What is Lao Gan Ma, and can you make it at home?

What is Lao Gan Ma, and can you make it at home?


Laoganma. What’s there to say? It’s quickly becoming one of the most popular
chili sauces in the world, it’s beloved in China and increasingly the West. And really, it’s for good reason – it’s
got just the right kick of spice for an all purpose sauce, its fermented ingredients give
it a ton of complexity… it’s just something awesome to toss on white rice or really whatever. But I don’t think enough people know that
Laoganma isn’t its own unique invention – Laoganma belongs to a category of chili
sauces from the Guizhou province called youlajiao. So today we wanted to show you how Guizhou
youlajiao fits in with the context of the cuisine there, a bit on how Laoganma got started
and what makes them unique, and finally give you a recipe for how to make it yourself at
home… because traditionally, this’s stuff that Guizhou families could and would make
themselves. Everyone’s familiar with Sichuan food, and
why not. It’s a great cuisine. But it’s far from the only province in China
that loves their chilis. There’s an old, increasingly worn out saying
in Chinese that Sichuanese can handle their heat, that the neighboring Hunan province
certainly isn’t afraid of their chilis, but that people in Guizhou are afraid of food
that’s not spicy enough. And while that quip’s definitely a bit on
the hackneyed side these days, it does, I think speak to at least part of the essence
of Guizhou cuisine. Guizhou food is intensely spicy, sour, smoky,
and makes heavy use of fermented ingredients. A common aromatic is ‘yuxingcao’ which I love
but I’ve seen others gag on. It’s a cuisine with strong, bold, and unrepentant
flavors… a suitable analogy to the province itself. It’s hard drinking, packed to the brim with
street food.. it’s got that sort of charismatic grit to it. And they do certainly love their chilis. A fundamental ingredient in the cuisine is
a chili paste called Ciba Lajiao, or pounded chili, that can serve as a base for braises
and stir fries and we’ve covered that on this channel before. Hulajiao, or roasted chili flake, is another
classic. And similarly, they also have a chili sauce
called “youlajiao”, commonly translated into English as ‘chili crisp’. You can see it as a topping in snacks like
like Juanfen, rice noodle rolls… it’s a great dipping sauce for any number of thing,
you’ll see it as an optional topping in the increasingly popular yangroufen lamb rice
noodle soup… and it can even be found in a simple breakfast sticky rice bowl. But here’s the thing – there’s not just
one youlajiao… different families and different restaurants make their own versions – which’s
why you see so many different types of Laoganma chili sauce. Some have a strong hit of douchi – that
is, black fermented soybeans, some include a spate of crispy fried stuff, and others’ll
even include a bit of chicken or beef jerky. So it’s in this kind of culture that Laoganma
was born. While these sorts of origin stories are almost
always apocryphal, the story goes like this: the original founder of Laoganma, Tao Huabi,
had a Liangfen stall on the side of a highway outside of the capital, Guiyang. Liangfen is a dish that’s usually topped
with Youlajiao, and Tao Huabi’s was quite popular – in particular, people raved about
her chili sauce topping. It was so popular that she started making
bigger and bigger batches and selling some of that chili topping to other vendors. One day, she was feeling a bit lazy and decided
not to make the topping, and as a result her customers ended up going elsewhere. It was as this point that she realized that
people really loved her chili sauce, not her liangfen, and decided to go strictly into
the sauce making business. So perhaps with a bit of a first mover advantage,
Laoganma moved products fast… and in the early 2000s, started rapidly expanding outside
of Guizhou and into other parts of China. And as to why it became so huge? Occam’s razor, it… takes good. But I think that at least part of it also
