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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)

i am completely addicted to this sauce too....i am at my happiest when eating sliced beef pho soup & i have this sauce next to me! delicious. Dayle

January 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDayle

found your blog through "delicious days" and i really like it!
i just wanted to say that in southern germany i've seen sriracha bottles on several tables in turkish diners. so i guess nobody was rolling over in the grave when you've put that on your döner.

February 2, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterraubfisch

I go through at least one bottle of "rooster juice" a year - my personal favorite and the easiest one to find in Kitsap, but I've got several different styles of really hot sauces at all times. My new favorite is Melinda's Naga Jolokia. Well, make that commercial favorite. I have a friend who bottles her own that outdoes all of them. Still, sriracha is REALLY good with hummas as a pita chip dip, in stir fries, and yes, straight, as a dipping sauce for breaded/fried chicken strips.

February 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCorey

Thought you might like to read this piece on NPR - http://www.npr.org/2011/02/06/133468797/spice-up-your-super-bowl-with-sriracha-sauce.

Sriracha ice-cream... :) I bet that has set off some serious drooling!

Lakshmi

February 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLakshmi

I am a Sriracha addict. Have tried all of the varieties I can get my hands on here on the US east coast, and Huy Fong is the champion by a huge margin. What's it good on? Better to ask what it's not good on: Nothing! Breakfast? Sriracha with bacon, eggs, bagel, congee, or whatever else. Lunch? Well, pretty much everything. Dinner? Same. Great with every soup, every braised dish, pizza, pasta, meat, etc, etc, etc. Dessert? I've actually seen a few recipes on various sites, but haven't tried them. Yet. Get out while you can. Sriracha becomes an obsession ... but a good one :-)

February 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAdam

Yes! I'm convinced there's crack in it. I don't go more than a day without putting it on something. Nom.

February 18, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersumer

Hello, first time commenter :)
I like my sriracha with perfectly scrambled eggs. My mom makes great Sriracha chicken wings.

March 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMariam

I'm late to this thread, being a relative newcomer to the wonderful world of food blogs. I'm determined to learn to cook Asian food and, at first, found myself impatiently stuffing every possible ingredient into just about every dish, regardless of national origin! Now I'm slowing down, trying to honor the integrity and nuance of individual recipes. However I'm gonna keep my unorthodox banh mi sauce... Sriracha, mayonnaise & sesame oil. I keep one mayo jar full of this delicious concoction because it works on absolutely every sandwich, hot or cold. Each time I replenish the batch, I add more sriracha. What was once a creamy pale coral is now a garish neon pumpkin color. But the flavor? intoxicating.

March 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVirginia

I LOOOOOVVVE my sriacha!!! I grew up with it in the house so I learned to love spicy things through my mom and sister. I swear I can put it on almost anything. From noodles to pasta to pizza to tacos... the list could go on forever. I think it's the sauce that can stretch across all different kinds of worldly foods.

This post made me really smile. :)

September 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTang

Have you ever tried this sriracha sauce? It is preservative free and really good! Better than the rooster sauce.

http://organicvillefoods.com/products/condiments/sriracha-sauce/

When I lived in Raleigh and sriracha was readily available, I never thought it would be a condiment that I had to have in my fridge. I would enjoy it on my mac & cheese (with meatballs), but that was about the extent of my addiction. Since I've moved home to a small town where I can't even find a single bottle, I've become addicted to trying to find a bottle in my fridge. I'm craving spicy shrimp rolls (there are no sushi places anywhere close around) and my lovely mac & cheese with sriracha. I'm giving the grocery store one last shot tomorrow, before I resort to buying a bottle online.

If only I could find a bottle of Kewpie mayo - then I'd be set!

February 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEmily @ StyleNerd.Net

I put a spoonful of ricotta cheese on rice crackers and drizzle sriracha on top - it's a nice, light snack.

April 2, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterleigh

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