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« January Food | Main | Merry Christmas with Meatballs »
Thursday
Jan132011

Sriracha, Seductress in a Squeeze Bottle

 

"It's THE gateway drug of chili heads."

"You know it's a sign that you've got a good condiment when you're making dishes to accommodate your condiment."

-comments on chowhound.com's thread Sriracha Chili Sauce, Condiment or Crack?


It started so innocently: about a year ago we were given a small re-used jam jar full of thick red liquid by my mother-in-law. "It's Thai chili sauce," she said. "We have a whole bottle of it that we're never going to finish."

When we got home I tasted it and said, "oh, it's Sriracha. It's good, though I never know quite what to put it on." Manuel licked some off his finger and nodded approvingly. "Spicy, I like it." And then we put it in the back of the fridge and forgot about it.

Although it's hard to fathom now, I honestly didn't know how to use it. Sriracha, I thought, occupied a strange no-man's land of hot sauces, too heavy and sweet to be used like the punchy vinegar-based sauces I dribble on Mexican and Caribbean food, yet too salty and intense to be a dipping sauce in its own right, like, say, this other famous Thai chili sauce. I also didn't know of any traditional dishes I should keep it on hand for, like Korean gochujang. In cooking, I preferred to rely on cayenne pepper, chili flakes or fresh chilies when I needed some heat, and if I wanted the complementary tastes of garlic, sugar and vinegar I could certainly add them myself. Who needed a sauce that forces you to use them all together in pre-prescribed proportions?

So it sat in our fridge for a month or two, barely touched. One night, though, we were coming home from something late and stopped at a nearby Turkish Imbiss to pick up chicken döner kebabs for our dinner. It was our first time patronizing this particular place, and when we got our kebabs home and tucked in we were disappointed to find out they were almost inedibly bland. There was seemingly no garlic in the garlic-yogurt sauce, and the meat itself tasted practically unseasoned. We looked at each other dejectedly for a minute, at which point Manuel jumped up, went to the fridge and brought back the jar of Sriracha. I skeptically watched him drizzle some on his kebab (Turkish food with Asian chili sauce? Surely somebody was rolling over in their grave!) and waited for the verdict. He liked it. So I gave it a try too. It was surprisingly good. I drizzled on more. Even better. We had found our bland-kebab savior, apparently.

Everything might have been fine if it stopped there, but it didn't. Emboldened by the kebab success, the jar started appearing on the table more frequently. I made homemade falafel one night and we spooned some Sriracha on top, along with tzaziki and hummus. The cool-hot-spicy-sweet contrasts were spectacular, and the flavors melded perfectly. Then Manuel dolloped some on a mediocre pizza, which improved it considerably. I discovered a little bit did wonders for a bland tomato soup or even a less-than-stellar bolognese.

Before I knew it, the jam jar was empty and we were rushing out to buy a bottle of our own. The larger quantity in our possession inspired even more experiments: I added some to a tuna sandwich, stirred some into sour cream for an ersatz chip-dip when we had unexpected company (and had to give everyone the recipe), and even used it to perk up takeout Indian food. It also found its way onto burgers, nachos, sushi, noodles—even salads.

All of a sudden, I couldn't find anything it didn't go with. Eggs, cheese, chicken, vegetables; they were all crying out for a squirt of the chili-garlic nectar. I often took it out even before I started cooking so I didn't forget to put some in whatever I was making. We were tearing through a large bottle of the stuff every few weeks, and when the last bottle was still half full I would invent errands that would take me past one of the few shops that carry it so I could pop in and restock, not being able to fathom the prospect of running out. When I found it at one of the two small supermarkets within easy walking distance of our apartment—a Russian supermarket, of all things—I had to fight the urge to tell every stranger I passed on the way home. I got used to feeling a little surge of adrenaline every time I opened the fridge, followed by a wave of relief when I saw that the bottle was still there.