has to do with China’s internal migration. Especially when I first moved to Shenzhen,
I’d sometimes see friends from other provinces reach for Laoganma because the cuisines here
on the coast tend to be more mild than the interior. So at least for them, Laoganma was a decent
answer – something they could eat with rice when their Cantonese canteen just wasn’t
doing it for them. So right. How to make chili crisp. Recently we’ve seen a spate of recipes online
in English for this stuff, but in the end most of them use seem to use Sichuanese technique
rather than Guizhou… so at the very least, we figured might be useful to clear the air
a bit. The variety of chili crisp we’ll be making
is “san ding” or “three dice” chili crisp. If you’ve had that Laoganma with the fried
tofu inside, that’s the sort we’re talking about – together with the chili it’s got
peanuts, datoucai preserved turnip, and of course some of that crispy tofu. But even if you go in a different direction,
the fundamental technique here should work with whatever chili crisp you want to make. So first, let’s talk chilis. The base of a chili crisp is those hulajiao
that I was talking about before. Depending on the kitchen, these are either
toasted in a wok or roasted on ashes – we went with the former but feel free to play
around with the latter if that slight smokey hit sounds a bit more up your alley. Now the specific cultivar that Laoganma uses
is a Guizhou chili called chicken claw pepper. These’re actually not overly spicy, which’s
why the chili crisp isn’t overpowering. So outside of China, I’d recommend subbing
these with primarily Kashmiri chilis – they’ve got a very similar color and flavor. Chicken claw pepper is a touch spicier though,
so if you’d like you could also add a touch of arbols or cayennes to your mix… personally,
I’d probably do a ratio of three parts Kashmiri to one part arbol. So take your chilis, snip off the stems, and
cut into one centimeter pieces… and then these are ready to toast. So to a cool wok, add in the chilis together
with about 250 grams of salt and set that over a medium flame. The purpose of the salt is to help these heat
evenly because dried chilis do have an annoying tendency to scorch. Once you start to hear small popping sounds,
after about two minutes, turn your heat to low – this means your salt is hot enough. Now continue to stir and toast those for about
five minutes. What you’ll be looking for is the chilis
to get roughly chestnut colored, but as it always is with chilis, it’s safer to undertoast
than overtoast. So strain out the salt, give the chilis a
number of good whacks to shake off any excess, and these are good to pound. Definitely don’t waste the salt though,
the chilis won’t impart much of a flavor here so this’ll all still be good to re-use. Now add the chilis to a mortar and pound it
into a flake. You should be able to use a food processor
for this too I’d imagine, but you definitely don’t want it to be too fine. Going at it by hand, some of the chilis’ll
get into more of a powder, some’ll be a larger flake… which’s perfect for a chili
crisp. And now that you’ve got your toasted chili
flake… set that aside. Now for our other ingredients. To give the sauce a bit of complexity, we’ve
got a bit of douchi, black fermented soybeans. As an aside, Laoganma uses their own propriety
method for making douchi – it’s even been the subject of lawsuits… here we’re just
using 30 grams of bog-standard Cantonese douchi which you can find on Amazon or at like any
Chinese supermarket. To those, add an equal amount of Baijiu liquor,
and maybe sub that with bourbon if you can’t find Baijiu. You’ll probably want to do this step before
anything else, because this’s best soaked for at least two hours. Now for the tofu, we’re using 60 grams of
Dougan, which’s a sort of hyper firm tofu. If you can’t find this stuff you could alternatively
press some extra firm tofu, maybe swap it with smoked tofu, or just skip it. Cut those into about half centimeter cubes,
and we can give them a fry. So in a cool pot with about two cups of oil,
