For the optional nam prik dipping sauce, combine in a small food processor or a mortar and process or pound to a paste:
18 tiny dried shrimp, chopped...
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.
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.