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January 3, 2008

Chili paste with garlic (Recipe: spicy chicken balls)


With the new year comes wisdom, and, at last, I have an answer to the question of the ages:

What's your favorite pantry item?

Oh. You were expecting another question. Something along the lines of what is the meaning of life? Why is the Earth round? Why did the chicken cross the road?

Here in The Perfect Pantry, I'm often asked about my favorite pantry item. So here it is, my favorite, the one thing I'd choose if I had to choose just one thing.

Chili paste with garlic.

Even as I write this, I'm mentally checking the pantry shelf. I know I have at least three jars -- a kind of chili paste security blanket -- plus the open jar in the refrigerator. Whew. Enough.

Now, I know you're thinking that salt, or sugar, or flour would be more likely choices for a favorite ingredient. Perhaps, but with one teaspoonful of chili paste, I can elevate any soup or stir-fry to something pleasantly warm, or downright incendiary. Who needs salt when you can have heat?

Chili paste with garlic contains mashed chile peppers, salt, soybean oil and garlic. It looks similar to sambal oelek, which is also mashed chile peppers, occasionally with salt, lime or vinegar added. The soybean oil in the chili paste with garlic gives it a bit thicker consistency than a sauce. Store it, unopened, at room temperature; refrigerate after opening, for up to one year. When you first open the jar, stir it well to redistribute the oil that has settled on the top.

I've written before about Lydia's Spicy Trinity (named after the famous Cajun trinity of onion, celery and bell pepper), which is my all-purpose seasoning combination for all manner of stir-fry dishes:

3 parts Kikkoman reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 parts oyster-flavored sauce
1 part chili paste with garlic (I am partial to the Lan Chi brand, available in Asian markets or online)

I love marinating half a dozen chicken breasts in a quarter of a cup of Spicy Trinity diluted with a bit of water, with a handful of sliced scallions added. Seal all ingredients in a ziploc bag, massaging occasionally, for four hours or overnight, and cook on the grill or under a broiler. Slice, and serve atop a bowl of noodles. Or, try chili paste with garlic in deviled eggs, mussels, spicy eggplant or Chinese hot pot.

The number of condiments -- Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Indian -- that are called some variation of chili/garlic/sauce/paste is mind-boggling. The key difference seems to be the presence or absence of vinegar. Chili paste with garlic has no vinegar, so any similar sauce or paste or sambal (or even harissa or red pepper flakes) can stand in for it, though the taste and texture will never be exactly the same.

Spicy chicken balls

An easy and unusual appetizer. Makes 24-30; can be doubled.


1 lb ground chicken
1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs (make in the food processor from a couple of slices of good country white bread)
2 scallions, diced
1-1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 cup chopped parsley or cilantro
1-1/2 tsp chili paste with garlic
1/2 tsp low-sodium soy sauce
Peanut oil, for frying


Mix chicken and bread crumbs in a bowl. Add scallions, coriander, parsley, chili paste and soy sauce, and mix well. Using damp hands, form mixture into evenly shaped bite-size balls.

EITHER heat oil in a frying pan and fry until browned all over, or place directly on a baking sheet and bake at 400°F until cooked through (10-15 minutes). If you skip the frying, the chicken balls will not be as crusty on the outside, but will have slightly less fat. Good either way. Serve with toothpicks, or wrapped in lettuce leaves.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:

Spicy turkey rolls
Braised fish, Tunisian style
Rotini with spicy meat sauce
Pumpkin stew


Yes. I think this will be good in any stir fry. Why did I not have one in my pantry? :O

One look at that jar, and my mouth is watering :D Thanks for stating the brand, I will look for the lan chi brand next time.

Chili and garlic, now that's a match made in heaven. My favorite pantry item, would be knorr seasoning. He..he..ofcourse as a complete food , I would elect my stash of chocolate.

From the price on the lid, you can "afford" four bottles, too!

Yes! My mother always had lots of chili garlic sauce stocked in her pantry, and used it to flavor just about everything. She'd put a dollop in peanut noodles, mix it up with some water and vinegar and pour it over soft tofu, and add it to every stir-fry. Your chicken balls look tasty though...

That will be a dangerous recipe. I know we'll love these.

Oh Lyida, I can see now why you loved sambal prawns when you were travelling thru Malaysia. I call myself a chilli addict but even I don't have a chili paste security blanket. I have to rectify that. But I do have a secret stash of dried whole chillies :-)

The marinating suggestion you gave made my mouth water and this appetiser sounds very interesting. I am sure that I will have trouble stopping myself from eating them before guests arrive!

hmmm - I don't know why I have never made Chili paste of any kind in my pantry. I can only imagine the excellence it adds to dishes.

I love chili paste with garlic. It is the only thing that I can accurately judge heat. I know that a slightly heaping teaspoon does wonders for any dish that I want to add a little extra heat to.

Lydia - it sounds like the answer to "What is the meaning of life?" is, "always have chili paste with garlic handy!"

Tigerfish, I'm surprised that you don't have this in your pantry -- I can't live without it!

Nupur, I've tried a few other brands, especially the Thai ones, but I do like this one best.

Veron, chocolate would be on my must-have list, too. If only I would actually bake more, and nibble less....

