sit until soft and water has cooled, 15 to 20 minutes. Massage tamarind to release the pulp. Discard the seeds. Let sit 15 minutes more to allow juice to thicken.

  2. Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Stack corn husks, and wrap fermented shrimp paste or miso in them. Place in a small baking pan, and bake for 20 minutes. The corn husks and paste will get slightly char-burnt. Let cool, discard burnt husks, and set paste aside.

  3. Line two baking sheets with paper towels, and set aside. Heat oil in a 12-inch skillet over high heat until a deep-frying thermometer registers 300 degrees to 325 degrees. Reduce heat to medium-high, add garlic, and fry until golden, stirring constantly, to prevent burning and ensure even browning, 2 to 3 minutes. When the oil begins to spatter, add a pinch of sea salt. With a slotted spoon, transfer garlic to a prepared baking sheet to drain.

  4. Add shallots to oil, and cook, stirring, until golden, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer to prepared baking sheet to drain. Add chiles to oil, and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Transfer to prepared baking sheet to drain. Add shrimp, and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Transfer to baking sheet to drain. Allow oil to cool. Reserve 1/4 cup oil in skillet. Strain the rest, and reserve for another use.

  5. Place garlic and shallots in the bowl of a food processor. Process until fine. Add dried shrimp, and process to combine. Each ingredient should be pureed before the next is added. Add the chiles, and puree; then add the char-burnt fermented shrimp paste or miso. Scrape down sides of bowl, and blend well. Add palm sugar, fish sauce, and 1/4 cup tamarind juice. Pulse to combine. The sauce should be spicy-sweet, salty, and slightly sour, all in balance.

  6. Heat the reserved 1/4 cup oil in the skillet over high heat for 1 minute. Add the pureed mixture, and stir until the oil absorbs the red color from the chiles, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat, and allow to cool. Transfer to a glass container with a tight-fitting lid. The sauce will keep, refrigerated, for several months.


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