toss in your tofu cubes and turn the flame to medium. Let those slowly fry and stir them periodically. We’re not aiming for too heavy of a fry
here, for reference we were working at about 125 Celcius once everything got up to temperature. Once your tofu’s starting to get golden
brown, after about ten minutes, take it out. Last leg of the san ding, 40 grams of datoucai
preserved turnip. This adds a really nice flavor to the sauce,
so definitely try to source it if you can. I have seen this stuff at Chinese supermarkets
in the West, but if you’re out of luck on that front you could alternatively use an
equal amount of Sichuanese Zhacai, which’s available online and at most Asian supermarkets. So get that into about a one centimeter dice,
and set it aside. Before we fry though, a quick aside about
oils. Guizhou youlajiao – Laoganma included – uses
an oil called caiziyou as a base. It’s a sort of virgin rapeseed oil that’s
fundamental to a lot of dishes in the Chinese southwest, and here is no exception. If you can’t find rapeseed oil, we’d recommend
using Indian mustard seed oil instead… and if you can’t find that, well… a nice peanut
oil would still get the job done. So to a pot add in one cup of your oil of
choice and set that over max flame. Heat that up until it’s just starting to
smoke, about 220 centigrade, then turn off the heat. Heating the oil up first cooks the oil and
removes its ‘raw taste’ – a must here for rapeseed and mustard seed oil, and preferable
if using peanut. Once the oil’s cooled down a bit, to about
170, swap the flame to low and go in with some aromatics… this was two inches of sliced
ginger and about three cloves of crushed garlic. Fry those for about two minutes, or until
the garlics just barely starting to brown, then go in with the preserved turnip or zhacai. Then fry all that for about five minutes until
the preserve vegetable starts to shrink a bit, then remove the garlic and the ginger
and optionally go in with one block of furu, fermented tofu. This isn’t mandatory or anything, many Youlajiao
sauces don’t include it but it adds a nice subtle fermented undertone if you do happen
to have some lying around. So add in the mashed furu, give it a mix,
then go in with the black fermented beans and the baijiu… bit by bit so it doesn’t
pop too hard on you. Fry that for another five minutes or until
the moisture’s mostly bubbled away, then go in with the chili flakes. Now it should be noted that we’re still
over a flame here. Low heat, about 90 to 100 centigrade, but
still. A major fundamental difference between Guizhou
chili crisp and Sichuanese chili oil is this step right here. Sichuanese chili oil adds hot oil to the chili
flake and lets it steep, but here we’re going to be frying this over low heat for
about five minutes. This is what makes the chili crisp, well…
crispy. So at this point, add in your fried tofu and
a quarter cup of fried or roasted peanuts… then season with a half teaspoon sugar and
a half tablespoon of MSG. Quick mix, then add in about two teaspoons
each of Sichuan peppercorns, toasted then ground, and sesame seeds, also toasted but
lightly pounded. Heat off, let it cool down a touch, then…
jar it up. For best results let that sit and soak at
least overnight. So does it make sense to make Lao Gan Ma at
home? If you’re just trying to mimic the taste
of Lao Gan Ma… probably not. But the best thing about making your own is
that you can make your own adjustments. For example, we added furu in it, which Lao
Gan Ma doesn’t have… but we really like the extra layer that it adds to the sauce. For me, I really like the crispy tofu bits,
that’s why I add extra… and if you’re like really into spicy food, you can try to
use like really spicy chilis, or you could also try to use Mexican chilis. So just play around with it, and make your
own sauce. So right, check out the reddit link in the
description box for a detailed recipe, a big thank you to everyone supporting us on Patreon…
and as always, subscribe for more Chinese cooking videos.