Alanna, the prices at my local Asian markets are so inexpensive that it's easy to keep the pantry filled!

Mia, welcome to The Perfect Pantry. Your mother sounds like my kind of cook -- a bit of chili paste in everything.

MyKitchen, these are not for the faint of palate, but they are a bit addictive for anyone who likes spicy appetizers.

Nora, I think it was my travels in Malaysia that really ignited my taste for chili paste and for very spicy Asian food. We had a wonderful time eating our way up one coast and down the other!

Chris, once you try this chili paste, you'll want your own security blanket. It's so easy to add a bit here, a bit there.

Pam, welcome to the Pantry! It sounds like you've found just the perfect amount of chili paste for your taste. I always buy this particular brand, so I know just what to expect when I'm adding heat to a dish.

TW, you are wise indeed!!

Oh Lydia - you're speaking my language! Chili makes anything taste better. And I LOVE your spicy chicken balls recipe!

I´d been so lazy I hadn´t even turned on the computer to read blogs! Silly me.
And I don´t think flour/olive oil/sugar/salt count as pantry items, they´re staples, it´d be so lame to choose them! I think I´d go with dried mushrooms. Real life savers.
Happy New Year.

I love this brand--and I'm out of it! Once again, you remind me to replenish my supplies! :)

oh yum, chicken balls! heehee, sorry I'm 12, that sounds delicious and i love garlicy chili paste too. yumyum.

i have i find this brand now and stock up :)

Anything with Chilli in it is good in my books! This garlic chilli paste sounds lovely....and as you said, very much like Sambal!

Toni, these are really spicy -- but they can also be made "sweet", by using sweet chili sauce (Mae Ploy is the best brand) insead of the chili paste with garlic.

Lob, dried mushrooms? Hmmm -- I do use them a lot in soups, especially to enrich vegetable broth. But I'm sticking with my choice!

Sher, whenever I run out of this stuff, I go into a panic -- so now I keep that "security blanket" of a few jars at all times!

Aria, someone who loves spicy food as much as you do will definitely love this chili paste. Hope you can find it in your markets.

Dharm, same here -- I am a chili addict!

I am so thankful for this recipe Lydia! I have a tendency to only use the paste in Asian soups and adding it to meatballs is just brilliant!
Happy New Year!

Here's a second for Lan Chi: same bottle's in my pantry. I expected your 'spicy eggplant' link to be for your 'wok hay' eggplant which is THE BEST! Next time I'll try it with the paste for the pepper flakes. Now on to transforming that seductive chicken ball recipe to veg...

Tartelette, these little meatballs are wonderful. Of course I look for any excuse to use my chili paste with garlic....

Susan, thanks for the thumbs-up on the eggplant recipe (for those who missed it, here's the link: http://www.theperfectpantry.com/2007/10/the-gift-of-wok.html ). Please let me know if you come up with a vegetarian version of this recipe; I'd love to share it.

My wheels are turning! This would be great for so many things.
You are awesome!

chili garlic paste looks awesome

Sandi, thanks -- I think you'll get a kick out of this (sorry -- couldn't resist the pun!).

Sagari, welcome to The Perfect Pantry. I think it would work well in some Indian dishes. Please let me know if you try it.

Roger, please try the online link in this post for one source of chili paste.

The recipe looks great, and as the hubby and I are both fighting colds... sounds like a perfect illness burner-outer. I even have the chili paste in the fridge.

Thanks a bundle!

Jenna, there's nothing better for chasing a cold away than chili paste -- even inhaling it will help clear your sinuses! Hope you feel better soon.

MMMM! Spicy chickpea balls were successful, with just the right heat. Only change was to use chickpeas for chicken, same volume, blended. Since my husband has to have a sauce, we stirred some ginger chutney (from a jar) into Greek (thick) yogurt. Could have added an egg, but no need; panfried in oil (flattened). Thanks!

Susan, what fun -- like falafel, with a kick! Thanks so much for sharing your recipe. I'm sure many vegetarian and vegan readers will be making these!

Did the veg experiment, made Spicy Chickpea Balls last night. Nice taste and texture, could have added an egg but didn't, nice degree of spicy. Had to make a Greek yogurt, ginger chutney (from a jar) blend of a sauce, but ketchup would actually be very good too. Thanks for the role model, Lydia.
(Thought I posted this last night: where could it have gone?)

Sorry about the duplication -- the page seems to have a doppleganger...

Susan, doppelganger banished! Thanks for posting your comment again. I hope you'll vegetarian-ize more recipes for us from time to time.

Hi Lydia,
thanks for visiting my blog,It means a lot to me ,this one is a keeper in pantry ,well I have to look this into grocery store here in Kolkata ,India .
Chicken balls recipe is sure i am going to try ..thanks for sharing ..
hugs and smiles

Jaya, welcome to The Perfect Pantry! This is a very flexible recipe -- I've made it with sweet chili sauce, and even with a bit of curry paste. Have fun experimenting with it!

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About The Perfect Pantry®

  • My name is Lydia Walshin. From my log house kitchen in rural northwest Rhode Island, I share recipes that use what we keep in our pantries, the usual and not-so-usual ingredients that spice up our lives.

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