Many people from the American South are familiar with pimento cheese but I didn’t try it until 2013. It was so fun and addictively good to eat that I been making it ever since. The cheese was properly cut into small dice so you could taste its flavor.
I’ve made it from a recipe in the wonderful Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook and come up with my own recipe too, roasting up my own sweet red peppers and hand-chopping the cheese. I add Southeast Asian elements to the mixture in the form of Sriracha (heat and vibrant color) and fish sauce (umami). After all, there are many Vietnamese people contributing to the modern southern table (some of the best banh mi are in New Orleans, and Houston has some of the country’s best beef pho).
It’s been a while since I’d made pimento cheese. I felt snacky yesterday while at Whole Foods, where I spied an 8-ounce package of organic sharp cheddar for $3.99. I usually use something like Kerrygold cheddar but thought I’d try this out; it’s on the waxy side so it’s not a dry cheddar. I also had a jar of WF fire roasted red peppers – which turned out to not be made from regular red bell peppers but rather from slender Hatch or Anaheim-style peppers. The peppers’ thin, sweet flesh was super easy to finely chop. Regular red bells are fine but they don’t have as intense of a pimento flavor and color as these. Of course, you can use the regular jarred pimento but they don’t seem to have much flavor to me. Your choice.
After a long day of recipe development, I was a bit lazy. I decided to dice about a third of the cheese and then grate the rest and rough chop it with a knife. The result was a charming, uneven texture.
I typically put the peppers and seasonings into a processor to blend them into a creamy orange mixture. This time, I just stirred things together. It was faster than using the processor and washing it afterward.
Most importantly, the pimento cheese had terrific little pops of pimento and cheesy flavor. By not blending things together too finely, I got better flavor and texture, too!
Pimento cheese keeps for days. I’ve traveled with it to gift an Texan expat living in Los Angeles.
Crackers such as Triscuits, Finn Crisp thin rye crackers, or rice crackers are terrific – sturdy — platforms for pimento cheese. So are the celery sticks, which come with natural troughs. You can use pimento cheese on a chicken-fried tofu steak sandwich. It’s a healthyish Asian twist on a Southern American favorite.
If you want to whirl things up, see this earlier version of sriracha pimento cheese. I used homemade regular mayonnaise, but if you have Sriracha mayo from The Banh Mi Handbook, it would be fabulous here!
Sriracha Pimento Cheese
Yield 1 1/3 cups
- 8 ounces sharp Cheddar cheese
- 3 to 4 tablespoons (1 1/2 to 2 ounces) finely chopped peeled, roasted sweet red peppers
- 3 tablespoons regular mayonnaise or Sriracha mayonnaise/aioli
- 2 to 3 teaspoons Sriracha or other Southeast Asian chile sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon finely grated yellow onion
- 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoons fish sauce or Worcestershire sauce
- 2 pinches sugar
- Cut the cheddar cheese into small dice, or grate it on the largest hole of a box grater then roughly chopped into a coarse texture. You can do some of both, if you like. Set aside.
- In a bowl, stir together the red pepper, mayonnaise, sriracha, onion, fish sauce (or Worcestershire) and sugar. Dump in the cheese and stir to combine.
- Let sit for 10 minutes to develop flavor, then revisit to taste. Add fish sauce (or Worcestershire) for umami depth. Sriracha for a slight edge of heat. Pimento cheese it not overly hot. It’s a thick, chunky spread, not a dip.
- If you can wait, cover and set aside for 1 hour at room temperature or refrigerate for up to several days. Enjoy at room temperature and stir things up before using. Use a spreader or something sturdy to scoop the stuff up with. I like all kinds of crackers, potato chips, and celery sticks.
Cuisine Asian American