Ten years ago, it was virtually unheard of. Today, it’s hard to find a trendy eatery that doesn’t either use it in a dish or offer it as a condiment.
Once exotic and unknown, sriracha sauce has become an American staple.
Sriracha is also known as rooster or cock sauce, thanks to the fowl emblazoned on its bottle. While it originated in a town called Si Racha in Thailand, it’s a popular Vietnamese condiment produced in America.
The name “sriracha” is actually a generic term (think “ranch” dressing). Since many sriracha sauces exist, the “authentic” version is properly identified as Huy Fong sriracha sauce.
This beloved condiment was invented by Vietnamese immigrant David Tran. In 1979, he came to the U.S. aboard the freighter ship Huy Fong, after which he named his company. The rooster on the label is an ode to his Chinese zodiac sign. Since the Year of the Rooster has just arrived, what better time to celebrate all things sriracha?
I first encountered the rooster sauce shortly after the turn of the millennium. My boyfriend and I took a Saturday road trip to Virginia’s Vietnamese mecca, Eden Center in Falls Church. As we filled our basket with exotic ingredients, Huy Fong’s sriracha sauce found its way back to our AdMo condo.
It had a zesty kick, a pronounced garlic twang and a tiny hint of sweetness. What intrigued me most was its texture; sriracha has a thicker consistency than other vinegar-based hot
sauces, allowing the flavor to stick in one place rather than rolling off a piece of fish or soaking quickly into a tortilla chip.
Outside of Asian markets, I first started to notice sriracha as a condiment in Asian restaurants. Soon, hipster restaurants began incorporating it as an ingredient. It exploded from there, going on to be named ingredient of the year in 2010 by Bon Appétit and best- tasting hot sauce in 2012 by Cook’s Illustrated.
With the trend toward savory and handcrafted cocktails, it was a given that sriracha would cross over into the bar scene. The logical progression was to use it in Bloody Marys.
One of the most creative sriracha tipples is Wrath, found at Church and State in the H Street corridor. This cocktail is forged from tomato vodka, vermouth, house-made basil syrup, sriracha and lime. Birch & Barley on 14th Street created the Enter the Dragon, made with vodka, tomato juice, lime, wasabi and sriracha. 701 Restaurant in Penn Quarter serves an Asian Bloody Mary that balances out the heat of sriracha with lemongrass, soy, tomato and black pepper.
If you prefer your beer with a kick, Oregon’s Rogue brewery has introduced a brewski made with Huy Fong’s hot chili sauce. The bottle is decked out to look like the original red bottle, complete with green cap. Another hoppy variation is to add some cock sauce to a michelada (a spicy Mexican beer cocktail).
If you dare to go out on a limb, you can add rooster sauce to fruity drinks. Mashable lists a host of recipes, including watermelon sriracha sangria; the Bird Dog, a spicy version of the grapefruit-centered salty dog; and a citrus cocktail mixed with fresh tangerine juice and sriracha.
Sriracha also pairs well with tequila. Adding a dash or two of sriracha to a margarita is an innovative way to add some fire to this enduring Mexican classic.
I like a wide range of flavors in my cocktails. One of my new favorites is the strawberry sriracha margarita. This blender concoction of fresh strawberries, Cointreau and tequila combines for a sweet and piquant treat that’s bold and fun. Its bright red hue makes an amusing choice to liven up your Valentine’s Day.
And don’t forget about National Margarita Day on Feb. 22 — a holiday it should be mandatory to celebrate. Try whipping up a pitcher for your next weekend brunch. It’s a great early afternoon drink, with a good dose of vitamin C and a nice little smack to wake up your senses.
Strawberry Sriracha Margarita
2 cups strawberries, hulled and chopped
1⁄2 cup tequila
1/4 cup Cointreau (or other orange-flavored liqueur)
1 tablespoon agave nectar
1/2 teaspoon sriracha
2 cups ice
Put ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Then pour into sugar-rimmed margarita glasses.