High on the New York Times’s list of most emailed stories is a feature on Sriracha sauce, the rooster-labeled, green-topped, hot, sweet and transcendent condiment that, in my book, signifies good things to come when I see it on a restaurant table or in a friend’s kitchen. The sauce – which I always thought was Vietnamese – is an interesting mongrel: it’s the creation of an ethnically-Chinese refugee from Vietnam, invented in Los Angeles as a pan-Asian chili sauce. And I’m far from the only devotee – the article quotes from top chefs who swear by the stuff and from drunken customers calling the factory to sing its praises.
I try to take a week off from work before Christmas and grab some leisure time in the kitchen, cooking for the holidays and to make gifts for friends and family. One of my favorite creations this year was a batch of Sriracha-laced salt caramels. As a diabetic, I can’t really eat candy, so was looking to make a candy that was satisfying enought to my tastes that I could eat a tiny piece and be happy for hours. These didn’t turn out nearly as strong as I’d intended, but my candy-eating friends and family tell me that they’re quite addictive.
– 1 cup heavy cream
– 4 tablespoons (half a stick) of butter
– 2-3 tablespoons of Sriracha chili sauce
– teaspoon of salt, preferably sea salt
Mix those four ingredients in a saucepan, bring to a boil, remove from heat and cover.
– 1 1/2 cups white sugar (not confectioner’s sugar, which has corn starch in it)
– 1/2 cup brown sugar
– 1/4 cup of water
Mix these ingredients in a pan that you’re willing to damage. (If you’re careful, you won’t, but candy is tricky business.) Heat over medium heat, stirring like a madman. You’re trying to dissolve all the sugar into a heavy syrup. Once you’ve got that syrup and it’s boiling, stop stirring and start swirling the pan instead. (Once you’re boiling sugar, it’s very easy to cause the solution to crystalize into a hard, unusable mess – one of the easiest ways to screw this up is to introduce sugar crystals from a dirty spoon. If you do crystalize, add water to the sugar and start again by disolving into a syrup…)
Using a candy thermometer, raise the temperature to the “firm ball” stage, around 245-250F. Pour in the cream mixture and stir hard to combine ingredients. Heat, stirring, until temperature is back at 245-250F. Pour the mixture out onto a baking sheet lined with wax paper or parchement. Let cool for about an hour, then cut caramel into small squares or rectangles. Wrap caramels in wax paper – they keep for months.
And no, Sriracha-flavored caramels aren’t an authentic manifestation of Vietnamese or Thai culture… but then again, neither is Sriracha sauce. To hell with authenticity – eat what tastes good.