BY NHUNG NGUYEN
We see it in the oriental aisle at the grocery store. We see it on tables at Noodles & Company. It’s the clever packaging that catches our eye – the signature green cap against the clear bottle exposing a bold, rich red – a complementary color combination. The simple icon, lodged dead center on the bottle: a rooster.
Sriracha was originally made in Thailand. It debuted in the United States in 1983 after David Tran, owner of Huy Fong Foods, Inc., developed the flavors of this sauce to suit his personal taste.
According to Donna Lam, executive operations officer of Huy Fong Foods, Inc., Tran was born in the year of the rooster in Chinese astrology, hence the famous logo.
But what makes this hot sauce so popular? Two local experts from two different realms in the culinary world explained what they think is so hot about Sriracha.
A Gateway Drug
Upon hearing the name Sriracha, Dan Jacobs, executive chef at Odd Duck, located at 2352 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. in Bay View, let out a lively chuckle, reminiscing on his experiences with this fancy sauce while working in Chicago.
“I remember 10 years ago, working at restaurants, we were putting Sriracha with tuna tartrate, avocados and making coconut sorbet to go with it, to cool it down,” Jacobs said. “That was cutting edge in like, 2003.”
Now, he said he couldn’t fathom sending that out on a plate. Jacobs has been cooking since he was 19 and lately, he has been burnt out on the idea of Sriracha.
Jacobs’ style has evolved from cooking with Sriracha to experimenting with Sambal Oeleck, an Indonesian style, chunkier chili paste, also made from Huy Fong Foods.
“It’s [Sriracha’s] kind of like a gateway drug,” Jacobs said. “It introduces you to a slew of other things. It introduces you to Sambal or introduces you to Chinese fried garlic chili paste or fermented black bean chili paste.”
Sriracha has pushed Jacobs to infuse oriental flavors in with his traditional dishes. Some of the dishes on Odd Duck’s menu incorporate Sambal in the main entrees or sauces.
Just a Condiment
Although Jacobs is not actively using Sriracha in the cooking at Odd Duck, there is always one token bottle in-house for staff members to put on their food, in addition to the flavors that have already been established.
As for personal use, Jacobs keeps a bottle in his kitchen. Whether it be in egg foo young or on chicken nuggets, he uses Sriracha as a condiment.
“It’s like a squirt here or there,” Jacobs said. “It’s never a basis for something. Sriracha mayo is still my favorite thing to dip French fries in.”
Tony Kora, sushi chef at Rice N Roll, located at 1952 N. Farwell Ave. in Milwaukee, comes from a Thai background and is very familiar with the chili sauce.
“Sriracha is the name of a province in Thailand and the type of pepper that is grown there,” Kora said. “I’ve been eating it since I was a kid.”
Although there are many different kinds of Sriracha brands out there, the kind that most people recognize has the green cap and rooster from Huy Fong Foods. According to Kora, the unique packaging is what made the product so popular.
“I call it the chicken brand,” Kora said. “This specific brand stands out by the way it is advertised.”
Kora started out in a New York City seafood restaurant in 2005. He moved to Chicago two years later and worked at a sushi restaurant. This inspired him to open Rice n Roll in February 2015.
The cuisine at Rice n Roll is a combination of Japanese and Thai cuisine. Kora and his team utilize the resources they have to add notes of Thai flavors to the sushi that is served. They add Sriracha into some ingredients in the signature rolls and sauces at the restaurant.
Kora makes his own specialty house sauce that contains Sriracha and is served with the sushi or other Thai options.
“Six or seven years ago when I became a head chef, I wanted to come up with my own recipe of a hot sauce,” Kora said. “My hot sauce is a little sweet with a spicy aftertaste. That is where the Sriracha comes in.”
Kora doesn’t use Sriracha directly in all his cooking but adds it to tuna, which is present in some appetizers and spicy tuna rolls. He also uses the chili sauce to top off sushi rolls when customers want the extra heat.
Line Cook, Hinterland Erie Street Gastropub
“It [Sriracha] became popular when people put it on pizza.”
“Not sure if you’re into the E-Cigarette thing, but they have hot sauce juice that people drip on their E-Cigs. It tastes hot and they have little Sriracha bottles for the juice.”
Dietetics major, Bartender at BelAir Cantina Tosa
“I use it [Sriracha] on everything! I use Trader Joe’s brand because there’s no preservatives in it. A dead giveaway is refrigerate after opening [on the label], otherwise Sriracha lasts forever.”
Fashion Merchandise Management major, Irish foreign exchange student at Mount Mary University
“We use HP sauce – it looks like barbecue sauce, but it’s not. We would have it sitting on the table beside ketchup. It’s like brown sauce and peppery and sometimes you mix that into things.”