Ever since a girlfriend at the time introduced me to its Shrimp Dumpling Noodle soup in the early 1990's I have been a regular diner at Swatow's, a terrific and inexpensive Chinese restaurant in downtown Toronto. At each visit I will heap spoonfuls of an oily chili flake hot sauce that they have on their table into my soup to give it that extra kick and flavour that spicy sauces can bring.
Recently at a Chinese grocery and vegetable market I stumbled upon a jar of what, from outward appearances, I thought must be the sauce they use. As it was very inexpensive at $1.99 a jar (or 2 for $3.00), I took a chance and picked one up. Once I got it home and opened it, however, I found that I had accidentally bought a sauce of even greater complexity and intensity of heat and flavour, the Lao Gan Ma Oil Chilli Sauce with peanuts. I can hardly overstate how fortuitous an error this was as this has quickly become one of my very favourite hot sauces of any type.
The Oil Chilli Sauce is a part of a family of Lao Gan Ma sauces all developed by a woman born in a remote province of China to a poor family, who became a street vendor due to the premature death of her husband leaving her with no income, and who now presides over a remarkable sauce empire. Her really incredible story was told in an article on the Women of China website.
The sauce itself really has it all. It has a satisfying texture, with its blend of oils, chilli flakes and the crunch of the peanuts. It is very spicy but its heat does not overwhelm the tastes of either the sauce itself or the foods you have it with. It is perfect with noodle dishes, dumplings and just about anything I have tried it with.
For this blog I will show how I used it recently to enjoy with steamed pork dumplings.
I got out our Bamboo Steamer and set it up atop a pot of boiling water. After placing a layer of romaine lettuce leaves at the bottom of the steamer I filled it with O'Tasty brand Pork and Black Mushroom and Pork and Leek Dumplings.
While the dumplings were steaming I took several spoonfuls of the sauce and put it in a small bowl. I then added some Dark Soy Sauce and a bit of white vinegar and blended it all together. This blend is nicely hot, salty and tart with real kick in all three departments!
Once the dumplings are done, you can dip the dumplings freely for as much of the heat/saltiness you want. Simply put, wonderful stuff!
I found that this sauce-dumpling blend of flavours paired really well with an inexpensive Italian table wine that both my pocketbook and I are fond of, Fontana Di Papa Castelli Romani, which can be had in a 1.5 litre bottle for only $12.95 if you are in Ontario. The heaviness of this wine suits the boldness of the sauce and dumplings.
The full Lao Gan Ma (which apparently is loosely translated as an affectionate form of saying grandmother) product line can be found on their website. I look forward to trying as many as I can find. Seek them out wherever you can. They are well worth the search.