75 thoughts on “What is Lao Gan Ma, and can you make it at home?”

  1. Hey guys, a few notes:

    1. Ok, so the Sichuan peppercorns and the toasted sesame seeds. Apologies for rushing those in at the end there – the video was already proving to be on the long side. For the Sichuan peppercorns, toast them in a dry wok over a medium flame until little oil splotches start to form, ~2 minutes. Then grind in a mortar until more or less a powder. As for the sesame seeds… same deal, but take them out when they’re just starting to pop, ~3-4 minutes. As for pounding the sesame seeds, you want to just crack them, just to release a touch of oil.

    2. I’m worried that in the video I wasn’t sure if I sufficiently answered “what makes Lao Gan Ma unique”? Lao Gan Ma’s original sauce was the douchi-heavy black soybean chili – the douchi-heavy sort make for ideal toppings for Liangfen. Different places in China have their own ways of fermenting douchi – Lao Gan Ma’s is actually proprietary. If you happen to live in a place where you can specifically buy Sichuan-style douchi, those would be much closer… we used Cantonese-style douchi because that’s usually what’s available outside of China.

    3. I’m going to sound like a bit of a curmudgeon here, but it always makes me scratch my head when I see certain English language sources put out a recipe for things they… obviously don’t know how to make. There’s no shame in ignorance of course – like, we’ve been working on trying to make proper hand-pulled noodles for years now and still can’t quite get it. But we wouldn’t try to teach people yet, you know? I guess I… expect more from the Bon Appetits of the world.

    4. Most English language recipes for chili crisp seem to be derived from Danny Bowien’s recipe in his Mission Chinese cookbook. Which seems to (a) use the Sichuan technique for chili oil and (b) be strangely super heavy on shallot (we’ve never seen shallot in Guizhou cuisine). Danny Bowien’s sort of proudly a mad scientist though, so it’s hard to make a value judgement there. SeriousEats interestingly came the closest, with their toasting of the chilis, basing the chili mix around Kashmiri chili (surprisingly close to Chicken Claw), and addition of MSG (very important here, Lao Gan Ma is really heavy on MSG).

    5. I know this was a longer one. I'm never sure whether you guys like listen to me blab on and on about food/history or if you prefer straight up recipes.

    6. An apology and a big thank you to Mikael Pashkov, Jesse Youngblood, and Andrew Carrier. I’ll get you guys up in the credits next week, promise. I was editing this on the plane and didn’t get the chance to update the outro with the most recent patrons.

    Travelling in the USA now, so if we're a touch less responsive than usual, that's why 🙂

  2. Hey Chris I recently bought a clay pot of tianjing preserved vegetable. It appears to be salted fermented cabbage. Can I use it as a sub for datocai or yacai?

  3. I'm gonna get hate for this but…. I don't like lao gan man. I can't get over the overpowering sulfer dioxide and sodium sulfite/sodium sulfate. It has an awful chemicaly taste that just never goes away… The black bean one isn't so bad but the chili crisp is just saturated in chemical taste :/ I have the same problem buying chinese dry red chilies in the west, they're all absolutely overloaded with sulfur dioxide.

    I'm super glad you guys posted a homemade version of this because the concept is amazing when it's not ruined by acrid chemicals.

  4. 非常好 Great work! from a fellow foodie trying to decode chinese food culture while travelling and learning the language. I think you are the best non-chinese language source of information that is well researched and legit.

    The best being 美食作家王刚

  5. I couldn't find Dou chi for your mapo tofu recipe. Based on an obscure source which kind of implied it's a substitute, I bought Laogama preserved black beans version. Hope it will turn out fine!

  6. Me reading the video title:

    “What is Lao Gan Ma…”
    Haha, finally a creative cop-out video from this channel! Well I’m not going to judge. Nobody is an infinite wellspring of ideas, and they’ve been churning out high-quality content now for years…

    “…and can you make it at home?”
    OH SHI—

  7. Luckily we live in San Francisco where not only do we have Chinatown but Clement Street and Irving Street to buy all this luscious good stuff. My Vietnamese wife is so happy I'm watching these videos and learning to cook more to her taste than mine. But the truth is I love heat and she's just learning to.

  8. Could you do a video on 腐乳? it's an amazing condiment that not many people know about outside of China, and a proper introduction would do wonders.

  9. I’m on the plane flying home from Peru right now. I was so surprised by how many Chinese and Chifa (Chinese + Peruvian) restaurants there are. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find good chili crisp, so I have been craving that uber spicy hit that I get from homemade chili oil and chili crisp. I can’t wait to try this version full of all sorts of goodies.

  10. I really enjoy the segments where you start exploring the food history of certain regions like you did here. I could watch a whole vid on just that

  11. LAO GAN MA chili oil with black beans is so good I keep A jar in my car trunk !!!!!!!!!!!!!!No LIE I was looking through tools and found A jar I put there a year ago .I been using going 4 years years and love the spicy broad bean paste also , but you can get a GW stores.

  12. No idea why this question popped up in my mind right now.. according to your Patreon you live in Shenzhen, and you started on reddit's /r/cooking..aren't those sites blocked in China due to internet censorship? I mean it's a good thing that apparently you found a good way, that hopefully found hurt you in the end, but right now I'm really curious how it works 😅

    Oh and btw, great recipe as always!

