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King of sriracha sauce

By Sheryl Julian
Globe Staff / February 9, 2011

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Q. When did you discover sriracha sauce?

A. Around 1988 I had a Vietnamese friend and his family hosted me quite a bit. I fell in love with the food. One day I stayed the night and the next morning his mom had made fried rice and she served it with sriracha.

Q. Your book says, “This book is not associated with or endorsed by Huy Fong Foods, Inc.’’ The famous green-capped bottle with the rooster is on your cover. This all seems curious.

A. I originally pitched the book as an unofficial sriracha cookbook. I showed them the project to see if it had their blessing. They liked the book, but it wasn’t something they were interested in putting their name on. The book deals with sriracha as a whole, not just the Huy Fong Foods brand.

Q. What is the origin of the sauce?

A. The chili sauce is Thai. Sriracha-style sauce is popular all around Thailand and Vietnam. Sriracha is named for Sri Racha, a town in Thailand. There, it’s a much thinner version than we’re used to, made with ground-up chilies, garlic, salt, sugar, and vinegar, then slightly fermented.

Q. Tell me about the Huy Fong Foods owners.

A. David Tran is Chinese, raised in Vietnam. He was forced to flee after the war, escaped on a Taiwanese freighter to Hong Kong named Huy Fong. While he was in Vietnam, he was growing chili peppers, not seeing any success. He began using the peppers to make chili sauce. When he went to California, he used jalapenos to make sauce. They started in Chinatown in LA in the early ’80s and they distributed to Chinese restaurants and restaurants with predominantly Asian clientele.

Q. Were there other sriracha sauces here?

A. I’m sure there was a small amount for the Thai communities. I went to buy some Thai sriracha sauce and I had to go all over to find some.

Q. What’s the difference between Thai sriracha and rooster sauce?

A. Thai versions are much thinner, not as viscous, more a pouring sauce rather than a squirt top. My favorite Thai brand is Shark. It tends to have a honey sweetness to it. It comes off really sweet in the beginning, finishes off with that same kick.

Q. Your recipes call for a lot of sriracha.

A. I’d get a lot more flack if the recipes were not hot.

Q. Is there a recipe that you’re particularly proud of?

A. The honey sriracha-glazed Buffalo wings is a dish that’s been transformed a bit with sriracha. I really enjoy the maple sriracha breakfast patties, three-cheese

grits, tropical fruit salad with a sesame sriracha vinaigrette. That’s a big surprise. When we were doing the photos for the book, we had this humungous bowl and that got devoured pretty quickly. And the Bleeding Mary, a take on Bloody Mary. It’s a visually stunning drink. You make Bloody Mary with sriracha and freeze it as ice cubes. You put the ice cubes into vodka. As they start to defrost, they bleed out their red hue.

Q. Do you ever get tired of the taste of chili sauce?

A. I don’t put it on everything. There are a lot of people who put it on absolutely everything. If I’ve got potatoes and eggs in front of me, you can pretty much guarantee I’ll put sriracha on them, on home fries, french fries, all eggs — scrambled, omelets, fritatta. And I put sriracha butter on baked potatoes.

Interview has been condensed and edited. Sheryl Julian can be reached at julian@globe.com

WHO
Randy Clemens
WHAT
The author of “The Sriracha Cookbook,’’ 26, a graduate of the California School of Culinary Arts, makes his own chili-garlic sauce or uses one of many brands, including the familiar bottle with the rooster, often called “rooster sauce.’’