Spicy chili-vinegar chili chuka sauce is considered more essential than ketchup in cookbook author Sharon Wee’s household, ranking first with sambal belachan (see related recipe). She makes large quantities and then transfers them to glass bottles to store or give to friends. The sauce enhances fried chicken, ngo hiang (see related recipe) or just about any fried food.
While shopping at a farmers market in Chiang Mai, Wee learned to measure dried chilies before buying. She could press her hand to the lot and “feel” the heat. If you’re not used to hotness or less familiar with hot peppers, wisely add a little at a time and taste until you get the level of spiciness you like/can tolerate.
Active: 15 minutes; Total: 35 minutes
Storage Notes: Refrigerate up to 2 weeks.
Or buy: Thai and Dutch chili peppers can be found in Asian markets; Chinese rice vinegar can be found in Asian markets or online.
Size tested: 12 servings; about 1 1/2 cups
2 dried red Thai chilies, plus more as needed (see NOTES)
2 small garlic heads, separated into peeled cloves
1/2 to 2 ounces fresh Dutch peppers, stemmed and sliced (see NOTES)
1 cup Chinese rice vinegar, plus more if needed
3 tablespoons granulated sugar, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon fine salt, plus more to taste
Water, as needed
In a small bowl, cover the dried chiles with very hot water and soak for about 20 minutes, until reconstituted, soft and slightly puffy.
In a mini food processor, blend the garlic until minced. Add 1 to 2 of the dried chiles and 1/2 ounce of the fresh chiles and blend until finely ground. (You may see small flecks of chili in the mixture.) Stop the motor and taste the mixture, adding more dried and/or fresh chili for extra heat, if desired.
Transfer the mixture to a medium saucepan, stir in the vinegar and taste, adding more vinegar if desired. The sauce should be tangy and spicy. Add sugar and salt. Place saucepan over medium heat and bring to low heat, stirring, until sugar dissolves, 2 to 3 minutes. Taste and add more vinegar, sugar and/or salt, if desired; continue to stir until any additional sugar dissolves. If the sauce becomes too thick, add water a tablespoon at a time to thin it out. It should be runny.
Remove from heat and let cool completely. Then transfer to an airtight bottle or jar and refrigerate until needed.
To serve, ladle the sauce into small dipping bowls.
NOTES: If you can’t find Dutch chiles, you can use Thai red chiles or Fresno chiles, adjusting the amount to suit your taste. If you can’t find dried Thai chiles, use arbols or japones, but don’t use ancho, chipotle, or pasilla chiles, as they are too aromatic and smoky.
The smaller the peppers, the hotter they will taste, so consider removing the seeds or reducing the amount to control the heat. Wear food-safe gloves when handling chilies, if you’re concerned about the skin burning or stinging.
If you’re not used to heat, wisely add the chili a little at a time until you get the level of spiciness you can tolerate.
Origin of the recipe
Adapted from Polly Wee, mother of cookbook author Sharon Wee.
Tested by Ann Maloney.
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