It all comes down to supply and demand.
Sriracha sauce was little more than a specialty product found mostly in Asian grocery stores and restaurants until the company that makes it, Huy Fong Foods, ran into trouble with Irwindale, California, where their factory is located. The town shut the factory down for a month, a shortage loomed and a food fad was born. Suddenly, sriracha was hotter than the hot peppers it is made from.
Several years later, sriracha is still going strong. Even the fact that sriracha still makes lists of foods that no one can pronounce hasn’t slowed it down. For the record, it’s pronounced “see – RAH – cha.” There are YouTube videos explaining the pronunciation, and in some of those videos, they mispronounce it. Some people opt-out on pronouncing it altogether and simply call it “rooster sauce” in honor of the white rooster on the bottle. Even with its tricky name, sriracha continues to grow as a flavor, finding it’s way into everything from deviled eggs to lollipops.
In a completely unscientific polling of Mount Airy News readers, sriracha sauce is right up there with the standards; Tabasco sauce and the local favorite, Texas Pete.
Omegia Seaford of Elkin is typical in her hot sauce preferences. She loves sriracha but still loves Texas Pete the best and has also taken a liking to green Tabasco. Kelly Jones-Urban of Holly Springs says she and her family are “serious sriracha people.”
Rob Arnold of Elkin likes sriracha so much that he bought the tee shirt. Literally. Of course, he has a Tabasco tee shirt as well. Arnold notes that Texas Pete now has a sriracha sauce but he has mixed feelings about that. “Local vs. legend,” presents a conundrum but it’s nice to know there is an alternative if Irwindale tries to cut off the supply again. Rob Arnold’s recipe for sriracha peanuts follows and should not be missed.
Kitsey Harrison of Boonville likes sriracha but Tapatio is her favorite. However, as a North Carolina girl, she feels like she’s cheating if she doesn’t use Texas Pete and always keeps a bottle in her fridge.
Here in Mount Airy, Andy Thomas tried sriracha at El Aguevero with ceviche and declared it, “Yummmmmmm !!” But Thomas still loves Texas Pete.
Jody Crawford loves sriracha but just bought some Niki’s Pickles green hot sauce at The Living Room in Pilot Mountain and says it is delicious.
Eva Winemiller, however, is sticking with the local favorite. “Texas Pete all day,” as she puts it.
Joie Rush of Winston-Salem loves sriracha flavor but instead of using the sauce, she seasons with ground sriracha powder.
At this point in this totally unscientific survey, responses veered into hotter territory. Gary Maxey of Elkin feels that Texas Pete is too high in sodium for his taste. Maxey says, “my favorite hot sauces are of the Asian variety where your first reaction is, ‘that’s not that hot’ then 40 seconds later, you are on the floor.”
Bill Scherbak of Lewisville skips the middleman and infuses vodka with ghost peppers which he then uses to make spicy martinis, a technique not for the faint of heart. Scherbak finds jalapeno based sauces too mild and prefers habanero based sauces. So too does Jeremy Moore. He likes chile habanero hot sauce.
Then there is Brian Spain who lives in New York City but is originally from Elkin. His favorite is Monica Lewinsky’s Down on Her Knees hot sauce. He originally bought it as a joke at Basin Creek in Elkin almost 20 years ago because it was funny. “But then when we tried it, we were like, ‘Wow, this is good’.” Spain used the unusually named hot sauce to make cheese fries. His recipe is as follows. “It was like deep-fry fries, add Monica, then add cheese and bake for a few minutes. So good,” he says. Apparently Ms. Lewinsky’s sauce did not outlive her notoriety. Spain hasn’t found any in about 17 years.
Sriracha is intrinsically different from the more traditional hot sauces. Tabasco and Texas Pete are basically hot peppers in vinegar, tabasco peppers and cayenne peppers respectively, but sriracha is made from red jalapenos. Red jalapenos are less hot than tabasco peppers or cayenne peppers but sriracha is more concentrated so the bottled sauces aren’t as different heatwise as one would think. Tabasco has 2,500 Scoville heat units (the standard measurement for heat in peppers), sriracha has 2,200 and Texas Pete only has 747. Compare that to 0 for a bell pepper and 5,300,000 for police-grade pepper spray and you can see where your favorites line up.
Though sriracha also contains vinegar, it also has sweet and garlicy flavors, making it useful in places where Tabasco or Texas Pete would be overpowering. This would be where the deviled eggs and lollipops come in.
Recipes aren’t necessary for a lot of sriracha goodies. Sriracha ketchup is simply ketchup with a little, or a lot, depending on your taste, of sriracha added. Same goes for sriracha mayonnaise, cocktail sauce, chicken salad, garlic bread, salad dressing, marinade, brine, egg salad, sautéed greens, Brussels sprouts, popcorn, pulled pork, tartar sauce, fried rice, acorn squash, and guacamole. Add sriracha sauce to taste. Simple. No wonder this stuff is so popular.
