Jason from Atlanta wrote late last week asking about a Vietnamese-Style Sate Chile Sauce that he’d sampled at two Vietnamese restaurants in Atlanta. Restaurant cooking is hard to duplicate unless I’ve eaten it myself, so I pointed Jason to a couple recipes in Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, which he had on hand, so that he may understand what the restaurant chef may have done to craft the sauce. The simple Mellow Chile Garlic Mix (p. 315) is just crushed red chile flakes, garlic and oil. It’s an old-fashioned homey condiment that pre-dated any kind of Sriracha or chile-garlic sauces that are ubiquitous these days. Jason’s sauce had lots of lemongrass and shallot, so I pointed him to the finishing mix that’s added to complete spicy bowls of Bun Bo Hue noodle soup (p. 212-214). The key in both of those recipes is that you have to slowly cook at low heat to coax all the oils and flavors from the ingredients. If you’ve prepared cooked sambals, you’ll notice the similarity in cooking methods.
With all of that in mind, Jason returned to one of the restaurants and chatted with the chef for 20 minutes to get the recipe. The chef told Jason that this is a Vietnamese-Style Sate Chile Sauce. Jason reports that the chef explained that his heady mixture is a combination of a 1:1:3 ratio of garlic, shallots and lemongrass that’s fried in oil. The chef then adds fresh chiles, crushed dry chiles and Sriracha sauce before adding some salt, fish sauce, MSG, and a touch of sugar.
Jason went home and came up with his own recipe. He sent it to me along with the photo that’s on this post. Since I was out of my regular Mellow Chile Garlic Mix, I made a batch of Jason’s. YOWZA — it is very spicy — like leaving a light ring of fire around your lips and on your tongue. The burn disappeared after a few minutes. If you’re not a heat seaker, omit or cut down on the Sriracha at the end. To mitigate the heat, I added extra sugar (about 1 1/2 teaspoons extra). Letting the mixture sit overnight mellows and blends the flavors nicely.
What will I use my 2 cups for? As a table top condiment to add extra zip to foods, a seasoning for a stir-fry (it’ll be tofu tonight), or a final flourish for a hot, spicy soup, like a Thai-style seafood soup made with lots of kaffir (makrut) lime leaf. It’s nice slapped onto some fried rice too. Have paper tissues nearby, for this is definitely a brow-wiper and nose-runner kind of condiment. Jason said that he was practically addicted to it after he made his first batch and I totally agree. There’s a wonderful complexity, and I didn’t use the MSG either. Bravo and cam on (thank you), Jason!
Note that for accuracy, Jason used weight measurements in metric, which is easier to gauge than ounces. There are 28 grams in 1 ounce. If you don’t have a scale, it is one of the most useful tools in the kitchen! Here is Jason’s recipe, which includes some minor edits on my part:
Makes about 2 cups
25 g garlic (3 large cloves), coarsely chopped
30 g shallots (1 large shallot), coarsely chopped
80 g lemon grass (4 medium stalks), coarsely chopped
About 1 cup peanut oil
8 g fresh Thai bird chilis, minced
30 g crushed red thai chilis, the dry red ones about 3-4" long
2 1/2 teaspoons sugar
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp. MSG (optional)
3 to 4 Tablespoons Sriracha chili sauce (optional, use for brighter color and extra heat)
1) Food process the garlic, shallots and lemon grass separately. (An electric mini-chopper works very well for this task.) Get the garlic
and shallots to a fine mince, and the lemon grass well processed, but not
2) Put 14 tablespoons (that’s 1 cup less 2 tablespoons) oil in a small saucepan and add garlic. Heat over medium low and after the mixture starts bubbling and making sizzling sounds, lower the heat to the low. Let fry on low, low heat for 5
3) Add the shallot and keep frying on low heat for 10 minutes more. It
should gently sizzle without browning.
4) Add the lemongrass and let fry on low for another 10-15 minutes, until the lemongrass is fragrant, toasty, and has sunken into the oil.
5) Add the minced fresh chiles and fry for 5 minutes to release their oil and turn the mixture pale orange.
6) Add the crushed red pepper and fry for 5-10 minutes, until there’s a nutty, spicy smelling heat.
7) Stir in the Sriracha to achieve the desired color — orange red. About 3 to 4 tablespoons should do it. Then stir in the fish sauce, sugar, salt, and MSG. Adjust the heat to lightly bubble and let cook 1 or 2 minutes longer.
8) Turn off the heat and allow to cool for about 10 minutes. Taste and adjust with a little more sugar to tame the heat, fish sauce or salt for savoriness, or a bit more Sriracha for extra heat. If you add sugar, warm up the mixture and stir it to dissolve the sugar. There should be a layer of oil floating on top to cover. If not, add more oil as needed to barely
cover the top.
For a smoother texture, use a stick blender or food processor to grind the mixture finely. Allow to cool completely before transferring to a jar. Store at room temperature for daily use or in the refrigerator for infrequent use and longer keeping.