By Matt Duckor
Chances are you’ve spent the last few years fighting (or, honestly, just submitting to) an addiction to Sriracha, the hot sauce made from a mix of chili peppers, vinegar, garlic, and sugar that’s a popular addition to Thai and Vietnamese cooking. That little red bottle with the green cap and iconic rooster logo has made its way deep into American popular culture—showing up in restaurants, fast food chains, and even as a Lay’s potato chip flavor. But topping Brussels sprouts with the stuff or squirting it on a Bánh mì sandwich is just the beginning. Heck, just today Momofuku chef David Chang—who is arguably the guy responsible for launching the Sriracha craze—released Ssäm Sauce, his very own Korean-style fermented chile sauce.
If you want to take your spicy game to the next level, you need to start cooking with hotness. Luckily, there’s a whole legion of hot condiments from various parts of Asia that make adding a spicy, salty, tangy hit of umami to soups, marinades, and sauces incredibly easy. They won’t be the type of ingredient that you use once, forget about, and have to toss months later—they practically last forever if you keep them in the fridge. Instead, these will become the new pantry staples you reach for over and over again.
1. SAMBAL OELEK
This Indonesian condiment is bright red and has a slightly thick consistency, putting it somewhere between a sauce and paste. It has a straightforward chili flavor because it’s made with fresh chilis and doesn’t feature any fermented products. The bottle recommends using it on everything (“to heat up your stir-fry dishes, pizza, eggs, pasta, or anything you desire”) and we’re totally on board. One more thing to add to the list? It also makes a killer glaze.
That funky tang you taste when sampling this Korean paste? That’s thanks to gochujang’s use of fermented soy beans. Because this stuff can be, well, a little intense, we recommend using it as the base for a super flavorful marinade along with garlic, ginger, sake, and mirin for skirt steak or sliced pieces of pork shoulder.
3. BLACK BEAN SAUCE
Also known as doubanjiang, this Chinese ingredient is a fundamental flavor-building block of Sichuan cuisine. Fermented black beans get blended with soy bean oil, water, chili, and salt to to make a thick paste that’s equal parts salty and spicy. If you’re looking to make ma-po tofu—the iconic Sichuan dish that’s guaranteed to leave you numb from the heat—you’ll need to pick up a bottle of this stuff.
4. CHILI OIL
The list of ways you can use this fiery Chinese oil—the thinnest of all the condiments listed here—is practically endless. A small spoonful instantly adds a spicy kick to soups and bowls of sesame noodles.
RECIPE: SESAME NOODLES WITH CHILI OIL AND SCALLIONS
- 4 scallions, whites and greens separated, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 teaspoons sesame seeds
- 2 teaspoons Sichuan pepper, coarsely chopped
- 12 ounces thin ramen noodles or spaghettini
- Kosher salt
- 1/4 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
- 1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
- 3 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon sugar
Cook scallion whites, vegetable oil, red pepper flakes, sesame seeds, and pepper in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally, until oil is sizzling and scallions are golden brown, 12-15 minutes; let chili oil cool in saucepan.
Meanwhile, cook noodles in a large pot of salted boiling water until al dente; drain. Rinse under cold water and drain well.
Whisk tahini, vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, and 2-3 tablespoons chili oil (depending on desired heat) in a large bowl; season with salt. Add noodles and toss to coat. Top with scallion greens and drizzle with more chili oil.
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PHOTOS: CHELSEA KYLE