So I discovered the world’s greatest condiment. It comes in a little jar and it’s called “chili oil with crunchy garlic”, which you have to admit sounds pretty awesome. Like many of the best condiments, this one is Asian (Japanese to be precise): I found it on a shelf at Pearl River. In a store otherwise full of schlock I plucked out the sole worthwhile item.
The label is entirely accurate, a virtue not to be taken lightly. Slipping in my spoon was like dipping a toe through a wave receding back into the ocean: halfway through the liquid, you’re met by a crunchy wall. My new little bottle was packed-packed!-half-full of, as advertised, crisp little bits of fried garlic. So I started doing something uncharacteristic: eating oil. On closer examination, the bits were a lovely mixture of fried garlic and a few other things equally delicious, the identity of which was frustratingly mysterious. I thought I sensed some dried fish in there, but the label said chilies and, oddly, almonds.
A proper condiment is like popcorn in a movie theater: without it, the main event is palatable but bland. For a condiment to attain pantheon status, its absence must render the central item irrelevant and pointless. A plate of fries with no ketchup, for instance. Munching fried garlic, chilies, and almonds; I couldn’t imagine a life without my new friend-in-a-little-bottle.
This stuff can be drizzled on noodles, meats, fish, chicken, added to stews, stir-fries, over toasted bread for a sandwich or a dipping sauce, etc. A bowl of noodles coated with the oil sounded particularly delicious, but too easy. I came up with squid, sliced thinly and tossed with the oil, scallions, black sesame seeds, and salt.
Ketchup is powerful; just ask the fry. But this stuff has a far wider range. In a forthcoming post I’ll attempt to recreate it in the kitchen, but for now I’m happy to enjoy my discovery and spread the word.
Oh yeah, it’s called Taberu Rayu.
(NOTE: Unless your squid/pan size ration is precise, you’ll probably end up with some excess squid liquid, in which case just drain it off in a colander. In general you shouldn’t crowd pans, but I don’t like a lot of extra dirty dishes. Also, to serve as an hors d’oeuvre we plated the squid in Chinese spoons. I’m not sure of any other practical way to do it. Maybe a little glass and a tiny fork or something. On a plate in lettuce cups would work. Finally, like steak tartare this is a season to taste kind of recipe. Just don’t add too much stuff; you’ll overwhelm the squid.)
Sauteed Squid in Chile Oil with Fried Garlic
Serves 2 as an appetizer, 4 as an hors d’oeuvre
2 tablespoons oil
1/2 pound squid sliced very thinly, including tentacles
¼ cup Taberu Rayu (chili oil w/ fried garlic)
2 tablespoons black sesame seeds or roasted sesame seeds
4 tablespoons thinly sliced scallions, whites only
- Heat the oil to smoking over high heat in a large pan. Add the squid and sauté for 45 seconds. Remove to a colander (SEE NOTE) to drain excess liquid.
- Add squid to a bowl and toss with remaining ingredients. Season with the salt and serve either on separate plates as an appetizer or small spoons as an hors d’oeuvre. You could simply set the bowl in the middle of the table with chopsticks.