What's different about the pho-shop staple hot sauce?
May 18, 2010 (Updated May 18, 2010)
by Bennett Kalafut
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:Thick, good fresh chile/garlic balance, keeps well at room temperature, low price.
The Bottom Line: Sriracha is a thickened, moderately hot, garlic/chile sauce meant to be put onto food like catsup or mustard. Huy Fong is the most common brand, and is reliably good.
On the table at many if not most phở restaurants and quite a few casual Thai noodle places, too, is Huy Fong's Sriracha hot sauce, a California-produced chile paste named after a somewhat sweeter traditional Thai preparation. That bright-red squeeze bottle with the green nozzle and the line drawing of a cock--leading to it sometimes being called "cock sauce" or "rooster sauce"--is Huy Fong brand sriracha. At large Asian specialty grocers, other brands, similar in taste but varying in quality from equal to inferior, can also be had.
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Its most common use seems to be as a dipping sauce for the meat in phở , but more than a few people use it as a condiment for other food on the table. I remove the uncooked chiles from the banh mi (Vietnamese-style sandwiches) at Tucson's Sai Gon Phở and instead apply a generous streak of Huy Fong Sriracha the way one would put mustard on a hot dog. Others even use it as a general-purpose hot sauce; while not as popular as Tabasco or Crystal it sees enough use to have been mentioned in the hot sauce article on the Stuff Black People Like website. (A quick Google search couldn't find supposed hot sauce connoisseur President Obama's opinion.)
The ingredients list may have you thinking that it's a cheaper Asian knockoff of Frank's Original Red Hot, the archetypal garlic pepper sauce. It is not, but that sauce provides a good reference point. Relative to Frank's, Huy Fong Sriracha has about the same amount of chile heat and a much less pronounced garlic flavor. Fresh chile pepper is at the fore, with garlic as an accent. While unmistakably a vinegar-based condiment, it's doesn't taste as much of vinegar as Frank's, Tabasco, or even Crystal. A dash of sugar adds just a hint of sweetness, nowhere near as much as many East Asian condiments.
The most distinctive ingredient in Huy Fong Sriracha is probably the xanthan gum. One cannot taste it--it's nearly tasteless, anyway, at least at reasonable concentrations--but enough is there to give the sauce the same thickness as yellow "hot dog" mustard or tomato catsup, and even the same pseudoplastic shear-thinning consistency that causes the latter to be so difficult to coax out of a narrow bottle. Huy Fong Sriracha and its imitators are the hot sauces meant not to mix in to a dish like Tabasco nor to douse it and let soak like Crystal or Durkee, but rather to put or spread onto food.
Unlike most hot sauces, which taste stale if left out for too long and require refrigeration, those large bottles of Huy Fong Sriracha can sit on restaurant tables for weeks or months without losing their bright red color or fresh pepper taste. Since there perhaps isn't enough vinegar to keep bacteria from fermenting the sugars and starches, a bit of potassium sorbate is in the mix. Sodium bisulfite keeps oxidation in check. Neither of these ordinarily cause people harm, but some people are sensitive to either or both. Sodium bisulfite is a common wine preservative, used especially in white wines since they contain few natural antioxidants; if you have a reaction to white wine, chances are high that Huy Fong Sriracha will also give you trouble. In that case the chile oil also often present on restaurant tables may be a better alternative, but short of producing a chile garlic paste yourself in a food processor, there's no true substitute for sriracha.
Ingredients: Chile, sugar, salt, garlic, distilled vinegar, potassium sorbate (preservative), sodium bisulfite (preservative), and xanthan gum
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