The iconic Chinese brand Lao Gan Ma put jarred chili crisp on the map with their Spicy Chili Crisp, both in China and in over 30 countries around the world where it is sold. It provides the flavor known as málà, which means numbing and hot, by combining Sichuan peppercorns with spicy chiles.
This condiment is super savory, packed with fried onion, fermented soybeans, and umami-rich MSG. But my favorite way to eat it? With dessert.
In 2018, I read an article in Food and Wine about how teens in Sichuan province were putting chili crisp on vanilla ice cream, and I knew I had to give the combo a try myself. From the first bite, I was hooked—the crunch contrasts with the smooth ice cream; the cinnamon and ginger play so well with the vanilla; and best of all, you get big hits of spice and buzzy Sichuan peppercorns that are immediately tempered by the cool dairy. It’s a treat I love so much, I featured it in a recent episode of my YouTube series, What’s Eating Dan?.
Ready to try this combo out yourself? Here’s everything you need to know.
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Science: Why Chili Crisp and Ice Cream Are the Perfect Pair
The combination of chili crisp and ice cream is as much about feeling as it is taste. Capsaicin from the chiles provides the burn; hydroxy-alpha-sanshool from Sichuan peppercorns creates a buzzing sensation; and rich, cold ice cream offers respite.
The primary protein in milk, casein, attracts and helps wash away capsaicin, while the fat in the ice cream has a dulling effect on our tongues’ receptors. As does the ice cream’s low temperature.
The result is a roller coaster of staccato sensations: intense spice, buzzing, relief, repeat.
Choosing Each Component
When it comes to picking an ice cream to top with chili crisp, my advice is to keep it simple and stick with vanilla. The ice cream’s clean taste plays well with the assertive crispy topping, and I love the way it compliments the crisp’s warm spices.
This isn’t the place to use your fanciest, richest ice cream. I actually prefer an airier, fluffier ice cream (the kind usually sold in a gallon container instead of a pint, like Turkey Hill) for this treatment. Dense, superpremium ice creams can feel too rich when they’re topped with the oily crisp.
Alternatively: You can make your own chili crisp. This easy recipe gives you full control of flavors and textures, and as a bonus, it’ll save you lots of money in the long run.
How to Make Chili Crisp
1. Combine sichuan chili powder, peanuts, sichuan peppercorns, salt, and MSG in a big bowl and top with a strainer.
2. Cook thinly-sliced shallots in oil until deep golden brown. Transfer to a second bowl with a slotted spoon. Cook sliced garlic until browned, then transfer to the same bowl.
3. Add ginger, star anise, cardamom, and cinnamon to the oil and cook until very fragrant, before pouring it through the strainer into the big bowl.
4. Stir in the fried garlic and shallots and some sesame oil, then let the chili crisp stand for 12 hours to allow the flavors to meld.
For the full recipe, click below.
Chili Crisp (Lao Gan Ma)This spicy, crunchy condiment is packed with chiles, Sichuan peppercorns, fried shallots, peanuts, and spices.
With that, all that’s left is to spoon your chili crisp over your ice cream, being sure to incorporate lots of crispy bits. It’s hot, it’s cold, it’s sweet, it’s savory, it’s crunchy, it’s smooth—let’s just say you’ll never get bored eating it.