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A Newcomer to the American Table: Sriracha

OK, sriracha --a wonderfully fragrant and thick hot sauce hailing from South East Asia-- has been known to many a pepper head for quite awhile in this country. I still remember my mother (the spice pioneer in the family) bringing home our first specimen of this style of hot sauce--actually a chunkier Malaysian product called Sambal Oelek-- when I was still in grade school (i.e. a long time ago, in a decade far, far away). The reason this condiment memory stands out: after a few shuffles of the refrigerator, the stuff ended up next to a gallon of skim milk and, after a day of mingling, I discovered that the milk had faint overtones of garlic, chiles, and vinegar. Mom was incredulous when I told her, but it was hard to argue with the scent and flavor of the suddenly-infused jug of milk. We were both floored!

I guess I learned a few lessons that day: milk can really pull flavors out of stuff... the plastic milk jugs and condiment bottles are made of is actually quite permeable... and finally, Sambal Oelek, and its popular puréed cousin sriracha--now ubiquitous in super markets and restaurants with its iconic rooster label and green top--are to be respected. This last bit of insight actually kept me from trying sambals and sriracha for a few years after my infused-milk epiphany, despite my love of everything spicy.

Luckily, I overcame my trepidation, and many American consumers have as well. Sriracha, and especially Huy Fong Food's green-tipped take on it, are very popular. To give you an idea, let me provide an example. The closest restaurant to us (keep in mind that we live in a very rural area with a fairly homogenous food culture) that has a local-ingredients focus serves many types of food: entrée salads, individual pizzas, a hummus plate, a number of riffs on huevos rancheros, sandwiches, soups, etc. There isn't a single rice or noodle dish on the menu; not a single menu item has even the slightest Asian inflection. Yet there they sit: green-tipped bottles of sriracha waiting next to the requisite bottles of Tabasco Sauce, ready to season pizzas, sandwiches, salads, and egg dishes.

Of course, Huy Fong's Rooster brand is not the only one out there, and definetly not the best. The Thai-made "Shark" brand sriracha can be found at Asian grocers (get the "extra hot"... it has better flavor), though my old favorite, Flying Swan, is impossible to locate and may not be imported any more. Both of these have more complexity to them (and more garlic!) than the market leader and are worth seeking out if you like sriracha.

Before you head out to search for these worthy condiments, read through this recipe and note how easy it is. If you have the time (a whopping twenty minutes) and a blender or food processor, homemade sriracha is within your reach... this afternoon, if you get motivated. For many of us who are not fortunate enough to have a good Asian grocery down the street, it takes much less time and effort to make this stuff than to actually source the good stuff. And for my money, the results are better than just about anything you can find at a store. Honestly, I think this is the most immediately-gratifying condiment I've made thus far (though it does get better after spending a few days in the fridge).

In other words, make it! This recipe is definitely going into the next edition of JOY.

For traditionalists who like their hot sauce sharp, salty, and vinegary, please check out our recipe for Fermented Lousiana-style Hot Sauce.

Other articles you might enjoy: Chipotles en Adobo, Jamaican Jerk Chicken

Fresh Sriracha Chile Sauce
about 2 cups

Any red chile will do, but we had especially good luck with what are known as "Red Finger Hots." Red Jalapeños or Fresnos will work great. My only suggestion: get some that will be easy to seed. Specifically: though you may be tempted to use red Thai chiles, fight this impulse! They are impossible to seed and, if used whole, will make the sauce way too spicy. As you can see in the ingredients shot, we opted for a unrefined palm/coconut sugar (which can be found at Asian grocers), but dark brown sugar is great too.

Stem, seed, and roughly chop:
     1-1 1/2 pounds red chiles (Finger Hots, red Jalapeños, Fresnos, or any fairly mild red variety)
Add to a medium saucepan along with:
     1/2 cup water
     1/3 cup rice or coconut vinegar
     1/4 cup coconut or palm sugar, grated, or dark brown sugar

     4-6 cloves of garlic, peeled
     2 teaspoons kosher salt

Bring this mixture to a boil, simmer for 10 minutes, and remove from heat. When cool, transfer to a blender or food processor and purée until smooth. Add water or a touch of vinegar if the mixture is too thick; it should be the consistency of a thick catsup. Adjust salt level and transfer to a bottle or two. Store in the refrigerator. The sauce will keep for at least a month, but I doubt it will last that long.


