Saturday, October 6, 2012

Homemade Sriracha Sauce

It only takes a casual reading of this blog to know that I'm nuts about hot stuff and sriracha sauce is one of my favorite condiments.  I put it in almost all the soups. If I don't put it in while I'm making it because I'm not sure about the heat tolerance of the people I'm cooking for, you can be sure that I'll at least add some to my bowl.

Usually, I use the commercial stuff made by the Huy Fong company of southern California that one buys at the store - the lovely red bottle with the green cap and the rooster on the front.  Some people call it rooster sauce or even <raise an eyebrow> cock sauce.  Whatever, it is delicious and makes almost everything you put it on taste better.
 If you read the list of ingredients on the label, you'll see this stuff is made of chilis, sugar, salt, vinegar, and garlic with some preservatives and a thickening agent added.

My friend Alan Zak, from Florida, sent me a box full of his homegrown red-ripe Fresno peppers, which were just beautiful.  It's hard to eat a whole lot of fresh hot peppers, so to do them justice, I decided to try and my my own sriracha sauce.

I rinsed the peppers and peeled the cloves of a whole head of fresh garlic.  I laid them all out together into a large flat baking dish and put them into a hot 400 F oven.  When I could smell them, and believe me the smell soon permeated my small apartment, I shook the pan to make sure everything was not stuck and to flip them over.  When the peppers were soft and looking roasted and the garlic cloves were soft and slightly browned, I took them out and let them cool.

Hot peppers get their heat from capsaicin, which is concentrated most heavily in the seeds and the whitish membranes surrounding the seeds.  If you decide to try and make this, you have a decision to make.  If you want a milder sauce, you'll need to slice each pepper lengthwise and use a knife to gently scrape out and discard the membranes and seeds.  This is a lot of work, and for me, the hotter the better, so I did not do that.  I just tore the stems off with my fingers and threw the whole peppers into a blender.  When you are working with the peppers, do not touch your face - especially your eyes.  If you do, you'll find out what it feels like to be an Occupy protester at UC Davis, only not as much.  If you have sensitive skin, wear latex gloves while you do this.

Into the blender went (I didn't measure anything, quantities are approximate. Adjust to taste.):
  • the peppers
  • the roasted garlic cloves
  • about 1/4 cup of cider vinegar
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 1.5 Tbs sugar
  • few drops of liquid smoke
I blended until it was smooth and stored in a tightly closed glass jar.

My sriracha is not as smooth and more garlicky than the commercial product and it is quite a bit hotter.  Perhaps it would be more accurate to call it chili garlic sauce.  Nevertheless, it is really delicious and I've been using it instead of rooster sauce lately, and will for as long as it lasts.  Next spring, I think I'll plant some pepper bushes of my own.  Thanks Alan!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Chicken Soup with Rice & Maurice Sendak

The blog's been on hiatus for a few months while I concentrate on my web development business and keeping my affairs of daily living in order, but today, in honor of Maurice Sendak, I bring you Chicken Soup with Rice. (Vegan friends, you will probably want to stop reading right about now).

This 'chicken soup with rice' is more accurately a chicken congee. A congee is a thick, soft, hearty rice dish that is eaten in almost every culture - especially in Asia. If you haven't encountered congee before, think of it as the peasant version of risotto, without the cheese. Congees are often served to people who are recovering from illness because they're easy to digest and are also eaten for breakfast because of their simplicity.

It's a great way to get a lot of food out of a small amount of protein. I've been living on a very low budget lately and so when I buy something like a whole chicken, I want to get as many meals out of it as I possibly can. On Saturday I roasted the chicken in the oven and spent several days slicing off the meat and enjoying it with mushrooms, vegetables, and in sandwiches. By Monday, I was ready to make a congee.

If you need to get the most out of your food money, never throw away the bones and what's left after you pick off the meat. Put them in a pot of water and simmer them into a broth. If you store your cooked chicken on a plate in the fridge like I do, you'll also find some gelatin on the plate. Put that in! It's the good stuff.

After you've simmered the remains of the chicken for an hour or 2, use a slotted spoon to get all the parts back out of the broth. Put it on a plate and let it cool. Chop up an onion and some celery and throw it into the broth. Throw in some frozen peas. I had some leftover mushrooms and I also added some dried shitake and tree ear mushrooms. Now add some rice. The idea is to cook the rice so it absorbs most of the liquid but is still soft and squishy, so the way to go about this is to estimate the volume of liquid you have and then add about 1/3 of that in rice. In other words, if you have 6 cups of broth, you should add 2 cups of rice. You don't need to be very precise about it, just eyeball it and make a guess. You can always adjust later. If the liquid is mostly absorbed but the rice is still firm or crunchy, add some water. If the rice is soft but there's still a lot of liquid, call it soup and enjoy it as it is.

Let it cook on low heat, uncovered, stirring occasionally. When it's almost done (taste it, the rice will be al dente at this point), throw in leftover cooked vegetables. I like to add frozen greens (any kind you like) at this point. Pick through the chicken parts and throw any bits of meat you find into the pot.

Season with soy sauce, black pepper and Sriracha sauce. This is great to store in the refrigerator and heat up for a quick simple meal.