Still, despite all this I thought I had it under control. Of course I could give it up at any time, just like I could give up any food I like if I had to: yogurt, chocolate ice cream, croissants. But last weekend, when I attempted to make good on my New Year's resolution to clean out the fridge, I found something that shocked me so much I was forced to confront the possibility that things have finally gone too far between Sriracha and me. What I found, hidden behind the containers of mystery leftovers and bag of desiccated parmesan rinds, was proof that it's no longer enough to just have a bottle of Sriracha on hand, I now apparently need four different kinds to choose between.

The worst part is, I don't even remember buying them all. Surely this is the point at which I should seek professional help.

Or maybe I should just finish them quickly and never tell a soul.

How do you use Sriracha? What's your favorite brand? Is there anything it doesn't go with?

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Reader Comments (62)

Oh, that's funny...it IS the gateway drug!

January 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBelinda @zomppa

Haha you're totally right. I know I can never resist! Love the way you presented it in the photo.

January 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterXiaolu @ 6 Bittersweets

I tasted Sriracha a long time ago - all the Pho & noodle houses in CA would always have a bottle of it on the table which I added religiously. Since I live in Italy, I was able to find it recently in an Asian food store and brought it home - it had the same bite and taste as before. But this time, I questioned it, and on the label, sure enough was MSG, which accounts for some of the frenetic flavor I was experiencing. That has taken a little of the magic out of it for me, unfortunately, and now I use it more sparingly.

I haven't been able to check other bottles in other countries - what about the versions you have? Are they MSG-free?

Sara, I just ran to look – both Huy Fong (the ubiquitous US brand) and Thai-made Farmer Brand are MSG-free. Sadly my favorite, Flying Goose, has it in all six flavors they make. Boo....

Also see Sade's comment below! -m

Whenever I make a stir fry, I put so much Sriracha on mine the whole dish turns red! It's also a great addition to your meat marinade for stir frying or grilling.

January 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterErin

Frighteningly addictive, I agree. I am slightly ashamed to admit that I ate some recently with salami and crackers. That can't possibly be good for a person.

I believe it's also the spicy part of those equally addictive spicy tuna sushi rolls you find in North America, mixed with Kewpie mayonnaise. Now, that would be something worth figuring out.

Oh, I eat it with salami and crackers *all* the time. Doesn't seem to have done me any harm... yet. ;) -m

January 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSkye

For Sara:

The Sriracha I can find in Belgium easily is the brand Thai Heritage. No MSG in it. (Ingredients: Red chili , garlic, sugar, salt, rice vinegar, xanthan gum (E415) ). So not all versions have MSG.

General:
I don't have sriracha at home, but maybe I should buy some since we like spicy food. I usually only add sriracha when eating out if I have asked for spicy and what I get is quite bland.

January 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSade

Love love this post. Made me really laugh as I am in the same situation but with Harissa (North african hot sauce) :) Real crack

January 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

Ooooh Sriracha sauce.. I love the stuff. It is indeed addicting! I love it with eggs, burritos, rice, mixed with mustard to dip my sandwiches in.. I want to try making peanut butter cookies with it, too. I've heard that's a delicious combo!

Mixed with mustard, that's a new one for me! Must try. And I'm very curious about those cookies... -m

January 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLauren

I can't believe it! A spicy thing I have never tasted consciously - though some of the comments mentioning MSG could explain why. I'll look for one asap. I need a new addiction to save my bland kebab nights!

January 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCaffettiera

I never touched sriracha sauce until YOU put it in the recipe for bahn mi sandwiches. I am now going to see if I can figure out how to put it in whatever we're having for dinner tonight...

January 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJuti

Mixed with ranch dressing it's "Sri-rancha" in Los Angeles where Huy Fong was founded, .

January 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSusan In L.A.

I've never heard of sriracha but it sounds like a condiment I would enjoy. Nothing better than hot sauce for saving a bland dish!

January 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNisrine

I've never heard of this sauce, but I frequent a Southeast-Asian market and will not pass through the sauce aisle so quickly next time. This is definitely going into the shopping basket. (But why do I think I need a new addiction?)

