I’m not the type to fall in love with a stranger, but a nameless woman has become one of my most beloved kitchen companions. She’s the frowning lady on a jar of chili sauce that has won my heart. At first glance, Laoganma’s Spicy Chili Crisp is less than appealing—the label’s design is, well, outdated—and the contents are an ominous shade of red with (very) visible white seeds from an unknown chile that my subconscious automatically judges as too spicy. But if my mom taught me anything growing up, it’s to not judge a food by its cover. It took the persistence of a chef that I work with to convince me to give this chili sauce a try, and I now owe him a great debt of gratitude.
Take a spoon to the jar’s contents and the red pepper flakes crunch as you stir it. A shimmering oil with mysterious bits suspended throughout, it slips off the spoon and carries dishes into superb levels of savory. Surprisingly, it’s not intensely spicy, but what it does contribute is the rich, mouth-smacking quality of slow roasted meat or a grilled portabella mushroom (with a slight kick of heat).
Watch: How to Make Old-Fashioned Meatloaf
More from Southern Living
Most chili sauces tend to be vinegary or sweet and spicy, but this one is a spoonable condiment that will only enhance the succulence of many of our best Southern dishes without contributing a tangy element—think meatloaf, potato salad, grilled corn on the cob, mac and cheese, and maybe even stirred into Brunswick stew. Some mornings, I’ll eat it with a fried egg and a piece of toast.
The shelves of our grocery stores are littered with little-known gems that lie just under our radar—don’t let Laoganma's Spicy Chili Crisp be one of them. If you give it a taste, I can almost guarantee that every time you open your fridge, you’ll be greeted with a familiar frown.