Dried hot chili peppers are key to North Africa's famous condiment, harissa, and they're also used to make this fiery chili oil which is sometimes offered as a condiment to Moroccan pizza, bread, pasta and more. Its introduction into the Moroccan food landscape might logically have come from our northern neighbor Italy, where the equivalent olio di peperoncino is a standard condiment in homes and restaurants; or perhaps it's an Asian influence, some of which can be seen in Moroccan dishes such as Moroccan Soupe de Chinois aux Crevettes and Seafood Bastilla.
Both an Italian style and Asian style chili oil are offered below. Both involve an infusion of dried chili peppers in hot oil. While the Asian version uses only ground cayenne or finely crushed chili pepper flakes, the Italian oil calls for infusing a mix of crushed and whole dried peppers. Try both of the chili oils to see which you like better.
- Set out a clean, dry glass bowl or jar and add the chili pepper.
- In a small saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat for a few minutes, just until it begins to smoke. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the oil to cool in the pan for a minute or two.
- Pour the oil slowly and carefully over the chili pepper, making sure that the oil completely covers the chili pepper. If necessary, use a spoon to stir so that all the chili is submerged.
- Set the oil aside to cool for at least an hour or two.
- Once cooled, you can taste the oil. If it's to your liking, strain the oil to remove the crushed or ground chili pepper. If you'd like more heat and flavor, cover the oil and allow it to infuse overnight or for as long as desired before straining.
- Once strained, store the oil in a clean, airtight glass container. If you used whole dried chili peppers, they can be returned to the oil to gradually intensify its color and flavor.
Note that some people don't bother straining the oil at all; they allow the crushed chili to settle on the bottom of the jar and use it along with the oil as a condiment.
The oil will store well at room temperature for several months.
To make chili oil with fresh chili peppers, take a small handful of fresh red hot peppers and make a long slit lengthwise in each one. Place in a glass jar or bottle (you can add a bay leaf, garlic clove, or sprig of fresh rosemary if desired) and cover with up to four cups of olive oil. Seal and set aside for one to two months before using.
The more finely ground the chili peppers, the more intense the color of the oil will be. The Asian style chili oil, therefore, will be deeper hue than its Italian cousin. If you want to intensify the color of the Italian version, just replace some of the crushed chili pepper with ground cayenne (felfla sudaniya) or hot paprika (piment fort or felfla harra).
The oil will have enough flavor to use in an hour or two, but as the infusion continues to mature, the heat factor will rise.
The recipe easily doubles or triples, and you may adjust the ratio of chili pepper to oil to taste. You can also experiment with different dried chili peppers to yield varying flavor and heat.