January 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGretchenJoanna

Your blog randomly popped up in my Google reader and I saw this post and almost laughed out loud. I LOVE Sriracha sauce and use it on pretty much every food I eat (minus dessert...). It goes great with everything, and I never have an empty bottle at home. In fact, I'm hoping they have mini bottles like they do for Tabasco so I can take it with me on the go... :D

If you can find Flying Goose Brand they sell little 250ml bottles. Perfect purse size. :) -m

January 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMehr

Just bought my first bottle then - looking forward to jazzing up my stirfry with it tonight!!

January 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmy

You are completely right. There is nothing it doesn't go with. Friggin' love that stuff and have bottles of it at home. Thanks for paying homage to it :)

Good mixed with soy sauce on Asian noodles, with a little kimchi on top. Also good on scrambled eggs, hash browns, and braised cabbage. Also a little bit mixed with mayonnaise, as a French fry dipping sauce. And anything else I can think of!

Oh, that thing with mayo is dangerous! But so, so good. -m

January 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJenny

I'm a new addict myself . . . it was a "friend" who did it. Puts it in and on everything -- eggs, sandwiches, soups. I had a recipe that called for genuine Thai chili suace. Couldn't find it. Substituted. End of story.

Marisa www.foodinjars.com suggested Sriracha in peach jam - a spicy, sweet glaze for chic, pork. I subbed with apricot jam - oh man! I just ate it out of the bowl!

Oh wow, I'll definitely have to try that!! -m

January 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKathleen

I have been on a blue cheese-bender lately and I am currently a big fan of hot (as in spicy) blue cheese dressing and Sriracha found it's way into some last week to go on a chicken salad with a glass of Chardonnay...

Yes, I've made a salad like that too! Sriracha and blue cheese are out of this world. -m

January 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHeidi C. Normand

Huy Fong is the only brand my small town grocery carries. Although I bought mine at an asian grocery in the city for a quarter of the cost. I put it on homemade burritos instead of frank's red hot. I have also added it to chili. I have thought of adding it to ramen, deviled eggs and subbing it for part of the hot sauce in buffalo ranch chex mix. I think the garlic gives it something extra compared to straight hot sauce.
have you seen this
http://www.vietworldkitchen.com/blog/2009/07/sriracha-chile-hot-sauce-taste-off.html
and there is also a recipe for sriracha from the same site
http://www.vietworldkitchen.com/blog/2009/07/homemade-thai-style-sriracha-chile-sauce-recipe-tuong-ot-sriracha.html

January 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRachel

I've been mainlining the stuff for years... that slightly-fermented garlicky taste is perfect for all sorts of uses. The idea of combining it with mayo is great... it would good as a dip to serve with oven-roasted potatoes!

January 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGary

It even goes well with Moroccan food!
A good substitute for harissa hot sauce!

January 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKittty Morse

I love this post! It makes me feel better to know that I'm not the only one that's absolutely bat-sh*t crazy for Sriracha. Thank you! Well said! Viva la Sriracha!

January 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterThe Sriracha Cookbook

I LOVE the Sriraca sauce! I mean, WE Thai people just love it. Especially with Dim-Sum, I wont eat it until I have this Sriracha.. hehe ;P (and with other dishes too, for ex. noodles)

Great post =)

January 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKati

We love Sriracha. I use it to make a red sauce (a dollop of mayonaise+squirt of Sriracha thinned out with water) which I pour over avocado halves. Add a garnish of crushed tortilla chips or cilantro and you have a delectable avocado salad. I saw Jacques Pepin make it on TV.

