Setting out to recreate Huy Fong's ubiquitous rooster sauce, I ended up with something that hit the right notes but had a brighter, fresher flavor that makes homemade Sriracha something special.
Brief History of the Bottle
First off: The sriracha in the green-topped rooster bottle we all know and love is not, in fact, an Asian product. True sriracha is a Thai sauce named after the city of Si Racha where it hails from and is used mainly as a sauce for seafood. It tends to be thinner, less spicy, and sweeter than the Huy Fong brand rooster sauce that commands the U.S. market. Over in Vietnam, it's more frequently seen as a condiment for bowls of pho or other soups and sauces.
So what's up with the emblematic rooster? It's the astrological sign of the brand's creator, David Tran. Originally from Vietnam, he started honing his hot sauce-making skills there before immigrating to the the United States aboard the freighter Huy Fong—which became the namesake of his company.
In the early 1980s, David Tran, with his industrious American spirit, set off to make a hot sauce that would satisfy the cravings of nostalgic Vietnamese immigrants who wanted the right complement to their bowls of pho. So was born the Sriracha that would eventually hold the patriotic ranks of ketchup and mustard.
The green-capped bottle includes ingredients in five different languages, and proudly states it's good for everything from soups to pizza to hot dog and hamburgers. I wholeheartedly agree with this statement, which is why I was pleased to take on the homemade Sriracha challenge.
Fresno vs. Red Jalapeños Peppers
There are many variables to test with this Sriracha recipe. I knew I wanted red jalapeños—the fully vine ripened peppers used by Huy Fong as the base of Sriracha. Little did I know how incredibly frustrating it would be to find them. A full-on red jalapeño hunt ensued across New York City, only to end weeks later in failure. So I came up with a Plan B: to find its closest cousin, the fresno.
The fresno is fairly similar to a red jalapeno, with a comparable size, flavor, and heat, but it has much thinner walls by comparison and a more conical shape. Once I opened up my pepper search to this second variety, I found tons of fresnos at Whole Foods; I promptly loaded up with five pounds' worth.
I split that batch of fresnos into four different recipes, but never gave up hope on the red jalapeño. Another few days (and about ten to fifteen shopping excursions later), there they were, a hot red beacon of success. I went through all of the red jalapeños, taking my pick of the litter, and returned home triumphant and happy to start an entire second batch of recipes using the proper pepper this time around.
Fermentation, aka The Long, Long Wait for Sriracha
I took some fermentation pointers from the sriracha recipe in The Sriracha Cookbook by Randy Clemens.
The process starts with pureeing the chilies with garlic, salt, and sugar, then transferring that mixture into jars and waiting patiently. This is when I started testing some variables.
With ¾ pound of chilies, I tried varying amounts and types of sugar—palm, light brown, and white—and the same with garlic—raw versus blanched.
Each day I checked on my jars to mark their progress, finally seeing some signs of life on the third day. Sriracha jar #3 started to have little bubbles around the bottom, the first signs of fermentation. Within two days, three of the first four bottles seemed to fully ferment.
During the fermentation process, I unscrewed the lids to release some pressure and give the chilies a little stir. While the three jars were done at around the same point—five days—the last jar from that batch took an extra two days to start fermenting, then an extra day to complete.
How to Make (and Not Make) Sriracha
After fermentation was complete, I looked again to Randy Clemens' recipe, where the fermented chilies are boiled with vinegar, pureed again, then strained.
On first try this produced a sauce that tasted pretty good but much thinner than what comes out of the rooster bottle. The second time, I let the chilies puree for longer, then put some extra muscle into straining to extract more pulp, but the sauce was still too thin.
Switching things up, I first pureed the chilies with vinegar until the mixture was as smooth as can be, strained that into a small saucepan, and boiled it down until it had that lightly thickened consistency of the real stuff—success!
I repeated this again and again over a few days, letting each batch of chilies ferment at its own pace. Finally, after nearly a month of research, I had six jars of Sriracha samples.
Using a new set of tasting spoons (a Christmas gift from my wife—thanks, dear!), I went back and forth between the samples and the real Sriracha bottle, noting observations for each.
First off, none of my from-scratch samples tasted exactly like the bottled Sriracha. All of mine had a brighter, fresher flavor compared to Huy Fong's, which has an earthier undertone I couldn't match. The homemade stuff wasn't bad, just different. That being said, there were some discernible similarities that helped me get to the final recipe.
- Chilies: Red jalapeños. I had no doubt this would be the pepper for the job, and it was. The jalapeño really delivered on the right flavor more so than the fresnos, which were hotter and brighter-tasting. Also, snipping off just the stem but leaving the rest of the green tops in place resulted in a flavor that was closer to the bottled version. Letting the peppers sit longer after fermentation seemed to make no difference.
- Garlic: While the blanched garlic had a smoother taste, it was the larger chunks of raw garlic that packed the garlic bite you want in Sriracha.
- Sugar: This was the hardest to discern of all the variables, but the palm sugar seemed a little weaker in flavor and sweetness, while brown sugar added more depth with its heavier hit of molasses. This is what edged out the others in the sugar department, so that's what I put in the final recipe (though you won't go wrong with palm or white sugar here).
Is It Worth Making from Scratch?
Weeks of work for only about four cups of hot sauce—was it all worth it?
If I had ended up with an exact replica, I'd probably say no, but the devil is in the details. The final Sriracha recipe has a similar balance of flavors overall, but with a fresher taste. There are times I'd definitely prefer this homemade version.
Plus, you can vary ingredients to play up your favorite aspects of the sauce. For a mellower garlic, try blanching it first. Like it spicier? Use fresnos. Want a thinner or thicker sauce? Boil it for more or less time.
So hats off to David Tran for making a sauce that has become so ingrained in our culture that it has left you reading a way-too-long post about trying to re-create Sriracha at home. Think you'll attempt it?
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About the author: Joshua Bousel brings you new, tasty condiment each Wednesday and a recipe for weekend grilling every Friday. He also writes about grilling and barbecue on his blog The Meatwave whenever he can be pulled away from his grill.