Almost every cuisine has some appreciation for spiciness. Adding heat to dishes can be delivered in a variety of ways: with dried seasoning, sauces, fresh cut peppers, and the list goes on.
As you can tell, preparations for infusing food with a good dose of heat can look different from culture to culture. North Africa has harissa, Indonesia has sambal. But for Mediterranean (and especially Italian) cuisines, most people don’t always necessarily think of a classic Italian, Greek, or French dish as “spicy.”
That’s not to say Mediterranean food doesn’t turn up the heat now and again. If you’ve ever taken a close look around any fully authentic Italian restaurant, you may have spied a tall beautiful bottle of high-quality extra virgin olive oilwith peppers suspended and floating inside.
Is this just a decoration? No! You’re looking at one of the closest foods to hot sauce found in traditional Mediterranean food: and it’s called chili oil, or chili condiment.
What is chili pepper condiment?
Chili condiment or chili oil might be the simplest “hot sauce” in the world. But really, it’s not a “true” hot sauce, not in any sense of the term.
Its creation is simple. Hot peppers are dried in either cut or powdered form, though by far the most common traditional method is whole-dried peppers. Next, the dried peppers are placed directly into a bottled extra virgin olive oil and allowed to infuse for a few weeks out of direct sunlight, mingling all their heat and character straight into the oil itself.
Fresh peppers are avoided however, since their water content can breed bacteria, causing your olive oil to go rancid! That said, many Italian home gardeners use peppers fresh from the garden with no problem, and make their traditional chili oils this way with little to no danger. Still, using dried chilis is a good precaution to make.
Around the world, most people do not make their own homemade chili condiment (except in the Mediterranean and especially Italy), though there are surely recipes out there. This is why hot sauces and pastes are more prevalent. Hot sauces tend to be more popular since they can be prepared and used once without worrying about preserving them long-term; plus, they’re generally easier to either store or use quickly. But nothing about them will bring you the true heat and flavor found only in the Mediterranean and Italian Riviera with chili oil!
Though chili condiment hasn’t gained worldwide popularity like foods such as sriracha or Indian curry, infused hot chili oil is still a standard condiment in Italian homes and most of the Mediterranean, just like a jar of pickles would be in America. And like a jar of pickles in America, too, Italians have taken up to making their own chili condiment at home from time to time…sometimes from peppers straight from the garden!
Otherwise, some of the best infused chili condiment products you can experience are made by experts who know how to perfectly balance preservation, flavor, and quality to make a chili condiment that lasts…and tastes great. Be sure to check outour Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Chili Condiment – made with authentic Italian-grown hot peppers and high quality olive oil, all made in Italy!
Olio di peperoncino – an Italian incarnation
Like any food or ingredient of thoroughly Italian origin, chili oils are extremelyItalian. Though they’re found all over the Mediterranean, the most recognized name they go by in and around their European home turf is “olio di peperoncino,” which is Italian for “chili pepper oil.”
Olio di peperoncino can be made with various homemade recipes and use virtually (well, technically) any hot pepper. But, in the true Italian tradition, olio di peperoncino is made with the equally true Italian “peperoncino” pepper variety: a dainty yet very spicy red pepper small enough to be dried and placed whole in a bottle of extra virgin olive oil.
In terms of chili oil’s “Italian-ness,” olio di peperoncino is more southern (Mediterranean) Italian than northern Italian. And even on the Italian Riviera, it’s the Calabrese cuisine of Calabria (in the furthest south of Italy) that features chili condiment more than anywhere else.
Tips for using chili condiment
So, let’s say you finally get your hands on some chili oil condiment. What do you do next? How do you use it or cook with it?
Like any hot sauce, chili condiment can really be used in just about anything! Use it to drizzle, dip, flavor, top, or marinate. Fry it with vegetables, meat, fish, you name it.
However, here are our top recommendations:
- Drizzle on pizza
Olio di peperoncino is a must-have condiment in every truly authentic Italian pizzeria, just like a hot sauce should be found in every Mexican restaurant. It’s very appropriate and delicious for Neapolitan (or Naples-style) pizza, especially since Napoli borders right up near Calabria, the home of chili oil! It’s one of the favorite ways our partner chef (Dominique Le Stanc) loves to use it, too.
- Dip for Italian bread
No explanation needed here. Pour some of this spicy oil on a small plate, and dip away with your favorite focaccia, ciabatta, or pane rustico. It’s a spicier version of the simple Italian antipasto, but delicious as a snack anytime, too.
- Elevate a marinade
Instead of using a plain extra virgin olive oil in your marinade, spice things up with a touch of chili condiment. Combine with ingredients like vinegar, onions, or oregano for Italian prepared meats; or try lime, lemon, or even something lavish like pineapple for other types of cuisines, like Mexican or Hawaiian!
- Add to sauces
Use chili condiment to add a bit more heat to any sauce of any cuisine that you love. Replace typical olive oil with the same amount of chili condiment. A great replacement in sauces that include basil, curry (one of chef Dominique’s favorite preferred uses!), fish, tomato, garlic, and much more.
- Drizzle on bruschetta
Bruschetta isn’t really bruschetta without extra virgin olive oil! Make this classic Italian appetizer spicier (and more interesting) by using hot chili oil instead. It’s the perfect thing to round-out those summer-fresh flavors of tomato, basil, garlic, and mozzarella.
- Add to pasta dishes
With pasta, the iconic Italian dish, the sky is truly the limit for how much and how often you can use chili oil. In practically every Italian pasta dish recipe, you can replace typical extra virgin with chili condiment to add a little more sizzle. It’s especially recommended for pasta dishes involving mushrooms, tomatoes, sweeter vegetables, seafood, and fish.
Best pairings for chili condiment
The above meal ideas are a great start for exploring all that olio di pepperoncino, or chili oil, has to offer. However, if you’re a more advanced cook or feel more adventurous in the realms of the culinary arts, here are some simple pairings and cuisine recommendations we can suggest for delving into in all your creations and cooking.
- Citrus and fruits (lemon, lime, oranges, pineapple, mango, bananas)
- Grilled vegetables(beets, corn, carrots, fennel, eggplant)
- Fine cheeses (mozzarella, asiago, Parmesan, goat)
- Herbs(thyme, lemongrass, coriander, cinnamon, saffron, rosemary)
- Mexican dishes (salsa, cilantro, lime, cumin, garlic, onions, mole sauce)
- Asian cuisine (fish sauces, mixed with soy sauce, peanuts, sesame, ginger, coconut, yogurt, curry)
Brighten up your cookery the Italian way
The Calabrians came up with an amazing condiment to add liveliness, zest, and panache to any dish you desire. It’s so amazingly simple…and delicious!
It’s time to explore this unique and marvelous alternative to hot sauce for yourself! Check out our store and begin trying out our extra virgin olive oil with chili condiment anywhere in the US.