On a recent trip to visit my family, I decided it would be fun to dig through the annals of our family's extensive photographic history. I paused to dissect a familiar pic dating back to age four. My dinner plate is filled with dietary options, with my parents hedging their bets on nature versus nurture. It was time for my orientation. A plump, happy little frank perched plainly atop a white bread bun, loaded with ketchup and untouched. I recoiled from the image of the boiled hot dog. Then, proudly, I noted that in my hands had been the proof that I willingly assumed my genetic role as a heat lover. I was munching on my trial run taco, followed by a sampling of my parent's beefy-hot, corn encased tamales. And just like that, another buffalo wing eater was born into the family.
My mother, whose family has the high Midwestern heat tolerance, would always sprinkle crushed red pepper flakes on her pizza, and Tabasco in her bowls of soup and chili. I admired her lack of water while eating such things. And while I won't turn down an 'atomic' wing or too, I've tried to locate more ethnic, sophisticated and perhaps even trendy (I say this because I found mine at the Chopping Block cooking school shop) hot sauces- and have found sriracha and sambal.Sriracha, preferably the Huy Fong Foods variety, can taste more than a bit garlicky if not paired with the right food. It's made of a smooth puree of chilies and garlic, for a simple orange-red squirt of a sauce. A little goes a long way, as I often find when I overload my eggs or pad thai. I prefer to counter heavy doses with a bit of vinegar or perhaps some lemon juice.
Now I realized, that for a milder chili sauce, perfect to combine pre-cooking, I should choose sambal. I'll try to break down the difference here and let you decide your own instrument of pain!
I consider sambal a paste or side condiment, rather than a sauce. It has a thicker, heartier texture and often can catch someone by surprise if they happy to eat one of the chunkier chili seeds or bits when incorporated into a stir fry. I almost always use a hefty spoonful to add kick to darker sauces like korean bbq or kung pao hoisin (combos reign at Flat Top Grill's create your own bar in Chicago). It tastes incredible with beef.
Sambal, or Sambal Oelek as it is often labeled, describes the Indonesian mortar and pestle process of creating the condiment. Often, the addition of shrimp paste, onion, lime juice or lemongrass offer a brighter, more maleable flavor than sriracha. I personally am choosy about where I insert too much garlic flavoring in my meals, particularly those with high heat.
And so, it's amazing how the little chili proves a lot goes a long way in cooking. Give it a try next time you sit down in your local noodle shop. Many restaurants offer it on the table to add a little to taste.
A long time ago, when I lived in New Jersey and a few years following that trial taco bite, I discovered a virtual land of hot sauces in Red Bank, at a place called The Pepper Shack.
It was there that I was entranced by the metrics of 'spicy' and the all to scientific Scoville Scale. For those of you who are daring enough to try your hand at it's uppermost notches, all I can say is- 'that's hot!'