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Chili paste with garlic (Recipe: spicy chicken balls)

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.

Spicy chicken balls, a great appetizer. #appetizer

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.

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: bet you can't eat just one! #appetizer

Spicy chicken balls

From the pantry, you'll need: plain dry breadcrumbs, ground coriander, chili paste with garlic, reduced-sodium soy sauce.

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.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

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

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


Such a good pick! We have a new one: Pickled Ground Chilli w/Garlic, from Thailand. My favorite brand is Huy Fong, the 'rooster' brand. It's more subtle than their Sriracha or Sambal Oleck. What good tastes...

Yes, I can certainly see how this could be a favorite. My own favorite ingredient is probably Sriracha, but this type of chili paste would also be right up there!

Susan, I don't think I've ever tried the pickled ground chilli -- would you believe it? I'm putting that on my list for my next trip to my Asian grocery.

Kaly, Sriracha is always in my pantry, in the very large size bottle!

It's hard to beat garlic chili paste, but I think I'd have to go with whole cumin. It's versatile, easy to grind, and so, so much better than its pre-ground siblings.

Oh, and anchovies. Not a necessity, per se, but they're really great to amp up an otherwise blah vinaigrette or pasta sauce.

Eva, it's hard to pick a favorite, isn't it?!

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