Once I’d tasted a number of Sriracha chile sauces from Thailand, the U.S., and Vietnam, I wondered if I could make my own. Why make it yourself when Sriracha costs less than $3 a bottle? I wanted to understand how the flavor of Sriracha came together. Additionally, I wondered if I could use readily available ingredients to make an excellent homemade version of the hot sauce? Huy Fong’s Rooster brand of Sriracha employs American ingredients so why can’t I?
My aim was to come close to replicating the nuanced and well-balanced Thai Shark brand of Sriracha, which my friends and I all gravitated toward liking during the Sriracha taste off. The ingredients listed on the Shark bottle were pretty straightforward: chiles, vinegar, garlic, sugar, and salt. (No preservatives please!) Most Thais buy Sriracha so there aren’t many published recipes, especially in English. However, I remembered tasting Chef Robert Danhi’s version of Sriracha that he made from scratch. I looked in his densely packed cookbook,Southeast Asian Flavors, and found it on page 133. Robert’s Sriracha recipe came in two versions: quick (I call it fresh here) and fermented. He’d researched it from going to the actual town of Sri Racha in Thailand and analyzing both Thai and American sauces. I tried both of Robert’s versions.
What kind of chiles to use?
Robert called for using Holland (long) chiles, a medium-hot, medium-large pepper similar to what is used in Thailand. Those chiles are not readily available in California, but I’d learned from James Oseland’s Cradle of Flavor, a fabulous cookbook on Malaysian, Singaporean, and Indonesian food, that Fresno chiles are a fine substitute for Holland (long) chiles. Available at my local Santa Cruz markets as well as Whole Foods, Fresnos are about the size of jalapenos; they are often mislabeled ‘red jalapeno’ at supermarkets. The pointy tip red chiles can be medium to medium-hot, depending on the time of year. So I found the most beautiful ones and bought about 3 pounds of them. Recipe development requires large quantities of things as you gotta make several batches to get things just right.
[July 26 update: I found green and red Holland (long) chiles at Ralph's Supermarket in while visiting my parents in San Clemente in Southern California.]
You could try red jalapenos like the Huy Fong Rooster brand of Sriracha; wait for late August or early September for those to arrive at farmer’s markets. You could also blend chiles like I did for making Vietnamese chile garlic sauce (tuong ot toi Viet Nam), using some Thai or habanero with the Fresno or cayenne, for example. See the September issue of Saveur magazine (I just got an advance copy; it has a burger on the cover) for Latin American food expert Maricel Presilla’s wonderful piece on growing chiles at home and the 4 page glossary of chiles that she cultivates.
Fish sauce and sugar
The recipe from Southeast Asian Flavors called for fish sauce and granulated sugar. Because none of the commercially made Sriracha sauces included fish sauce, I omitted it. I’m sure Robert added a dash of nuoc mam for umami savoriness. As for the granulated sugar, I imagine that the Thai producers of Shark brand used local palm sugar, which has a lovely round sweetness that’s not cloying. I tried batches made with regular white sugar and palm sugar and the palm sugar was tad better tasting. Below is the Thai palm sugar that I used:
Thai palm sugar is not dark in color and molassy like its Malay and Indonesian gula Melaka or gula Jawa counterparts. Purchase the sugar from Chinese, Vietnamese, and Thai markets. Chop up the sugar with a heavy knife before using it so it dissolves easily. If palm sugar is unavailable, use light brown sugar. Dark brown sugar may darken the sauce more than you like.
Snip the Stem
Robert Danhi had an interesting tip for the chiles: Snip the stem but leave the star-like ‘crown’ part of the stem. Leaving the crown, Robert says, contributes floral qualities to the sauce. Here’s what he means:
Other than that, making Sriracha hot sauce is a no-brainer. It’s so much brighter tasting than most store bought, remarkably tasty and you can personalize it to your taste buds! One friend, Victor Fong, doesn’t usually like spicy hot flavors, but he couldn’t stop eating the homemade Sriracha and treated it practically like ketchup. We made grilled cheese sandwiches last night for dinner and another friend Alec Mitchell slapped some homemade Sriracha on the bread instead of mustard. It was the best sandwich of the night.
Which is better: Fresh or Fermented Sriracha?
After several rounds of tasting, the fermented version came out ahead. It’s got more depth than the faster fresh version but it also takes several days to ferment. Since it takes so little to make this stuff, why not make both and do a taste off of your own? Then report back to us all here!
Fermented Sriracha Chile Sauce
Less garlic is used here versus in the fresh version because the fermentation accentuates the garlic flavor too much. On my first round of tastings with Pim and David Kinch, we all found that using the same quantity of garlic as the fast version produced a jolting, unpleasant garlicky kick.
Makes 1 ¼ cups
¾ pounds Fresno, Holland (long), Jalapeno or Cayenne chiles, snipped, halved lengthwise and coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 ¼ teaspoons kosher salt
2 ounces (2 tablespoons) Thai or Vietnamese palm sugar, or 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1/4 cup distilled white vinegar
Water, as needed
1. Combine the chiles, garlic, salt, and sugar in a food processor and chop finely to a texture like that of wet oatmeal. Transfer the mixture to a glass bowl or jar and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside at room temperature for 3 to 4 days, until small bubbles have formed under the surface of the mixture. If a little fuzzy mold forms, lift it off with a fork or knife and discard.
2. Put the fermented mixture and vinegar into small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to simmer for 5 minutes.
3. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool to room temperature. Transfer to a blender and puree for about 3 minute, until a smooth, orange-red mixture forms. Add the water to facilitate the pureeing, if needed.
4. Position a fine mesh strainer over a clean bowl. Then pass the chile sauce through, pressing on the solids with a spatula or spoon to extract as much chile sauce as possible. The mixture is often slightly too thick for me so I’ll stir 1 tablespoon of water into the finished chile sauce. Let the flavor develop and bloom for a few hours before using. Taste it and make any flavor adjustment with salt, sugar or vinegar. Store in a jar and keep refrigerated for 1 month. Bring it to room temperature before using.
Fresh Sriracha Chile Sauce
This quick version of Srirach comes together in a jiffy and is extra terrific when you’re in a pinch. With the extra garlic, I prefer an extra kick from the sugar. On the first time out, start with the smaller quantity and work your way up to tinker with the flavor. Because this version is fast to prepare, you can also make half batches and play with the flavors that way too.
Makes 1 ½ cups
¾ pounds Fresno, Holland (long) or Cayenne chiles, snipped, halved lengthwise and coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic
1 ¼ teaspoons kosher salt
2 to 3 ounces (1 ½ to 3 tablespoons) Thai or Vietnamese palm sugar, or 1 ½ to 2 tablespoon light brown sugar
1/4 cup distilled white vinegar
½ cup water
1.Put the chiles, garlic, salt, sugar, vinegar and water in small saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat to vigorously simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool to room temperature.
2. Transfer to a blender and puree for about 5 minutes, until a smooth, orange-red mixture forms. Add water by the teaspoon to facilitate the pureeing, if needed.
3. Position a fine mesh strainer over a clean bowl. Then pass the chile sauce through, pressing on the solids with a spatula or spoon to extract as much chile sauce as possible. If the mixture is too thick, stir in water by the tablespoon of water. Let the flavor develop and bloom for a few hours before using. Taste it and make any flavor adjustment with salt, sugar or vinegar. Store in a jar and keep refrigerated for 1 month. Bring it to room temperature before using.
Notes: Recipes adapted from Robert Danhi's Southeast Asian Flavors (Mortar & Press, 2008)
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