If you have not already tried the mega-yummy Chinese chili crunch sauce called LaoGanMa, you must do so without further delay! This amazing concoction adds crunch, heat and umami goodness to just about anything. It is simply amazing! The condiment was developed in 1996 by an illiterate Chinese woman named Tao Huabi. She owned a modest noodle shop in a far-flung province. However, the fame of her homemade chili crisp spread and she decided to manufacture it for mass distribution. Her first small enterprise has now developed into a huge company with $190 million in assets and over 2000 employees. The old grandmother now drives a Bentley!
The sauce has also been dubbed the “Happy Lady Sauce” or the “Grumpy Lady Sauce”. Depending on how you interpret the inscrutable expression she wears in her picture on the label, it can go either way. Personally, I think she looks grumpy, which just goes to show that owning a Bentley does not, in and of itself, make one happy.
Nevertheless, I’d like to try.
The sauce combines crunchy fried garlic, shallots, chili flakes and crushed roasted soy nuts in canola oil. I have also heard a rumor that peanuts are in the mix as well. At least, the ingredients are processed in a factory that also processes nuts. So, if you have a peanut allergy, beware!
But if you have the all-clear for any allergy related issues, try this recipe that uses the amazing sauce as an ingredient. It adds an incredible depth of flavor. I also learned a neat trick for brining shrimp, that you will want to use when you cook shrimp for any recipe.
Shrimp and Noodles with Chili Crunch Sauce
1 (8 ounce) package of spaghetti (I used squid ink pasta)
1 pound large deveined shrimp
1 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons mayonnaise ( I used Hellman’s Light)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon Chinese Chili Crisp sauce
1 teaspoon Gochujang (Korean pepper paste)
1 teaspoon white sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil
I large shallot, finely chopped
5 cloves of garlic, minced
1 (one inch) piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
6 scallions, cut into 1 inch pieces
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, cook spaghetti according to package directions.
While the noodles are cooking, combine the shrimp with salt and baking soda and let sit for 15 minutes. Don’t be tempted to skip this step. I was amazed at how it improved the texture and flavor of frozen shrimp (thawed first, of course).
Combine mayonnaise, soy sauce, chili crisp, gochujang and sugar in a medium bowl. Set aside.
Drain spaghetti. Rinse and dry shrimp.
Warm oil in a large skillet. Cook and stir shallot, garlic and ginger for 1 minute. Add shrimp and cook until bright pink, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add scallion and cook I minute longer.
Pour the chili crisp sauce mixture over the shrimp. Mix in the spaghetti and toss until evenly coated with sauce.
Now enjoy the Chinese New Year fireworks show exploding in your mouth. Its spicy, but the heat is not overpowering. It’s just incredibly delicious!
I was in love with this dish until the next morning when I stepped on the scale. It’s only 467 calories per serving, so what made me gain 2 pounds overnight? Then I remembered. The chili crisp contains MSG. MSG makes me retain fluid. Frankly, it was so good, it’s was worth it. Most people probably won’t notice a change at all. But, if you have a sensitivity, then do beware and leave it out. It’s still a very good recipe, but it will be missing the crazy umami funk that puts the flavor over the top.
I have since learned that its possible to make your own Chinese chili crunch, sans MSG. Google “homemade Chinese chili crunch” and you will find recipes. Search Bon Appetit’s website for a good one. I just ordered a new MSG-free Chinese chili crunch sauce from a company called Fly By Jing. It was very expensive at $15 dollars a jar, but I decided I needed to try it in the interest of research. When it arrives, I will make the recipe again and see if it’s as good with a different Chinese chile crunch sauce. Stay tuned. In the meantime, try the Old Grandmother Sauce. Just don’t plan on going to your Weight Watchers meeting the next day!
“Cooking is one of the strongest ceremonies for life. When recipes are put together, the kitchen is a chemical laboratory involving air, fire, water and the earth. This is what gives value to humans and elevates their spiritual qualities. If you take a frozen box and stick it in the microwave, you become connected to the factory.”
“If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.”
― Mark Twain