January 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnyesha

Yes, the stuff is addictive. Flying Goose brand is the only one I know here in the UK but I will now look out for others. Personally I love it with smoked mackerel fishcakes, in a vinaigrette for leftover chicken salad (awesome with grated carrot), in a fried egg sandwich, with leftover rice, in any kind of noodle soup, in a stir fry, with beans, on fried chicken, with mayonnaise (but I add some dragon's blood chilli sauce for a kick), on cold cuts, to perk up a mediocre takeaway, with cheese and crackers etc. etc....The thing is, I normally shun bottled sauces, preferring to make my own. This is one that I couldn't possibly make any better.

January 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSavage Kitchen

I'm addicted too! It's great in Asian noodle soup, of course, but I'm loving it most in all-American comfort food. The other day I found myself spooning it on steak, and I've started adding it to coleslaw. I even tried a few teaspoons in my homemade mac and cheese. Yum!

January 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKatie@Cozydelicious

I get through a 750ml bottle of 'Flying Goose' about every 10 days and buy it in cases from Cash and Carry. Other brands just don't measure up for me.

For the past year I have had the same thing for lunch, wholemeal tortilla smeared with mayo, a lot of grated carrot and onion, lettuce, cuke and a flood of sauce, I don't know what it is about this combo but I crave it.

I remember the days when I used to have different things for lunch, I have to resist the temptation to eat the same for dinner or I'll forget how to cook.

January 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlex

It started so innocently - oh yeah, many addictions do! Wonderful post, like your whole blog. I've been following for years but NEED to delurk now. Thanks for your inspiration here (why have I never thought of using The Sauce on Turkish food? Ubiquitous here in the Ruhr area) and also Thanks to other commenters for great suggestions too! Aside from all things Asian, humbly recommend having it with quiches (esp. cheese, spinach, leek), omelets (tortilla), rösti, flammekueche topped with sour cream, meat/potato pies, pasta gratins...Now I'm hungry, and it's 4:30 a.m.!

January 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJackie

Love the stuff. I put it on anything that needs a little kick. Best secret use: Add it to guacamole!

January 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKitt

Hilarious - if it wasn't so true... Flying Goose Brand is my favourite - they also have some great varieties which are woth trying out (ginger, lemongrass, extra garlic, extra hot...), the latter two being my favourites. Extra garlic (beige cap) does not taste especially garlicky, just more... rounded and well-balanced; and while the extra hot variety (red cap) is not that hot, it really brings out the chili taste above the typical sriracha taste. Look for them at your local asian food market.

And no, I also can't think of anything it doesn't go with :-)

January 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBenjamin

In deviled eggs or egg salad it is incredible! My oldest eats it with tortilla chips instead of salsa. I make wontons with cream cheese and imitation crab filling and add the wonderful spicy sauce into the filling before frying them up nice and crisp for an appetizer. Mixed with Mayo on a grilled chicken sandwich is tasty too. Use the apricot glaze idea for a dipping sauce, apricot jam with Siracha and a little rice vinegar is great with egg rolls or wonton chips. Great in potato salad for a spicy variation.
I could go on all day! Thank you everyone for the inspiration!

January 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJoan

I use it almost exclusively in eggs on rice (my go-to breakfast, lunch and dinner) and a tofu salad.

Eggs fried in sesame oil (bonus for furikake sprinkles on the eggs) over Jasmine rice liberally sprayed with siracha makes up eggs on rice.

Tofu salad is just thinly sliced or cubed silken tofu sprinkled with siricha, sesame oil, soy sauce, and any or all of the following: scallions, pork floss, minced pickled turnip root (found in a can in some asian markets), fried shallots

January 16, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterdaroos

What a great post! I kept nodding my head as I was reading about all the different dishes you've used sriracha in. I first encountered sriracha at a little Vietnamese lunch place some co-workers took me to about a dozen years ago. It was my first time eating Vietnamese, so I just followed their leads and squirted some on my Bún Thịt Nướng. I was hooked (by both the sriracha and by the Bún). I love it with almost any kind of noodle dish. I'm going to try some of the suggestions you've made and some made by other commentors. I've been reading your blog for about 6 months now, and I always enjoy the great posts and photos. Thanks for a fun read.