You can make your own if you like. A recipe follows but it takes a few days since the peppers are fermented. Also, when you make it yourself, customization is possible by using peppers that are hotter or less hot. You could even make a very mild version using bell peppers with just a touch of ground chipotle or cayenne powder. Again, to your taste.
Homemade Sriracha Sauce
This recipe uses 75 percent red jalapenos, sometimes sold as “Fresno chilis,” and 25 percent red serrano chilies so it’s probably a bit spicier than the bottled version. An interesting variation on this recipe is to use pineapple juice instead of vinegar. It’s supposed to be terrific.
1 pound red jalapeno peppers, stems cut off
1/2 pound red serrano peppers, stems cut off
4 cloves garlic, peeled
3 tbsp. light brown sugar or honey
1 tbsp. kosher salt
1/3 cup water
1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
Chop jalapeno and serrano peppers, retaining seeds and membranes, and place into a blender with garlic, brown sugar, salt, and water. Blend until smooth, pulsing several times to start. Transfer puree into a large glass container such as a large jar or pitcher. Cover container with plastic wrap and place into a cool dark location for 3 to 5 days, stirring once a day. The mixture will begin to bubble and ferment. Scrape down the sides during each stirring. Rewrap after every stirring and return to a cool, dark place until mixture is bubbly. Pour fermented mixture back into blender with vinegar; blend until smooth. Strain mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a saucepan, pushing as much of the pulp as possible through the strainer into the sauce. Discard remaining pulp, seeds, and skin left in strainer. (Or spread the non-strainable bits on a cooking sheet and bake in a 200°F. oven for an hour or so until dry. Then run through a processor for delicious chili powder.) Place saucepan on a burner and bring sauce to a boil, stirring often, until reduced to your desired thickness, 5 to 10 minutes. Skim foam if desired. Remove saucepan from heat and let sauce cool to room temperature. Sauce will thicken a little when cooled. Transfer sauce to jars or bottles and refrigerate.
16 oz. Salted Virginia Peanuts (2 cups by volume)
4 tbsp. Sriracha
2 tbsp. Sugar
2 tbsp. Soy Sauce
Coat a large (12+ inch) non-stick pan with cooking spray. Whisk together sriracha, soy sauce, and sugar. On the stove, over medium-high heat, stir together peanuts and sriracha mixture. Stir almost constantly for 10-12 minutes. Remove peanuts to baking sheet lined with parchment paper Place pan into 200°F. oven (no need to preheat) for 30 minutes stirring every 10 minutes. Remove and let cool.
Slow Cooker Honey Sriracha Chicken
2 pounds (uncooked) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 cup chicken broth
½ cup honey
½ cup Sriracha
½ cup rice vinegar
½ cup soy sauce
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
½ tsp. ground ginger
¼ tsp. black pepper
¼ cup cornstarch
Green onion, thinly sliced
Grease your crockpot with cooking spray. Whisk together sauce ingredients: broth, honey, Sriracha, vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, ground ginger, and black pepper. Taste and re-season, to taste. Pour half the sauce into crockpot. Place chicken into crockpot. Pour the rest of the sauce over the chicken. Place the lid on and cook on low for 3 hours. After 3 hours, remove chicken from crockpot and set aside. Slowly whisk the cornstarch into the sauce until well combined. Cut the chicken into large chunks and place back into crockpot. Cook on high, covered, for an additional hour. Serve with your choice of rice (or quinoa) and additional toppings. Want the sauce thicker? Keep your slow cooker on the “warm” setting” after cook time has completed with the lid off. It’ll thicken as it sits.
Sriracha Bloody Mary
Makes 8 cocktails
4 cups tomato juice
1 cup dill pickle juice
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp. prepared horseradish
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp. curry powder
1 tsp. Sriracha
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. celery seeds
1/4 tsp. black pepper
2 cups vodka
8 celery stalks
8 lemon wedges
Combine first 10 ingredients in a large pitcher. Chill overnight. Add vodka to pitcher; stir well. Fill tall glasses with ice. Divide Bloody Mary cocktail among glasses. Garnish each with a celery stalk and a lemon wedge.
Asian Hot Wings with cucumber and scallion sour cream dipping sauce
3/4 cup sriracha
1 tbsp. Asian chili sauce
1 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
1 stick cold butter cut into pieces
Vegetable oil for frying
1 1/2 pounds of chicken wings (about 12 pieces), cut in half with wing tips cut off
1 cup sour cream
2 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
3 scallions cut into thin slices
1/2 cup diced cucumber
Add vegetable oil to 12-inch skillet to reach depth of 1 inch. Heat over medium-high heat to 350°. Salt and pepper wings and add to skillet. Cook for 5-7 minutes. Transfer to paper towels. In a saucepan, bring sriracha and vinegar to boil. Whisk in cold butter gradually. Add cooked wings to saucepan and toss to coat. Serve immediately. Mix ingredients for dipping sauce in a bowl and season with salt and pepper.
Nominate your favorite cook to share their love of food with readers of The Mount Airy News.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699, on Twitter @BillColvard.