Originally published in January 2008, this updated ingredient post features new photos, links, and tweaks to the recipe. I still love chili paste with garlic best of all the ingredients in my pantry. I make these chicken balls small enough for bite-size appetizers, and they're so flavor-packed that they don't even need a dipping sauce. You could go larger, and serve them with noodles or rice.
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 reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 parts oyster flavored-sauce
1 part chili paste with garlic (I love the Lan Chi brand)
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
Makes 24-30; can be doubled.
1 lb ground chicken
1/3 cup plain, dry breadcrumbs
2 scallions, minced
1-1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 cup finely-chopped cilantro or parsley
1-1/2 tsp chili paste with garlic
1/2 tsp reduced-sodium soy sauce
Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a Silpat (silicone liner) or parchment paper, and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients. Use your clean hands to mix everything together; be careful not to overmix. Using damp hands or a small ice cream scoop or spoon, form mixture into evenly shaped bite-size balls.
Bake for 18 minutes. Serve with toothpicks, or wrapped in lettuce leaves.
More good reasons to keep chili paste with garlic in your pantry:
Spicy Asian grilled chicken and pasta salad
Chinese "spaghetti and meat sauce"
Grilled Asian turkey breast with soy, garlic and chili paste
Cold sesame noodles
Spicy rice noodle stir-fry
Other recipes that use these pantry ingredients:
Shrimp with spicy garlic sauce, from Appetite for China
Spicy edamame, from Just One Cookbook
Spicy roasted chicken thighs with miso and ginger, from The Kitchn
Eggplant and tofu in spicy garlic sauce, from FatFree Vegan Kitchen
Napa cabbage with chili-garlic sauce and Szechuan peppercorns, from Not Eating Out in New York
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