Chilli oil with lemon zest, garlic and bay


This recipe for chilli oil with lemon zest, garlic and bay is adapted from a Tess Kouros recipe and is so delicious. The flavours develop over time and this oil can be splashed over eggs or any manner of things. You can totally adapt it to your taste.

a chilli oil that is packed with flavour

When it comes to chilli tolerance, I can be classified into the mild, occasionally medium, but generally borderline wimp category.  I have strong opinions on it. I think too much can overpower and totally detract from other flavours in the food. I also think it’s highly addictive and the more you use the more you want.  So I have made a conscious effort to keep my heat levels fairly low.

Now this in no way means I don’t love the stuff.  It’s integral to so many dishes and recipes, and I use it all the time. I just like to be there, but not take over the party.

I also get quite frustrated living in a country where we have such limited access to a variety of chilli cultivars.  Most often you can find only green or red chillies, with little prior knowledge as to how much punch they deliver.

I had this delicious oil at my uncle and aunt’s olive farm, Groote Vallei in Tulbach recently.  In their house, it’s an everyday and virtually every meal condiment. Of course, I just had to know all about it.

It is taken from the book ‘Piri Piri Starfish’ by Tessa Kouros, and it’s her recipe for piri piri oil. I couldn’t find piri piri chillies, which are very hot but also very flavoursome, so adapted it using green chillies (which are milder) and I doubled the quantity to make 500ml vs. the 250 ml in the recipe.  It really did not seem worthwhile going to such a lot of effort for just one cup of oil.  My uncle and aunt quadrupled the recipe to make a litre each time.

So armed with my beautiful gift of amazing ‘Groote Vallei’ award-winning olive oil and the recipe, I set out to make my first ever chilli oil.

What you need to make: (doubled recipe)

  • 6 – 8 medium-sized piri piri chillies with the seeds (I used 6 green chillies so it’s milder)
  • 12 – 16 small dried piri piri chillies (I wimped out and used 6 dried red chillies)
  • 2 – 4 garlic cloves (I used 4)
  • 4 Tbs Whisky or brandy (I used brandy)
  • 1 tsp of finely grated lemon zest
  • 2 Tbs lemon juice
  • 2 Tbs red wine vinegar
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 500ml oil

How to make:

  • Remove the stems off all the chillies and pulse in a food processor or mortar and pestle with the garlic until you get a fine paste (about 4 Tbs for 500 ml oil)
  • Put all this chilli mix into a small pot with the brandy and heat on low
  • Add the lemon juice and zest, salt, vinegar, bay and salt and about 6 Tbs of olive oil
  • Allow it to cook and boil until it starts to caramelise
  • Remove from the heat and stir or whisk in the rest of the oil and pour into a sterilised bottle or jar
  • Allow the oil to ‘mature’ for about 2 weeks, shaking it each day to allow the flavours to develop

This recipe makes about 600 – 650ml. You may have noticed the lovely wine bottle I used to store mine in.  I brought this all the way back from Santorini a year and a half ago because I loved the shape. I now finally have a perfect use for it.

I can’t believe I have survived this long without it.  I’m now adding a splash on this and a splash on that. I’m adding it to the frying pan, the marinades and the dressings. Not only does it provide a controllable heat source by which you know exactly how much to add to get the desired result, but this oil has so many other things going on with it, making it an all-around, damn tasty addition to any kitchen or table.



  1. Hi – yes Im sure whisky will be fine, altough I have not tried it.

  2. Thanks, but my question was about bourbon. Your recipe says brandy or whisky.

  3. Hi. I have no idea as I have never made it with Bourbon.

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