What Kind of Person Are You?

There are some things that are simply worth spending the time to make yourself.

When Thanksgiving is over and the leftovers have been packed away and you’re left with a giant turkey carcass, you have to make stock. Soup eventually, of course. But first, stock. I like to make beef stock as well. And fish stock. My wife is constantly holding up bags of bones or shells or fish heads and frames and asking, frustrated, “Why is there another bag of garbage in the freezer?” But the answer is simple: It’s a good use for what would otherwise be – well – garbage. But also because I can get a better, deeper flavor out of that garbage than I can out of a box.

A long time ago, I had a friend who was a very independent, intrepid kind of guy. He baked his own bread and fixed his own truck. But the thing that stuck with me – the thing that was most emblematic – was that he made his own beef jerky. In fact, in describing him to someone else, I summed him up best by calling him “the kind of guy who makes his own jerky.” He’d buy flank steak and painstakingly trim it and slice it, marinate it and dry it. And he showed me how. Now, I’m the kind of guy who makes his own jerky. I’m able to control the marinade better. The sweet. The heat. And since my teenage boys are in that “eat massive amounts of protein so we don’t have to wear shirts” stage of life, it lets me keep jerky in constant supply without taking out taking out a second mortgage.

And so it goes. When I’ve got the time and inclination, I’ll make mayonnaise before I reach for a jar. I tinker with my own barbeque sauce and rubs, trying to get it right where I want it for the particular meat I’m smoking or slow cooking. In summer bumper crops of fruit become preserves and tomatoes, of course, get sauced and frozen. There’s something in the satisfaction of watching something become something else by your own hand, and even more in reaching into the cupboard or freezer to use it up.

For years, when I was looking for a spicy kick for eggs or chicken, to jack up a sauce or mayo I’d reach into the fridge and grab the sriracha without giving it much of a second thought. I’ve never really even given much of a thought to buying sriracha because it’s really just a one-step process. While you’re at the grocery store you find the Asian foods aisle and you get the sriracha. You don’t even pick a sriracha. You just pick the sriracha. You know the one. Clear bottle. Green top. Rooster. You know the one. In the world of sriracha, there is but one name. Well. . .two names. Huy Fong. I’ve always just accepted that Huy Fong is what sriracha is. It’s the Model T of condiments. It never occurred to me that sriracha might be anything different.

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Send these little lovlies away for a nap.

And then, one summer, the bumper crop wasn’t peaches or tomatoes. It was chilis. I dried them. I pickled them. I ground them up to mix into chorizo. I needed new ideas. The idea, it turns out, was sitting in my fridge. In a clear bottle. With a green top. And a rooster.

Why bother taking a crack at making your own sriracha? For one thing, because it’s pretty easy. And being easy is an excellent quality in anything in which you’re not certain of the outcome. And I needed to know if there was some other dimension outside of the myopic world I’ve always known and accepted. Like homemade ice cream versus the store bought stuff. Or chocolate chip cookies. Or jerky.

The first step in exploring any new experiment is to start basic and eliminate other people’s mistakes. What you’ll find when you google “sriracha recipe” is that a lot of people have gone before. And those people have a lot of thoughts about it.. I went with the simplest, most basic recipe I could find. Chilis, sugar, garlic, vinegar. What I got was a sauce that was spicy and bright and very fresh tasting. Far more than the “original.” It was good. But it wasn’t what I was looking for. When that happens you have two choices; you can work your way through a lot of a product that wasn’t really what you were hoping for. Or, you can spoon it into adorable little snap-top jars and give it to your friends gift your friends some “fresh, homemade sriracha.

I think you know which I did.

And then I went back to google. In reading through the second time, I dove deeper and tried to sift out the flavor profiles I liked from what other people had accomplished. I wanted something deeper and sweeter. And like customizing a jeep, I put together something I could call my own.

I’d never realized it, but sriracha is a fermented food. Like anything else, the fermentation adds flavor dimensions that wouldn’t otherwise be there in the fresh version. Think cabbage versus sauerkraut. But there’s something else that happens. I can’t say why. I’m a fan of tasting food in progress. It lets you know how flavor develops. Where it’s been. Where it’s headed. And so I did that. And the first few times, along the way, it was. . . .rough around the edges. That’s putting it mildly. I dipped my spoon. I took a taste. And for a second, it was find. It was bright. Unrefined. And hot. And hotter. And then really hot. And then my mouth was burning. Flop sweat started to push out of my forehead and then I started to convulse in hiccups. It wasn’t ready yet. But worse, it started to plant seeds of doubt in what I’d done. Every night I’d stir, taste, sweat and hiccup.

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Sweet. Hot. And all mine.

But then it happened less. And less. And finally, on the last night, when all the bubbles had stopped, I poured it out, finished it off, strained it and reduced it down. I tasted it. I didn’t sweat. I didn’t hiccup. It was spicy but mellow. Sweet. Deep red. All in all, a great start to what I was looking for. And I smiled. Because now, I’m the kind of guy who makes his own sriracha.

 

 

 

Fermented Sriracha

I lb of red chilis, stemmed. (Mostly red jalapenos, but fresnos, Thais, etc added into the mix will work)
1 head of garlic, peeled
¼ cup dark brown sugar
1 T kosher salt
½ cup pineapple juice

Add the stemmed chilis, the garlic and the brown sugar to a blender and blend on high until the mixture is smooth. If it’s too dry to bend, add water until it blends smoothly. Pour the mixture into a jar (like a mason jar). Cover and put the jar in a cool dark corner of your kitchen. Each day, open the lid, give the contents a stir and replace the lid. Give the stuff on the spoon a tasted and see where you’re at.

When the mixture has stopped bubbling (after 5 days or so) give it 2 more days of the sitting/stirring routine.

Put a fine mesh sieve over a saucepan and pour the mixture into the sieve. Use a rubber spatula to push as much of the liquid into the saucepan. What’s left in the sieve should be a dryish mix of skins and seeds.

Mix the pineapple juice into the sauce in the pan and heat on very low heat for about a half hour or until the sriracha is a consistency you’re happy with. Let it cool, jar it up and refrigerate.

Oh. . . And now you, too, are the kind of person who makes their own sriracha.

 

 

 

 

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