woody1459's picture

I made a very similar version to this a month or so ago, using late crop mixed chiles. Most were ripe serranos but I had a couple of still green habaneros. Apart from it's tendency to make me cry it was delicious. My neighbour certainly enjoyed it! I use mine with home-made pork pies (the British version, using lard hot water pastry) and to add variety to my arrabiatta pasta sauces


john's picture

Both uses sound delicious! I whipped up a batch recently with long cayennes that was quite mild, but still packed with flavor... Now I have an excuse to make some lard-enriched pasties! Thanks for sharing.
woody1459's picture

You're very welcome John. I have a couple of recipes for pies if you are interested? The full pork pie has a line of hard boiled eggs running along it (it's rectangular, made for slicing), the other combines slice of country ham between layers of minced pork. I started making my own because shop pies were becoming increasingly bland (the lowest common denominator syndrome, beloved of supermarkets)and authentic local butchers are an endangered species nowadays.I love pork in all it's for,s but pork pies are high up the list. I make many variants - one that went down well was spiced up with diced cornichons and finely chopped Thai red peppers


john's picture

Not only am I interested, you're making me hungry. Cornichons and chiles sounds like it would pair nicely with an unctious pork filling... Do you use slow-cooked pulled shoulder, or the country ham/minced pork you mentioned above? I'd love to try one of your recipes. It's getting cold and hot pasties sound really good right now!
woody1459's picture

Here's the recipe. Sing out if confused! It is delicious. Cheers Ingredients 6 eggs 400g minced pork 200g good-quality pork sausage meat (force meat In US I think. ) 140g cooked ham meat chopped into small chunks. (you could use your pork shoulder. This is for texture and isn't critical) Small handful sage leaves 1 small onion , finely chopped Few shakes Tabasco sauce 2 leaves gelatine (or thickened, I.e. boiled down stock) For the pastry 100g lard , plus extra for greasing Our lard is usually refined pork fat. 450g plain flour , plus extra for dusting 4 tbsp milk 1 egg , beaten Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, then boil the eggs for Exactly 7½ mins. Cool in cold water, peel and set aside. Tip the pork, sausage meat, ham, sage and onion into a large bowl. Season generously and add a few shakes of Tabasco. Mix well with your hands until completely combined. Take about 1 tbsp of the mix, shape into a small burger and fry in A pan. Taste for seasoning. Slightly over-seasoned is perfect. Melt a few tbsps lard, brush a 1-litre terrine dish with an even layer of the melted fat, then dust with flour. To make the pastry, tip the flour into a bowl with 2 tsp salt. Put the lard and milk into a pan with 150ml water, then heat until the lard has completely melted. Pour into the flour and beat with a wooden spoon until combined. Tip onto the surface and knead until it all comes together. Cut a piece of baking parchment to fit the bottom and long sides of the terrine dish with some hanging over the edge. Take about two-thirds of the pastry dough and shape it into a rectangle roughly the width and length of the dish. Lay the dough into the terrine and, using your fingers, press it Into the bottom, the corners and up the sides of the dish until it comes to the top and hangs over the rim a little. Take half the meat mixture and pat it into a shape that will fit the terrine Dish, then lay it in. Use your fingers to make a trench down the middle of The meat. Trim the tops and bottoms off the eggs, lay them, in a row, along the trench, then season. Trimming the eggs like this ensures that each slice of pie will contain both egg white and yolk. Take the rest of the meat mixture, pat it out to a rectangle that will fit over the eggs, and press it over the top. Brush the overhang of the pastry with the beaten egg, then roll out the rest of the pastry to fit over the pie. Pinch edges together to fix the top. Brush top generously with egg and Pierce three holes along the top. Heat oven to 200C/fan 180C/gas 6. Place pie on a baking sheet and bake for 30 mins. Lower the heat to 180C/fan 160C/gas 4, then continue to cook for another hour. Leave to cool. Carefully turn dish upside-down onto a board and use the sides of the paper to pull the pie out of the dish. If sides aren't brown enough, return it to the oven On a baking tray at 200C/fan 180C/gas 6 until coloured. Cool, then chill in the fridge. If you want to fill the pie with jelly, soak the gelatine in cold water and warm the stock until hot, but not simmering. Remove the gelatine from the water and squeeze to remove excess liquid, then stir into the stock to dissolve. Leave to cool to room temperature, then transfer to a squeezy bottle. Pour the jelly into one of the holes until it comes to the top. Place the pie on a dish in the fridge until the jelly has set, then repeat twice more, so the jelly has filled each hole. Leave to set in the fridge Overnight. Adding cooked meat These pies are a great way to use up Christmas ham. You could also include leftover strips/cubes of turkey, chicken or game bird, as well as a handful of shelled pistachios, some chopped prunes or chopped, dried apricots. Gelatine You don't need to use gelatine but if you want to this is a good tip to improve the taste of the jelly. If you have your own ham stock, boil it down By two-thirds to concentrate the flavour. You can also use homemade chicken stock that has been boiled down by half. Seasoning cold dishes Whenever you make a dish that is to be served cold, you need to season it more than usual as chilling will dull the flavour. Make a small burger out of the mix, fry it and taste for seasoning. Slightly over-seasoned is perfect Notes 1)This a Gordon Ramsey recipe. 2) I use a rectangular pan with a removable bottom and no lid recess as in terrines. It makes sealing the top easier 3) I quite often make this without the eggs and up the meat quantities by 25%. More often than not I make double and freeze the excess for next time 4) I only add things like cornichons and Chiles in the egg-less version. In season, when I can get them, I love adding fresh walnuts to this pie. Next year I am hoping my own walnut tree will fruit! Pistachios work well too.