January 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlex

Yes, yes, YES!!! Okay, my new favorite- make popcorn, melt butter, stir in sriracha, pour on popcorn. Don't forget the salt. Enjoy! My husband makes the best biscuits and he likes his with cheddar and sriracha.

January 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLee

There must be something in the air -- in the last few days since reading this post I keep coming across this book:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sriracha-Cookbook-Rooster-Sauce-Recipes/dp/1607740036/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1295305375&sr=8-1

I think we should get you to read it and give us a review!

January 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCassie

Oh, I do love your musings!

It's my secret ingredient in my version of a great lunch (mix mashed avocado, squirt of lime juice, minced garlic and cilantro, said secret ingredient; thinly smear Dijon mustard on toast; pile on delicious green goop). And, it's integral to the general awesomeness of this recipe: http://wednesdaychef.typepad.com/the_wednesday_chef/2007/11/irene-kuos-stir.html

January 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRachel

Sriracha (better known to some as "cock sauce") is best on sliced cucumber! Try it - you'll love the combination of the cool, refreshing cucumber with the salty, spicy delicious sauce!

January 18, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterd

Mix sriracha and ketchup for instant hot and sweet sauce. It goes well all kinds deep fried items like vegetable fritters, fried chicken, spring rolls etc. you can also mix it with a little mayo, smear it on a toasted tortilla, add chicken strips, cabbage, carrot, cucumber and bean sprouts for a great wrap!

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterks

I haven't eaten a hot dog in years that didn't have ketchup, mustard and sriracha mixed together on it! Yum!

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJoan

On toast with peanut butter. Seriously, try it. A whole other level of yum.

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMylene Aurore

When we have sushi making extravaganzas at our house, we mix it with mayonnaise for the spicy mayo that goes in so many maki rolls. Or, we've found that mixed with sour cream it makes a really good dip for french fries.

My mister is the king of condiments, and I'm pretty sure he puts sriracha on almost anything. It's definitely made a few appearances on my blog.

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDana

Shark Brand Sriracha seems to be the most popular brand available here in NZ. It's great. I use it to give a hefty spicy kick to fried rice and pretty much any fried noodle dish.

January 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterItchy

Great post chilli head. I got hooked through Bhan mi. Guess that why i thought it was Vietnamese. Hotdog has to be my favourite use, I had good feed back from salad dressings but have yet to make it work for desserts......

January 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBarton

8 oz. hamburger done medium with avocado and optional sunny-side-up egg on top. Extra vegetables... garlic mayo, sweet chilli, sriracha, chimichurri sauce.

Whatever excess juices drip from the burger get mixed with a little mayo and serve as the dipping sauce for the fries.

I think I just had a foodgasm.

January 23, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermalka lev adom

My favorite is Shark (by far).

Available via post from ImportFood.com (http://importfood.com/sriracha_sauce.html)

January 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterWendy

I am addicted to this stuff..I have a whole top shelf of my fridge dedicated to HOT..meaning there are at least 15 different HOT sauces on this shelf..but the sriracha is usually my all time go too bottle..

January 26, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersherry

How brilliant to come back to your blog after a long hiatus to find a post on Sriracha which I bought a bottle of on my last trip to Bangkok, Thailand and it has been sitting in my fridge unopened, till now!

January 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Ergül

Amazingly, I was just thinking about sriracha right before reading your eloquent post. I too am never without a bottle or two close by. When I cooked professionally I used it as the flavor base for my version of buffalo wings (boneless chicken thighs breaded in panko, deep fried and sauced). I would adjust the heat level from there with a blend of fresh minced habernero and chipotle peppers. The panko really helped hold on all that sriracha goodness.

In the USA the premiere brand is Huy Fong, and I usually purchase six of the larger bottles at a time since the Asian market I go to has the large bottle for less than the smaller one locally.

It is the best condiment, and is perfect on a freshly grilled bratwurst. I Think I need some now...

January 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCarl

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