Saturday, April 20, 2013

Some Like It Hot

No doubt you are familiar with the ubiquitous hot sauce known as sriracha or, more familiarly, "rooster sauce". Although made in California, it claims to be a Thai-style sauce and yet it goes well with just about anything. Yes, it's delicious in SE Asian style soups and noodle dishes but it also perks up eggs, macaroni and cheese, grilled cheese sandwiches, and Mexican-style tortilla-based dishes as well. It's also cheap and easily found in just about any grocery store around here so why bother making it from scratch?

As you've probably guessed, I just like making things from scratch. That's my #1 reason. I also like avoiding preservatives like potassium sorbate. As it turns out, when you ditch the preservatives, you end up with a much fresher tasting end result. While it can cost more to make your own rooster sauce than to buy it, your end result will be brighter and more interesting than the store bought variety. Also, making it yourself gives you the chance to adjust to your taste. Maybe you like a bit more garlic? A touch more vinegar? Less salt? You can even dial down the heat with the addition of red bell pepper if that's how you roll.

The hardest part about making your own sriracha is finding appropriate chiles. The first time I made this, I used a mix of hot chiles from a local organic farmer. My resulting sauce was good, but the flavor wasn't very distinctive and the color was muddy from all the different chile varieties. It was still a good hot sauce, and the technique and quantities work well with any variety of chile but if you are aiming for rooster sauce, you want bright red, fleshy chiles along the lines of a red jalapeƱos or Fresno chiles shown below. I have the best luck finding appropriate chiles in markets catering either to Mexican or SE Asian customers. For my most recent batch I started with 1.5 lb of fresh Fresno chiles.
The only other exotic ingreient you will need is palm sugar which usually comes in 2-3 ounce cakes. If you are lucky, you will find a soft palm sugar but sometimes it is hard as a rock. Most recipes direct you to grate the palm sugar but this can be rather like grating concrete so my workaround if I have super hard palm sugar is to bring the vinegar and water to a boil, drop in the palm sugar, and dissolve it, breaking it up as it softens with a sharp knife, before adding the chiles and garlic. That way the sugar has time to break down without cooking the chiles to death. You may be lucky and find granulated palm sugar. Another option is light brown sugar although I haven't tried this myself.
I generally follow this recipe for fresh chile sauce and it has never failed me. It's a simple matter of stemming the chiles, chopping them up, and then briefly simmering them in water and vinegar along with with garlic, palm sugar, and salt. Once cooled down, you run everything in the blender until smooth (or use a stick blender as I did) and then press through a fine mesh sieve to remove seeds and skin.
The end result is a beautiful bright red sauce that you can bottle up and use to brighten just about anything.

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