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Sriracha is taking over the hot sauce market

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  • Seven sauces to try

    There are so many sauces, where do we begin? Start with these, all available at Grand Asia:

    XO. Hong Kong. Lee Kum Kee, $10.99 for 4-ounce jar. The name is supposed to evoke luxury, but there’s no cognac in it. Fishy with a little heat, it’s about the chunky texture and mouth-filling “umami.” Cheap versions are made with textured soy protein, but the good stuff uses dried scallops and shrimp. Try it in a stir fry with vegetables.

    Gochujang. Korea. Numerous brands, about $3.50 for a tub. Red chile paste with a consistency like soft peanut butter. Use it as an ingredient in marinades or sauces or as a dip for French fries.

    Tuong Ot Toi. Vietnam. Chili garlic sauce is made fresh in many homes, but Huy Fong makes a jarred version that’s available in most supermarkets. Use it in dipping sauces, noodles and stir-fries.

    Lao Gan Ma Spicy Chili Crisp. China, usually about $4 for a jar. Nicknamed “Angry Lady Sauce” for the picture on the label of a sober-faced person. It’s oily with a strangely crisp texture from chopped chiles, pepper seeds and onion. It’s addictive on noodle dishes.

    Shark Brand Sriracha. Thailand, $3.89 for a large bottle. Sweeter and smoother than that other brand of sriracha, it has a deep, rich flavor. Use it in any recipe calling for sriracha.

    Lingham’s Hot Sauce. Malaysia. $4. It’s almost more sweet than hot, and tastes like tomato, although there’s no tomato in it. It’s great for dipping and for mixing with mayonnaise or into salad dressing. Try it in wing recipes.

    Pantai Norasingh Sweet Chili Sauce. Thailand, $1.79 for a bottle. There are many versions, but our favorite has a platter of roast chicken on the label. Mildly hot and very sweet, with red pepper flecks. It’s sublime on fried chicken, or use it over cream cheese instead of red pepper jelly. Kathleen Purvis

  • Korean Fried Chicken Wings

    Several things distinguish Korean-style fried chicken: The seriously crunchy crust, the double-frying method and the red color and heat from gochujang. Adapted from Saveur magazine.

    5 cloves garlic

    1 1/2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled

    3 tablespoons soy sauce

    3 tablespoons gochujang (Korean chile paste)

    1 1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar

    1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

    1 tablespoon honey

    About a dozen chicken wings, cut in two pieces, wing tips discarded

    2/3 cup all-purpose flour

    1 tablespoon cornstarch

    2/3 cup water

    Canola or peanut oil for frying

    DROP garlic and ginger into the feed tube of a food processor with the motor running. Stop and add soy sauce, gochujang, vinegar, sesame oil and honey. Puree. Place sauce in a large mixing bowl and set aside.

    CUT chicken wings into two pieces (drummettes and flappers), discarding wing tips or saving for another use. Whisk together flour, cornstarch and water in a large mixing bowl. Add chicken pieces and toss to coat with the batter.

    POUR about 2 inches of oil into a deep pot. Heat over medium-high heat. Add about a third of the chicken wings and cook, turning often, until golden brown, about 6 to 8 minutes. Remove and drain on paper towels, repeating with remaining wings. After all the wings are fried, let the oil reheat and then return the wings to the oil in batches, frying 6 to 8 minutes, until deep brown. Drain again, then add the wings to the sauce and toss to coat well. Serve hot.

    YIELD: About 4 servings.

  • Sriracha Deviled Eggs

    Adapted from chef Geoff Bragg of The Peculiar Rabbit. We made this with Shark brand sriracha with Thailand. If you don’t want to use raw eggs, you could mix the hot sauce into commercial mayonnaise and continue with the recipe.

    6 large eggs

    Jalapeno pepper, seeds and membranes removed

    Hot sauce for garnish

    Sriracha aioli:

    3 raw egg yolks

    1/4 cup sriracha, preferably Shark brand

    2 tablespoons water

    1 1/2 teaspoons salt

    3/4 to 1 cup vegetable oil

    PLACE the eggs in a single layer in a saucepan with enough cold water to cover them. Bring to a boil. Cover and remove from heat. Let the eggs stand for 18 minutes. Drain and cool in cold water, then shell the eggs, cut in half and set aside the cooked yolks.

    MAKE the aioli: Place raw egg yolks, sriracha, water and salt in a food processor. Puree. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the oil, starting with drops and slowly increasing to a small stream, until the mixture thickens and stops absorbing oil. Remove from the food processor and set aside.

    PLACE the cooked egg yolks in the food processor with 1/2 cup sriracha aioli and puree until smooth. Fill the cooked egg white halves with the mixture. Top with a sliver of jalapeno and a few drops of sriracha. (You’ll have more aioli than you need; the remainder can be refrigerated in an airtight container for a day or two.

    YIELD: A dozen egg halves.

  • Edward Lee’s Red Bull Hot Sauce

    From “Smoke & Pickles” (Artisan, $29.95). Putting together an Asian-inspired hot sauce, Lee says he stumbled on an ingredient that’s in every restaurant kitchen – Red Bull.

    1 pound mixed peppers – red jalapenos, Thai bird peppers and habeneros

    6 cloves garlic

    2 cups apple cider vinegar

    1 (8.4-ounce) can Red Bull

    1 cup water

    1/4 cup hoisin sauce

    1/4 sugar

    4 teaspoons fish sauce

    4 teaspoons Asian sesame oil

    TRIM the stems from the peppers. Combine all the ingredients except the sesame oil in a medium pot and bring to a boil. Cover, then reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes.

