‘wichcraft’s black chile oil and cooking through our cookbook shelves in 2017.

Fried oysters with avocado and black chile oil from ‘wichcraft

Whenever someone makes a crack about the flimsiness of IKEA furniture I want to tell them the story of our two tall BILLY bookcases that have moved from New Haven to New York to Stamford and then to two apartments in Baltimore. They’ve held up remarkably well given all of that activity, and right now one of them is playing host to 102 of our cookbooks, plus my various issues of Cherry Bombe, Lucky Peach (RIP), Fine Cooking, and Food and Wine. When I was organizing this shelf again after Christmas, I realized that I really shouldn’t buy one more cookbook until I’ve given all of our current ones a spin, perhaps signaling any that might not be living up to expectations and could potentially be given away.

So one of the projects I’ve quietly taken on this year is to do exactly that: cook at least one recipe from each of my cookbooks before adding a single title to this bookshelf. As of this writing I’m just about 40% through them all, which is not a very good showing at all and I can only justify it from being particularly busy over the late winter and early spring and relying on tried-and-true recipes instead of branching out into new ones. I took the three-day weekend to knock out a few more, but I think where this battle will be won is during weeknights and frankly, we could use a little more variety into our cooking routine.

Since this is my challenge, I get to make the rules, which are the following:

  1. Repeat recipes totally count.
  2. Components of a recipe count as long as they are a substantial part of the dish.
  3. That’s really it–I’m trying to make this achievable, after all.

An example of rule number two is this black chile oil from ‘wichcraft’s cookbook: the original dish is a fried squid po’ boy that has this condiment drizzled over it and it’s served with slices of fresh avocado, but squid isn’t readily available at our markets so I made do with fried oysters and instead of doing it as a sandwich, I mounted a bunch of them on a bed of avocado slices instead and topped them with the chile oil. It was a nice combination of spicy, crunchy, and creamy, and it was a much-needed jump start in getting me excited about cooking after a score of less-than-inspirational weeks both inside and outside the kitchen.

The chile oil itself is really easy to make and is fairly versatile, as it can easily be served on its own as a spicy relish or mixed into Greek yogurt or mayo to add a hit of heat to cut through the creaminess. It’s good for up to four weeks in the fridge once you make it, thus encouraging you to add a spicy kick to all of your meals in order to use as much of it up in that time as possible.

I’ve added a page to track my progress–I can’t say that I’ll blog about every recipe (again, we’re talking about achievable results here), but this is to help me stay accountable and for you to follow along, if you so desire.

Black chile oil
Slightly adapted from ‘wichcraft

  • 4 dried chipotle chiles
  • 1 dried ancho chile
  • 6 tbsp grapeseed oil
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • Juice from 1/2 lime

Char the chiles: using a cast iron skillet over high heat, carefully char the chiles until puffed up and blackened all over (Make sure to do this in a well-ventilated spot so you don’t breathe in the fumes). Remove from the heat and let cool.

Stem and seed the chiles and add them and the remaining ingredients into a food processor, blender, or work bowl for an immersion blender and process until fully incorporated. Either use immediately or transfer to a storage container and refrigerate for up to four weeks.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Darya says:

    When I moved to a smaller house, I sold every single cookbook I wasn’t using! I still have lots, and still not using as much as I could. This oil sounds great, I would love it!

    1. elizabeth says:

      I know I should probably get rid of some of ours–I’m hoping this exercise will make it clear which ones need to go and which can stay.

  2. shannon says:

    I am totally following along: there may be some overlap here, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on the ones you own. If i’m honest, I need to do the same thing with my own cookbook library, which is actually large enough to be considered a small actual library. some days that’s amazing: some days, i feel the same as you in that i suspect there may be some I could part with.

    1. elizabeth says:

      I mean, we all have to acknowledge that some of the books that we have are..not great, so this is a perfect experiment to see which ones I should probably rid myself of. I thought I was a little further along than I was, so now I’m doubly convinced to try ALL OF THE RECIPES.

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