Some people go through hairstyle phases or Spotify-playlist phases or favorite-shoe phases. I go through sauce phases.
Which means, depending on the week, you’ll find me putting horseradish yogurt or Sriracha mayo or kale-cashew pesto or caper-raisin vinaigrette (hey hey, Six Seasons) on absolutely everything.
But for the past several months, I’ve been in a committed relationship with one sauce and— gasp—it isn’t even homemade: Lao Gan Ma’s Spicy Chili Crisp (or, as we’ll call it from here on forth, LGM’s SCC).
While this started to be produced in China in 1997, it’s only recently become an It condiment in the United States. Last year alone, Taste wrote about how “the cult of spicy chili crisp is real” (it is), NY Mag’s Mia Leimkuhler said “I panic if I don’t have at least five jars of this spicy chili crisp” (same), and Serious Eats published a copycat DIY recipe (imitation is the ultimate compliment).
What makes it so special? LGM’s SCC is spicy, savory, and salty. But, most importantly, as the name indicates, it is crispy. While other condiments can easily check off those other boxes, it is in my experience the crunchy-crumbly texture that makes Chili Crisp so singularly addictive.
Oh, and the MSG—aka, monosodium glutamate. If you’re about to raise your eyebrows at this massively misunderstood ingredient, please read this first. The short story is: MSG is a jolt of umami, and umami makes food taste better, which means LGM’s SCC makes food taste better.
Like, all foods. If there’s something this condiment doesn’t play nicely with, I have yet to find it—and I’ve been looking. Here’s a totally incomplete, in-the-works list of all the things LGM’s SCC improves:
Vegetables (cooked any which way)
Smacked cucumber salad
Ice cream (yes, ice cream)
And here are just a few of the many recipes on the site that would be even happier with a dollop of the good stuff on top:
Emma is a writer and recipe developer at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing stories about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now, she lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter.