ONINO Crispy Chili Will Change Your Life.
A few weeks ago I met my friends Beth and Dawn for dinner at Saint Julivert (Alex Raij and Eder Montero’s exquisite little seafood spot in Cobble Hill, which is just so fantastic, and you must go.) Before we ordered our wine, Beth pulled two jars from her purse, each wrapped at the top with a strand of chubby yarn and labeled ONINO. “I love this chili oil so much and I think you will too.” The gift was just because. Just because Beth is that sort of person who enjoys something and gets it for you. Well, I don’t know about you, but I love a surprise gift, especially a surprise gift I can eat.
Honestly though, while I loved the gift—my fridge is packed with spicy condiments from Zhug to Peri-Peri and Pickled Jalapenos—I really didn’t expect all that much from the chili oil. I mean how good could it be? It looked like ordinary chili oil. The next day I tried it on some eggs. Wait, wait! What was this? Nutty! Crunchy! Smoky! Spicy, with just enough heat to give everything a fireside warmth but nothing painful or scorching. I could eat this by the spoonful. I had to learn more. I had to eat more. I did both.
ONINO is made by Cristy Lucie-Alvarado, 37, a recipe developer who has worked most of her life in food marketing. She started the project after her son was born in March 2020 out of her Brooklyn kitchen. Her husband, the chef Austin Baker (Saraghina), favored Crispy Chili, a traditional Chinese condiment, on his pizza. She loved it too, but always found it a little too oily, and she tended to prefer the crispy bits at the bottom. Then she was gifted a jar of Salsa Matcha, which also had that same consistency — oil on the top, tons of delicious crunchy chilies on the bottom. But it was so spicy she could barely eat it.
At home alone with her newborn son at the start of the pandemic, she craved a project. It would not be sourdough, it would be her own Crispy Chili condiment—a marriage of traditional Crispy Chili and Salsa Matcha. “I knew I wanted more of the good stuff at the bottom, and I knew I wanted something less spicy, because I wanted people to be able to pour it on and not be in pain,” she said.
Cristy’s husband helped get her started with the basic Chinese technique of making crispy chili—focusing on how to get the temperature of the oil just right so nothing would get burnt or bitter, just crisp and crunchy. Cristy begins by heating the oil with sugar and frying a proprietary blend of chiles, so the oil gets flavored and colored by the peppers’ dark hued skins. Then she adds copious amount of super thin, hand-sliced garlic and shallots, carefully and painstakingly frying those to a golden crisp. Finally she adds toasted sesame seeds and chopped marcona almonds, which add that rich nutty flavor and super satisfying crunch.
She named her Crispy Chili Onino after her son Nino, and the millions of times she and Austin said: Oh Nino! Get yours right now. Put it on eggs, pizza, fish, steak, whatever you are cooking. Eat it by the spoonful like peanut butter from a jar. Do it. I do. Thank you, Beth!