Chef Michael Hung is not a Sriracha fanatic, though he recognizes that many of his customers (not to mention "every cook I've ever worked with") are practically addicted to the chile sauce. Hung thinks it skews too heavily on the garlic, which overpowers the other flavors on a plate. But when opening his L.A. restaurant, Faith & Flower, the chef needed a hot sauce for a variety of dishes, so he decided to make his own.
His resulting fermented chile vinegar (see the recipe) is light and fresh, with the complexity of Sriracha but without the overwhelming garlickly flavor. Although fermentation may not be in every home cook's wheelhouse, you can handle it: The process is simple, and the condiment is insanely versatile.
Convinced yet? Great! Now that you're on board, here's what to do with Hung's better-than-Sriracha creation.
The chile vinegar adds a funky punch to a sauce for grilled vegetables, particularly absorbent ones like broccoli, peppers, mushrooms and onions. Mix together a finely chopped shallot with two cloves of garlic and an anchovy or two, then warm the mixture on the stovetop in a bit of olive oil and splash in a tablespoon of chile vinegar to finish. Let the sauce cool slightly, then toss in the vegetables and mix well.
Hung likes to add a tablespoon of chile vinegar to the stock in his braised chicken with tomatoes and olives. But it heightens any brothy soup: The fermentated garlic and shallots add umami, the heat of the chiles creates a tingly sensation on the tongue and the acid brightens up a heavy base.
For a pseudo-Asian flavor base, make a gastrique: Grate two blocks of palm sugar and cook in a heavy-bottom pan until they begin to caramelize, then add a tablespoon of the chile sauce and let it sizzle in the hot caramel for a few seconds. Add equal parts rice vinegar and fish sauce, stirring them in so that the caramel becomes a liquid with a beautiful balance of sweet, salt and sour notes. Whisk the gastrique with grape-seed or peanut oil to make a versatile vinaigrette, use it as marinade for poultry or pork or add a few tablespoons in the last seconds of stir-frying for a final blast of flavor.
Serve the vinegar straight up with clams on the half shell or raw oysters in place of Tabasco. Or swap out the Worcestershire in a traditional cocktail sauce (one part ketchup mixed with one part chile sauce, plus lemon juice and horseradish to taste) to add heat and a whole lot of umami.
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