Chili sauce is a condiment that adds spice and flavor to anything from Asian recipes to Western favorites. It can be used as a wonderful dip for finger foods of all kinds, a side condiment to add more spice to your food, just as you might add salt and pepper, or you can use it as a handy cooking ingredient -- a good substitution for fresh chili. In most Asian countries as well as in Mexico and Central America, no table setting is complete without a bottle or jar of spicy chili sauce.
Ingredients in Chili Sauce and How It's Made
Depending on what kind of chili sauce you buy or decide to make, the ingredients will vary, but not very widely. Mexican chili sauce is usually made with Mexican hot chilies (often they are dried first), red or green, which are simmered in a base of vinegar and sometimes tomato. Louisiana sauce is made of aged red or green chilies simmered with vinegar and salt/sugar. Asian chili sauces are usually made with Asian hot red chilies (Thai bird's eye chilies are popular). Usually, the chilies are roasted first, then blended to form a paste that is then simmered with fried shallots and garlic, shrimp paste, sugar and fish sauce/soy sauce. The oil-based chili pastes are made in a similar way, but with soybean, palm or other oils added.
Types of Chili Sauce
On the other side of the world are the Asian-style chili sauces which can be slightly easier on the stomach because most are made without vinegar. (The vinegar-chili combination of chili sauces like Tobasco can stir up heartburn if you're not used to the potency.)
There are numerous types of Asian chili sauces, including oil-based chili paste, chili-garlic sauce, classic Thai Sriracha Chili Sauce (now available at most supermarkets in North America) and famous Thai Nam Prik Pao Chili Sauce.
Thai cuisine also has a wonderful sweet chili sauce, which makes an excellent dip for spring rolls, egg rolls, chicken wings and other finger foods. This chili sauce works well as a side sauce for roast chicken or fried chicken, and also makes a fabulous marinade as well as a dip.
Favorite Store-Bought Chili Sauces
- Thai Sriracha Chili Sauce (available in most major supermarkets)
- Indonesian Sambal Oelek (comes in a plastic jar and you can often find it in the Asian section of regular supermarkets).
- As a dip for party foods, we love sweet chili sauce. You don't have to do anything to this sauce to serve it -- just pour out and start dipping.
How to Use Chili Sauce in Your Cooking
Generally speaking, if a recipe calls for fresh minced red chilies and I don't have any in the house, I will substitute 1 teaspoon of Thai chili sauce in place of one red chili. These chili sauces can also be made into spicy stir-fry sauces -- experiment by adding soy sauce or fish sauce, a little sugar and some chicken/vegetable stock; otherwise it will be too spicy.