I woke up the other morning wondering what would happen if I made a Vietnamese green hot chile sauce with tomatillos. I’ve recommended subbing green jalapenos for red chiles in the regular hot chile sauce (tuong ot) but didn’t think about the tomato that goes into the sauce. I just assumed that one would stick with the Roma tomato.
Tomatillos are tart and with some viscosity to thicken up sauces. What would happen? So I experimented.
Choosing tomatillos and jalapenos
When tomatillos are old, they can be spongy inside so I always go for the medium, firm ones. Pull back the husk to make sure the fruit is blemish free. As for the jalapenos, I look for medium ones too. Large ones can be utterly bland, practically like a regular green bell pepper.
When in doubt, throw a serrano or two into the mix for insurance heat!
Turmeric and sugar tweaks
Halfway through the cooking process, I tasted the simmering chile mixture and realized that the tomatillo made things a little too tart. So I added a pinch of sugar. The result is the ingredient line that says “brimming” tablespoon of sugar.
When you taste, also remember to gauge heat level. Drop in extra seeds and spongy placenta to boost the sauce’s punch.
I noticed that cooking turned the lovely chiles into a sad dull green color. It’s natural but I wanted a brighter finish. As a workaround, I added a pinch of turmeric to the pan as a fix. The turmeric does not alter the flavor because there is so little involved.
Straining the sauce
After pureeing the sauce in the blender, pour it through a strainer. You can omit that step if you do not mind the seeds. I like a smooth, silky-ish finish. Press on the solids to make sure you get enough. I use a mesh noodle strainer the other day because it fit perfectly over my measuring cup! Mesh-size wise, it was just right. There’s no need to go super-fine with the mesh strainer because you may not get a 3/4-cup yield.
I like the green hot chile sauce a lot. It has a certain tang that the red one does not. It’s also thicker. Both qualities reflect the tomatillo in the recipe. What’s more, the Vietnamese green chile hot sauce is quite handsome next to the red one.
So when you’re making hot chile sauce subbing green jalapeno for red Fresno or red jalapeno, think of the tomatillo and a pinch of turmeric!
Or, make some of the red and some of the green during the Christmas holiday season. Offer up some extra warming cheer at the table!
Vietnamese Hot Green Chile Sauce
- 1 large clove garlic
- 3 ounces tomatillos about 3 medium ones
- 6 ounces jalapeno chiles
- 1 pinch turmeric optional, to brighten color
- Brimming 1⁄2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- Brimming 1 tablespoon sugar preferably organic
- 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
- 1 ⁄2 cup water plus more as needed
- Coarsely chop the garlic, then husk the tomatillo and coarsely chop. Transfer to a 1 1⁄2-quart (1.5 l) saucepan.
- Stem and quarter the chiles lengthwise. Because you want a moderate amount of heat, seed half of the chile pieces, reserving those unwanted parts in case the chiles are wimpy. With the skin side facing up, coarsely cut all of the chiles crosswise into pieces the size of your thumbnail. Use one of the leftover stem pieces and your knife to usher them into the pan. Add the turmeric, salt, sugar, vinegar, and water.
- Bring to a brisk simmer over medium heat. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes, until the chiles have softened and are a pale green. Taste midway. If it’s too mild, add some of the reserved chile seeds and spongy placenta to the pan.
- When done, slide to a cool burner, let sit for 3 to 5 minutes, then puree in a blender. Expect skin bits and seeds to remain. Pass through a fine-mesh strainer, pressing on the mixture with a spatula; discard the solids. Allow to cool and concentrate, uncovered, for about 1 hour before tasting and tweaking.
- If needed, add salt by the pinch, sugar by the 1⁄4 teaspoon, vinegar by the 1⁄2 teaspoon, or water by the tablespoon. Texturally, the sauce should resemble a pourable sriracha. The flavor should be pleasantly sweet and spicy. You will want to eat the chile sauce by the spoonful but know that you should not. Keep refrigerated for up to 3 months. Enjoy at room temperature.