AUSTIN, Texas -- The only thing hotter than Texas in July is the hot sauce market, which earlier this year was named the eighth fastest-growing industry in the country, right behind yoga and pilates studios and social network game development.
And as Sriracha sauce (as Americans know it) turns 30, the $1 billion hot sauce industry as a whole seems to be growing out of the tongue-in-cheek names and hot-for-the-sake-of-being-hot recipes that once dominated shelves.
In recent months, Ten Speed Press has published two cookbooks dedicated to hot sauce, and several new hot sauces have hit the market, including one from George Milton of Austin that is on the verge of superstardom.
Yellowbird Sauce, a fiery yellowish orange sauce made with habaneros, tangerines, lime, garlic, onions, vinegar and carrots, was born out of Milton's kitchen less than a year ago as the hot sauce fanatic was attempting to create a sauce that had as much flavor as heat, but without the preservatives and sugar found in many national brands.
He started by fermenting his own red pepper mash, which is the base for most hot sauces, and when he realized that jalapenos just weren't as hot as other peppers he could use, he experimented with super hot peppers, including habaneros.
At the height of his hot sauce trials last fall, he randomly threw some leftover carrots and tangerines into a batch and then let it sit in his pantry for a month, almost forgetting that it was there. When he pulled it out to share it with his girlfriend, Erin, they both had that "Eureka!" moment and knew they'd found what they were looking for.
His first customer was a friend who runs a hot dog cart on East Sixth Street, and when customers came back raving about the bright yellow sauce, Milton decided to turn it into a business. It's available via the Yellwobird website.
When you compare Yellowbird to Sriracha, "the taste and flavor profiles are pretty different," Milton says, but it's spicy, tangy and a tiny bit salty with a similar texture, so you could substitute Yellowbird in recipes that call for Sriracha.
One of Milton's favorite recent discoveries is Yellowbird popcorn: Plain popcorn tossed with one part Yellowbird Sauce that has been mixed with one part melted coconut oil.
Milton, who carries a bottle with him when he goes out to eat, says he's working on two other recipes, one using a red fresno chili sauce and another with green jalapenos.
Austinite-turned-Houstonite Robb Walsh shows off his expertise and authority on all things capsicum in "The Hot Sauce Cookbook" (Ten Speed Press, $16.99), his second book to come out this year.
In the book, Walsh, a former editor-in-chief of Chile Pepper magazine and a founder of the Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival, explores the history of how people around the world use peppers and gives more than 60 recipes for the hot sauces or pastes themselves (jerk rub in Jamaica, Louisiana-style hot sauce, nuoc mam cham from Vietnam, berbere from Ethiopia) as well as dishes you can make with them, including buffalo chicken wings and shrimp cocktail.
Walsh is quick to credit Austin author and artist Jean Andrews for her work in capturing the beauty and biological origins of peppers, and his book will appeal to chiliheads who appreciate the range of how peppers can be used in the kitchen, as well as the historical and cultural stories that they can help tell.
If you're a fan of traditional Sriracha, you've probably heard of Randy Clemens' first book dedicated to the popular California-made "rooster sauce."
His second book, "The Veggie-Lover's Sriracha Cookbook" (Ten Speed Press, $16.99), is a meat-free (and gluten-free and vegan) follow-up that helps explain the popularity of this particular hot sauce.
Clemens says he first fell in love with Sriracha while visiting a friend, whose mom served Vietnamese fried rice for breakfast. "I have no idea what compelled me to try it, but when I tasted it, the clouds parted and the sun shined through.
Here's the short version of the story: Sriracha, named for a city in Thailand, comes from California, where Vietnamese immigrant David Tran started making and selling chili sauces in 1980 and, 30 years ago this year, released Tuong Ot Sriracha, the "rooster sauce" that has become almost a national obsession.
Tran's Huy Fong recently located to a $40 million factory in Irwindale, Calif., further cementing it in the canon of American food success stories.
Like so many Thai foods, the sauce is spicy, salty, sour and sweet and has the power to make even boring food a whole lot more interesting. That quality makes it a perfect fit for vegetables, which many home cooks struggle to prepare in new or appealing ways.
"Vegetables get a bad name for being over- or under-cooked," says Clemens, a culinary school graduate who lives in Los Angeles. "But that's easy to remedy with practice ... and hot sauce can liven up things that people find bland."
But it's more than just how hot sauces like Sriracha taste, Clemens says. It's also about the endorphin rush that follows.
"Hot sauce is my drug."
1 3/4 lb. red jalapenos, stemmed and halved lengthwise
3 cloves garlic, peeled
2 Tbsp. garlic powder
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1 Tbsp. kosher salt
1 Tbsp. light brown sugar
1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
Water, if needed
In a food processor, combine the jalapenos, garlic, garlic powder, granulated sugar, salt, and brown sugar. Pulse until a coarse puree forms. Transfer to a glass jar, seal, and store at room temperature for 7 days, stirring daily.
After 1 week, pour the mixture into a small saucepan. Stir in the vinegar and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Lower the heat and simmer gently for 5 minutes. Let cool to room temperature, then transfer to a food processor and process for 2 to 3 minutes. If the mixture is too thick to blend well, add a bit of water.