  13. This is another great video, and a bit bittersweet with that photo. :/

    Ever since you made mention of Lao Gan Ma in previous videos, I've had some in my kitchen and use it in stuff that isn't even Chinese, it just tastes that good. (If I don't use the chilis themselves, I use the oil.)

  14. Did you get any chili "coughs" while making this? That something that can happen when you toast chili on the stove and breath in the chili smoke. Not very pleasant, so would like to know.

  15. No offense to the sauce but the absolute best chili oil was by huy fong who makes sriracha. It was called. Tia chieu sate. 🐓 on the blue label and blue cap. They discontinued it years ago. I found an Asian store selling expired 5 pound jars of it for like $8 and though it was 3 years expired and stale it's still kicked ass over anything out there the flavor was unique

  16. Bought the crispy one a couple months ago. I dont like it much. I was looking for a different kind of chilli oil sauce thing i'd bought before and loved it, the supermarket i was in didnt carry the one i wanted so i thought id give the laoganma crispy chilli oil a go. I dont think i'll finish the jar.

  17. oh good, I was wondering wtf "fermented kohlrabi" was supposed to be (then again I saw "fermented soybean" and didn't think about douchi so…)

  18. Only 2 hours since posting…and I am here with a big jar of Guizhou chilli oil on my table. I know it'll be better tomorrow but I'm already eating it now. As usual, you guys are the best around and my favourite cooking channel on YouTube. You didn't specify the oil amount but I eyed it and it was fine haha.

  19. So the questions must be asked; what can we use if we can't find preserved turnip, and how long does it last if you make your own, and I imagine you store it at room temperature?

  20. I love hearing about the history and origins of all these dishes , if you guys made a mini series about different regional cuisines and how they came to be …that would be too good, you guys are super thorough with your execution and research,
    Keep it up and greetings from Canada !!!

  21. I always refer to this as “Serious Chinese Man Sauce” because of the guy on the jar, but now I guess it’s a woman??

  22. I'm gonna ask in the inevitable Reddit thread, as well (unless you see this here), but… have you seen Sohla El-Waylly's chili crisp recipe?

    https://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2018/04/homemade-spicy-chili-crisp.html

    What do you think?

  23. Question: what's the purpose of heating an extra virgin oil that hot? If the point was to "cook it and remove its raw taste", why not just use a crappier, non-EV oil?

  24. My daughter is from Shandong – not known for Spicey food, but I cannot keep this stuff in the house . I think she goes through a jar a week😀 I’m glad to know how to make it.

  25. Thanks for the video.
    Lao Gan Ma can be found at the supermarkets in Australia. I knew about chilli crisp from the serious eats article, and wanted to try it. There were so many different products from them though that I didn't know which one was chilli crisp.

  26. Great video! Really enjoyed it! Do you think you guys'll ever do a video on 酸辣土豆絲? It's one of my favourites and I have yet to see a good video on how to make it

  27. This kind of blew my mind! Been thinking about different Chinese chilli sauces and how to source the ones I like and what makes them different from each other (we have about eight different chilli sauce and chilli oil jars in our fridge now) so I love this kind of specific and geeky food explanation!

  28. On video length: if we want the short, to the point version of a recipe or the "easy" Westernized variety there are pleeeeenty of sources out there. When I come to this channel it's usually BECAUSE of the deep dive into Chinese cuisine. Y'all provide very helpful context for flavors, cuisines and history which greatly informs my understanding of a dish as well as what the original "should" be.

    So, yeah. All for super long videos detailing the intricacies of Chinese cuisine variation!

  29. That "非常好的 chilli sauce" caught me off guard and I had to rewind a few times, guess that's what Globalization means.

  30. Why does he have to do all of these videos on such a stuck up conceited voice? It's cooking, not rocket science. Must have a tiny dick.

  31. lol i just bought this for the first time like a week ago. i didnt know its polular. Just bought it to spice up my fried rice. Super cool history lesson! keep it up you guys are awesome!

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