Confessions of a sriracha fanatic

September 6, 2011

Lynda Balslev

Bottles of sriracha sauce...
Beer-and-sriracha-marinated beef lettuce cups...
Black bean, sausage and butternut squash chili...

I have a confession. I am a sriracha sauce addict. This is a recent development. For most of my adult life, I have peaceably and obliviously coexisted with sriracha, overlooking it in the supermarket for Tabasco, excluding it in the kitchen as I made harissa, and bypassing it as I dabbled with south-of-the-border hot sauces. For no reason that I can think of, I ignored sriracha, aka rooster sauce — affectionately nicknamed for the rooster logo on the bottle.

This changed on a recent foray into San Francisco's Chinatown, where, on an impulse, I purchased a large plastic squeeze bottle emblazoned with a flying rooster against a backdrop of fiery red sauce. I don't know what possessed me to do it, but thank goodness I did.

I started out conservatively, adding a smidgen of sriracha to dips, or a dab to marinades for heat. I quickly realized that this was more than a one-note hot sauce. Its flavor is rounded and balanced, a magical elixir of sweet, salty, garlicky heat. Before I knew it, the rooster had me by its talons, and in a matter of weeks, I became a sriracha fiend.

The smidgens and dabs became double-fisted squeezes and dripping spoonfuls. The table was not fully set until the squeeze bottle was centrally placed between the salt and pepper shakers. I carried breath mints in my bag to mask the telltale scent of garlic on my breath. Any savory item at all hours of the day was a candidate for a squirt of sauce.

I ate sriracha on eggs and toast for breakfast, on meat and potatoes for dinner. Sriracha showed up in soups, sauces and dressings. It coated grains, vegetables and rice. Nothing to douse with a little sriracha? Nonsense. Even when the refrigerator was bare and meals unplanned, a little smear adorning a slice of bread called itself a snack.

I knew I had crossed the line when one day I found myself squirting a little red sauce on dark chocolate. I looked in the mirror and took a deep breath as I wiped a trail of red sauce dribbling from my mouth. At that moment, I realized I had transformed from a sriracha-ignorant food snob into a full-blown rooster addict. Hello, my name is Lynda and I am addicted to sriracha. There: I said it.

So what is at the root of all of this fuss? Traditional sriracha, named for a town in the Chonburi Province of central Thailand, is a hot chili paste used as a condiment. The sriracha that we know in the U.S. — the one with the rooster — is an inspired version of the Thai sauce with an American spin, created by David Tran, founder of Huy Fong Foods of Rosemead, Calif. Tran immigrated to the U.S. in 1980 and quickly discovered a gaping hole in the Thai hot sauce market. In anticipation of demand, and to satisfy his own cravings, Huy Fong Sriracha was born.

Since then, Tran's sriracha has managed not only to satisfy any foreseen demand from the Asian community, it's managed to create a dedicated, if not delirious, following that crosses cultures, demographics and states.

The secret is a wondrous concoction of red jalapeno chili peppers, vinegar, garlic, sugar and salt. It is simple and pure, with no water or artificial colors, and has a depth of flavor to match its unmistakable heat. For many, myself included, it's one-stop shopping in a squeeze bottle. But that's my opinion. I encourage you to give it a try and see for yourself. And I'll be waiting to greet you when you join the club.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio.
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