    TRANSFER the contents of the pot to a blender and puree until smooth, adding water as needed to create a smooth sauce. (Cover the top with a dish towel and vent the lid to keep from splashing.) Add the sesame oil and blend well. Transfer to a jar and refrigerate up to a month.

    YIELD: Almost 4 cups.

There’s an entire world of hot sauces out there, people.

And yet, food fans who are interested in heat of an Asian nature keep reaching for just one bottle: Huy Fong Sriracha.

That’s the one nicknamed “rooster sauce,” for the picture on the label. The one with the green cap. The one with the back story, about the sauce made in America (yes, sorry – California) by a Vietnamese refugee who gave it a Thai-inspired name and now has sales estimated at $60 million a year.

Huy Fong sriracha has become the Kardashian of condiments, turning up everywhere and in everything. Lays potato chips is adding a sriracha flavor this summer. Bruegger’s Bagels has a Sriracha Egg Sandwich. It’s in recipes for everything from ice cream sandwiches to lollipops.

It’s even left the kitchen: You can get rooster-sauce iPhone covers and stilettos. It’s on the International Space Station, for heaven’s sake.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. In the billion-dollar Asian sauce industry, Huy Fong sriracha has earned its keep for being sweet/hot and handy, easy to squirt on everything from pizza to spring rolls. But in our rush to embrace it, we’re missing a lot of other Asian sauces that can bring just as much flavor and fun to our food.

“I think sriracha is the greatest marketing ploy in the history of all sauces,” says chef Edward Lee of 610 Magnolia in Louisville. He was raised in a Korean family in Brooklyn and came to national attention on “Top Chef.”

“I was in Vietnam recently and we go into a noodle store and I ask for a bottle of sriracha and they look at me like I’m crazy. There is no sriracha in Vietnam.”

At home in Asia

Although he admits he has “sort of overdosed” on it, New York food writer and “Top Chef Masters” judge Francis Lam is still a fan of sriracha.

“I love how garlicky it is, and how it has a little acidity, a little brightness, from the vinegar. It’s kind of amazing that it’s taken over in such a huge way.”

Lam’s family heritage is Chinese, and he spent summers with his parents’ extended family in Hong Kong. The Cantonese food he grew up with wasn’t all that spicy, but there was always some kind of hot sauce on the table at restaurants. There were thin hot sauces and thicker sambals – chunky sauces made with chiles, onions and garlic, stir-fried slowly to concentrate the flavors.

“That’s the style I grew up with, that I’ve always loved.”

Charlotte chef Geoff Bragg’s mother is Vietnamese, but he didn’t experience much Vietnamese food growing up.

“It could be tough to find Asian ingredients here,” he says.

He was in middle school when his grandmother came to America and suddenly, she was cooking for the family and making fresh tuong ot toi – chile garlic sauce – every day.

Bragg is now chef at The Peculiar Rabbit, where the food is mostly European gastropub with Asian touches mixed in, like a bahn mi sandwich and sriracha-flavored deviled eggs.

Southerners like hot food, he says, “but it’s a different heat than Asian,” where fresh chiles play more of a role.

American, Caribbean or Mexican hot sauces usually are mashes of chiles, salt and vinegar. They’re all about heat.

Asian-style sauces are different. They’re more focused on chunky textures, layered flavors that combine sweet and heat, and umami – the elusive “fifth” taste, after sour,salty, bitter, sweet.

One ingredient that is ubiquitous in Asian cooking is chile oil, either bottled or a home version made by simmering fresh chiles in hot oil. It’s often sprinkled on soups or noodles.

“You can saute with it or use it as a finishing oil,” says Lee, who just published his first book, “Smoke & Pickles,” on his Asian/Southern cooking. “In some ways, it’s hotter – because it’s in an oil form, it coats your mouth.”

More than one sriracha

Before we declare that sriracha has jumped the shark, we should explain that there is more to sriracha than Huy Fong sriracha. There are other brands, including a Thai brand called Shark that is lip-smacking delicious – richer and less bitter than Huy Fong.

When Huy Fong founder David Tran left Vietnam for America on a freighter called the Huy Fong, he wanted to come up with a product that could be as ubiquitous as ketchup. He named his chile-based puree sriracha after a Thai sauce that is used as a dip for seafood and named for a Thai fishing town, Si Racha.

Sriracha also isn’t the only growing business. The Asian hot sauce category as a whole has grown nearly 10 percent a year.

Despite all those condiments, which fill several aisles in most Asian stores, home cooking in Asian families still relies on concoctions that are fresh and simple. Francis Lam, who also is a cookbook editor for Clarkson Potter, says one of his favorite dishes is plain, boiled shrimp served with a dish of really good, dark soy sauce.

“An hour before serving, slice a hot chile in it to steep. That’s it – that’s the sauce. And it’s delicious.”

Andrea Reusing, the chef at the Asian-inspired restaurant Lantern in Chapel Hill, thinks everyone should make a version of nam prik – fresh chile purees.

She also keeps a vinegar sauce going in the refrigerator by adding equal amounts of salt and sugar to distilled white vinegar and mixing in any kind of fresh chile.

“It lasts forever – the salt and sugar take the back-of-the-throat burn off the chile. You can be left with this really nice vinegar to use on greens or in sauces or soups.”

It’s only a matter of time before the sriracha craze wanes. Edward Lee thinks the next phase will be super-hot chiles, like India’s ghost pepper.

He’s ready, he says.

“I’m a spicehead. Bring it: I want my face to melt off.”

Purvis: 704-358-5236
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