Pass the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer. Press on the solids with the back of a spoon to squeeze out every last bit of goodness. Taste and adjust the flavor and consistency to suit your taste by adding more garlic powder, granulated sugar, salt, vinegar, or water if desired. Use immediately or store in a glass jar in the refrigerator for up to 6 months. Makes about two cups.
-- From "The Veggie-Lover's Sriracha Cookbook" (Ten Speed Press, $16.99) by Randy Clemens.
Grilled Shishito Peppers with Sriracha Satay Sauce
At Swift's Attic, chef Mat Clouser serves grilled shishito peppers with an emulsion of garrotxa cheese and banyuls vinegar, but this recipe from Clemens' book uses a Thai-inspired satay sauce to balance the heat of the Sriracha. You can use padron or other more-sweet-than-hot peppers if you can't find shishito at a farmers market or grocery store near you.
For the sauce:
1 (14-oz.) can coconut milk
1/2 cup natural crunchy peanut butter, stirred well
1/3 cup Sriracha
1/2 small red onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. Bragg Liquid Aminos or low-sodium soy sauce
2 tsp. brown sugar
3/4 lb. shishito peppers
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish
To make the sauce, combine the coconut milk, peanut butter, Sriracha, onion, garlic, liquid aminos and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and stir to incorporate the peanut butter. Lower the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, transfer to an airtight container, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
To prepare the peppers, preheat a grill, grill pan, or broiler to high heat. In a large bowl, toss the peppers with the oil until evenly coated. Spread the peppers in a single layer on the grill or a broiler pan. Cook until the skin is lightly charred and blistered, about 7 minutes total, flipping once about halfway through.
Serve immediately, sprinkled with salt and black pepper to taste. Garnish with the cilantro and serve the sauce alongside in bowls for dipping. Serves 4 to 6.
-- From "The Veggie-Lover's Sriracha Cookbook" (Ten Speed Press, $16.99) by Randy Clemens.
Homemade Buffalo Chicken Wings
Legend has it that on a Friday night in 1964, bartender Dominic "The Rooster" Bellissimo at the Anchor Bar Restaurant in Buffalo asked his mom, Teressa Bellissimo, if she could make a snack for him and his friends at closing time. There were a bunch of chicken wings on the counter waiting to be used for the chicken stock. Instead of using the wings for soup, Teressa threw them in the deep-fryer and then covered them with a spicy sauce. She served the wings with celery stalks and blue cheese dressing.
The Anchor Bar's sauce recipe is a secret, but we know that it included Frank's RedHot Original Cayenne Pepper Sauce. Margarine was probably the other main ingredient. Frank's RedHot and many other hot sauce producers now sell wing sauces that are made to be dumped directly on the cooked wings. These are fine, but none taste quite as good as a homemade wing sauce made with butter.
Since I don't have a deep fryer, my favorite recipe for homemade Buffalo chicken wings calls for baking the wings on a cookie sheet in the oven. In the last step, you crisp the wings under the broiler -- you also can do it on a grill if you are already cooking outside.
5 lb. chicken wings (about 30 whole wings or 60 wing pieces)
1 cup Frank's RedHot Original Cayenne Pepper Sauce or similar hot sauce
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
1 cup blue cheese dressing, for serving
12 celery stalks, for serving
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with foil and lightly grease with cooking spray.
If desired, leave the wings whole. To split the wings into smaller pieces, first cut off the wing tips and save them for stock. Rinse the wings, split into two parts at the joint and pat dry. Place the wings (or wing pieces) on the pans in a single layer. Bake the wings, uncovered, for 20 minutes, or until cooked through and slightly crispy. Remove from the oven and place in a large mixing bowl.
Combine the hot sauce and melted butter. Set aside cup of the mixture. Pour the rest over the cooked chicken wings. (If your bowl isn't large enough, mix the wings and sauce in several batches.) The wings can be held at this stage in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve them.
To serve, preheat your broiler on high and broil the wings for 5 minutes on each side, brushing with the reserved sauce. Serve with blue cheese dressing and celery stalks. Serves 6.
-- From "The Hot Sauce Cookbook" (Ten Speed Press, $16.99) by Robb Walsh.
Inspired by the recipes for Sriracha salt that I've seen posted around the Internet, I tried my hand at making a similar salt using both Yellowbird Sauce and Wheatsville's new green jalapeno hot sauce. Both experiments turned out great, and the process was even easier than I thought it would be. Use a dash on fried eggs, pasta, salads, rice or just about anything that could use a little boost of flavor without an accidental deluge of actual hot sauce.
1/2 cup kosher salt
5 tsp. Yellowbird, Sriracha or other hot sauce
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, thoroughly mix together salt and hot sauce. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spread the salt/hot sauce mixture in a thin layer.
Turn off the heat and place the baking sheet in the oven. Every so often, stir the salt to help break up the clumps. (I found that rolling a chopstick over the salt was the easiest method to do this.) After two or three hours or up to overnight (or once the salt has dried), store in an airtight container, such as a small glass jar.