When I moved back to London, I knew which things I would miss the most, so I made sure that those very things were the first to get packed away and shipped overseas. Others were left behind or distributed amongst friends and family, thinking that I could just buy new once I had settled in. Little did I know that many of my old haunts would have disappeared in the 6 years I was away, and things I had expected to find upon my return were no longer within easy reach.

I am talking about food of course, more specifically Japanese foods. I didn't think I would miss it so much, but a recent interminable bout of the cold has turned me into a blubbering homesick mess, and I want nothing more than my mum's cooking.

The next best thing to flying my mother over here is to recreate her dishes myself. And to do so, I need a few basic ingredients, like a proper chili oil, also known as rayu in Japanese. You can buy rayu in most Asian food stores, but I find them pretty flavourless: all heat, and little else. A good chili oil is very difficult to find, but oh so easy to make yourself: you'll need some toasted sesame oil, a bit of neutral vegetable oil and some dried chilies. Combine no more than 50%vegetable to the sesame oil. Add a few chopped dried chilies, and gently heat until it comes to a slow simmer: you should be able to count to at least ten in between each blurp. Leave to simmer for about 30 minutes, and then let cool completely before pouring into a clean bottle.

The resulting rayu will be darker in colour than anything you can find in the shops, but the flavour will be incredible: nutty and toasty, followed by heat. Sesame oil has a high smoke point so it is perfectly suited for stir frying, and is ideal to use in a kimpira, but you needn't keep it strictly for Asian cooking: rayu ould be just as nice drizzled on a pizza or some pasta. The oil is ready to use immediately, but its flavour will improve over the next few weeks, so make sure you make enough to last a month or two.

Bon app'!


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