woody1459's picture

ps If pies interest you try Tamsin Day lewis' "Tarts With Tops On", one of my favourite cookbooks. Try also an English Steak & Kidney Pudding, that is truly unctuous (and with an added oyster or two becomes a gourmet dish).


john's picture

Amazon had it for $4... done. We're slowly testing our way through the 2006 edition of JOY. We have a recipe for Steak and Kidney Pie, so when we get there I might cheat a little and slip an oyster in. Sounds really good.
woody1459's picture

S & K pie is one thing, S & K pudding is one, maybe two levels of Heaven higher. You use self raising flour and beef suet (beef kidney fat usually) which we buy in packets -like small pellets. The ratio is always 2:1. This is mixed with water to make a stiffish dough which is rolled out in a circle, roughly 3/16" thick. Cut a wedge, about 1/3, and use the large bit to fit into an appropriately lined basin (pyrex or china usually), overlappping the straight edges and smoothing it down into the basin.Fill with chuck steak pieces (about 3/4" cubes)tossed in seasoned flour, pieces of kidney to about 1/4 of the beef weight, and maybe some sliced onions. Pack it well down (you can add herbs like thyme)and fill with a well seasoned beef stock. usually it is mounded above the top of the basin. Roll the remaining dough into a circle and cap the basin, pinching the edges to seal well. Cover with a floured cloth (or buttered foil) with a pleat in to allow for expansion. Put into a large enough saucepan to hold the basin, fill with water to about 3/4 up the basin and simmer/steam, covered, for 4 hours. You may need to top up from time to time. Tip out onto a plate, slice and serve with mashed potatoes, a good gravy and properly cooked greens.Heaven on a plate.


Shantae B.'s picture

I can't wait to try this! I love sriracha and use it to make buffalo wings (1:3 ratio with Louisiana hot sauce), as well as to flavor chicken dishes. I will also look for the Shark brand to compare the tastes (I use Hung Fouy). I live in south Alabama where the Asian population is high, so there is an Asian market practically on every corner.
Shantae B.'s picture

I meant I use Huy Fong.
john's picture

There's nothing wrong with Huy Fong! Especially their Chili Garlic Sauce... which would probably make a good buffalo wing sauce addition too. I do like the Shark "Extra Hot" better than Huy Fong, but their milder products are actually (in my opinion) not as good. I swear though, if you can find fairly inexpensive red chiles (not the small Thai ones, but jalapeño sized and fairly fleshy) this stuff is super easy and delicious. If you have plenty of asian groceries around, finding a good price on chiles should be pretty easy!
Phyllis's picture

How long can the sauce be stored? If you want to make a quantity of it, will it keep or do you need to can it?
meg's picture

Hi Phyllis. We stored our sauce in the refrigerator for several months. I would not advise canning it simply because we do not know what the pH is and don't feel confident recommending canning something like this. The sauce is very thick, which means that water bath canning is probably not the method to use. Pressure canning might be a possibility, but again, we don't recommend this simply because we haven't tested it. However, it keeps very well in the refrigerator--just remember to sterilize the jar you put it in. You can also freeze it if you like. Hope this helps!
Michael Hamlin's picture

I'm not really big about adding sugar to things. Do you think it would still be good if I just left the sugar off?
john's picture

You could always try it first without the sugar. I think it's pretty integral to sriracha.
john's picture

You could always try it first without the sugar. I think it's pretty integral to sriracha.

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