Inside the Chili Crisp Cookbook and All Its Fun and Spicy Inspiration

published Sep 7, 2023
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cover of Chili Crisp cookbook by James Park, Photography by Heami Lee
Credit: Photo: Haemi Lee; Food Styling: Pearl Jones; Prop Styling: Gözde Eker

The first time I saw our video of chili crisp fried eggs, I gasped. Chili crisp is my go-to when topping rice, noodles, and pizza. But the idea of using it while cooking was new and exciting territory for me. 

Chili crisp is the magical, crunchy, spicy condiment that makes everything taste better. And our very own James Park — The Kitchn Culinary Producer, creator of the viral chili crisp fried egg, newly published cookbook author, and self-proclaimed chili crisp hype man — wants you to stop thinking of it as just a garnish. 

In James’ cookbook, Chili Crisp: 50+ Recipes to Satisfy Your Spicy, Crunchy, Garlicky Cravings, you’ll find surprising and delightful ways to incorporate the fiery hot sauce into everyday cooking, starting with breakfast and ending with dessert. There are also three essential homemade chili crisps (including one inspired by Trader Joe’s!), although each of the recipes were tested with the store-bought jars too. 

And it wouldn’t be a James Park cookbook without some majorly delicious Korean influence. “Chili crisp used to be just a spicy condiment that I reached for to make my dishes pop, but it’s now become a fantastic vehicle to connect with others, spread the joy of cooking and eating, and share my Korean flavors and stories,” he says.

As someone with a giant jar of Lao Gan Ma in my kitchen cupboard at all times, I couldn’t wait to chat with James about his cookbook. Below are the burning questions I asked him, followed by three of his favorite recipes from the book. 

When did you fall in love with chili crisp? 
I first fell in love with chili crisp when I tasted the iconic jar of Lao Gan Ma many years ago. I loved its savory, umami taste of crispy chili flakes, and I was putting it on everything. Then, I was exposed to so many different kinds of chili crisp that are more personal to the creators behind the condiment, such as Fly By Jing and Boon Sauce. I loved reading the stories behind who made chili crisp and how the creator behind each chili crisp was inspired to make a special blend. At one point, I had a collection of 10 different jars of chili crisp (!). I loved tasting and comparing each one of them, and using each for different purposes. When I started using my love for chili crisp as a way to make new friends, I knew my love for chili crisp was just beyond enjoying spicy flavors.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve done with chili crisp?
In terms of flavor, the most surprising thing I’ve done with chili crisp was mixing it with strawberry jam. In the book, I have this dessert recipe, called Fluffy Chocolate Roll Cake with Strawberry Chili Crisp, which was my attempt to give a spicy twist on a classic chocolate roll cake that I used to make in culinary school. At first, I only thought about adding chili crisp into chocolate batter, as chocolate and chili crisp went so well together. But as I was looking at the filling, I had this whimsical idea of mixing strawberry jam with chili crisp, and the result was shocking. I truly never thought I would mix strawberry jam with chili crisp, but when I did, the sweet, jammy texture of strawberry jam complemented the oily, spicy texture of chili crisp so well. Even though I used this flavor combination as one of the components of the dessert recipe, I later made a bigger batch of chili crisp-strawberry jam, which became my go-to topping for Greek yogurt or ricotta toasts.

Is there anything that you found that just doesn’t work with chili crisp?
So far, no! At first savory chili crisp wouldn’t work well in desserts, but now I’ve developed a type of chili crisp (Very Nutty Chili Crisp) that would be specifically paired well in desserts. There are no boundaries when it comes to using chili crisp.

Is it better to make or buy chili crisp? And do you have a favorite?
I think it depends! Before making chili crisp, I think you need to taste a lot of store-bought, pre-made chili crisps so that you get a sense of what flavor and texture combination you enjoy. Once you know what you like, making chili crisp from scratch can be relaxing and fun. Many years ago, I would have never thought about making my own chili crisp, but now that I’ve made my own versions of chili crisp, I find myself reaching for my perfect chili crisp more often than store-bought ones. 

Your chili crisp eggs have gone viral (and have changed my life). What’s your favorite way to eat them?
My favorite way to enjoy chili crisp eggs is over rice! They are delicious on their own and over toast, but something about mixing them with rice gives me the biggest smile every time I eat it. I think it’s the nostalgic memories of my mom preparing the similar dish — just simple fried eggs over rice with a little bit of gochujang and toasted sesame oil. It was my favorite thing that my mom made for me, and now enjoying the same dish with my twist of chili crisp fried eggs gives me so much comfort and joy.

Besides chili crisp, what foods will someone always find in your kitchen?
I would say a type of Korean soup! Whether it’s a spicy kimchi stew or a hearty chicken soup, I always find myself making a big batch of stew. Also, they make the best leftovers!

What’s your go-to quick meal when you just need something STAT.
Instant noodles! They are quick, delicious, and so satisfying. There are so many different varieties to try (I find a new brand to try every time I go to H-mart!), and once you are done slurping the noodles, you can mix cold rice with the broth to complete your meal. 

Any favorite party tricks when it comes to food?
As Ina Garten always says, store-bought is fine! You don’t have to make everything from scratch, but you can always add your twists with store-bought food. If you’re hosting dinner, make a few, easy sides to serve with store-bought fried chicken. Or, get a few tubs of Greek yogurt, put chili crisp over it, and serve it with chips. People will be so happy. You are already hosting, which takes a lot of mental energy — don’t let the food stress you even more. 

Fall is almost here! What’s a cozy recipe from your book that you want everyone to make?
Fall is all about cozy, comfort food to me. I hope people make hearty, nourishing soups like Silken Tofu Soup and Spicy Tomato and Egg Soup. Or I highly recommend making Skillet-Roasted Chili Crisp Chicken and Vegetables because, in my opinion, fall is the perfect season to roast chicken and vegetables! I also think Cheesy Chili Crisp–Braised Pork Ribs would be fantastic for the ultimate, cozy fall dish. 

Buy: “Chili Crisp: 50+ Recipes to Satisfy Your Spicy, Crunchy, Garlicky Cravings” by James Park, $22.45

Credit: Photo: Haemi Lee; Food Styling: Pearl Jones; Prop Styling: Gözde Eker

Copycat Trader Joe’s Chili Onion Crunch
It’s garlicky, oniony, and so crunchy.

Credit: Photo: Haemi Lee; Food Styling: Pearl Jones; Prop Styling: Gözde Eker

Creamy Rigatoni with Crispy Chickpeas, Spinach, and Lemony Panko
A combination of heavy cream and chicken broth creates a delicious foundation for spicy chili crisp, resulting in a layered, savory sauce — without being overly spicy.

Credit: Photo: Haemi Lee; Food Styling: Pearl Jones; Prop Styling: Gözde Eker

Spicy Potato Gratin
A classic, creamy potato gratin gets a chili crisp twist.