"A person cooking is a person giving: Even the simplest food is a gift."

Laurie Colwin

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Best Damned Sweet Chili Sauce You Ever Had

I first bought “Sweet Chili Sauce for Chicken”, a product from Thai brand “Jinjia Taste”, about 25 years ago, and enjoyed the smugness that comes with discovering something like a great underground band:  I was in on a great secret, and I was its biggest fan.

But in the intervening years, sweet chili sauce has been discovered by just about everyone, and become as common as ketchup.  Unfortunately, what was once the underground band of the condiment world has sold out and isn’t playing pubs and clubs any more, but stadiums, and it barely has a spark of the fire it once had.  The quality has plummeted as its popularity has increased:  what was once slick and glazed is now gummy and gluggy, and what was a pleasant tingle on the tongue now gets your head cocked to one side as you struggle to place even a hint of spice on your palate.  You pick up a bottle to read the ingredients, and part of the reason why it’s so dire is clear:  first ingredient on the list is sugar, then water.  And because they don’t put in enough chili to thicken that miserable syrup up any, there’s xanthan gum to give it body.  Mmm-mmm good!

There are still some good quality sauces out there, but for the best sauce, you make your own.  This one is superb, with a deep garnet colour and layers of complex flavour that are heightened by the sweetness rather than overpowered by it, and, joy of joys, it is also one of the easiest, quickest preserves.  You can use it in anything you would normally use sweet chili sauce for, if you can stop yourself eating it with a spoon.

(Makes about 2 cups)

250g. red peppers (capsicum), roughly chopped (cored and seeded weight)
2 long red chilies, roughly chopped
6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 tbsp. chopped lemongrass
1 tbsp. chopped ginger
1 tsp. dried crushed red chili (more or less - see note below)
stalks and roots from one bunch of coriander (cilantro)
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 tbsp. salt
2 cups water
1 1/4 cup sugar

What you do:
1.  Combine all ingredients except sugar in a saucepan, and bring to the boil.  Cook at a steady boil for 5 minutes.  Add sugar, stir to dissolve, and bring to the boil again.  Reduce heat and cook at a high simmer, stirring occasionally, for 25 minutes.
2.  Transfer contents of saucepan to food processor and whizz for about a minute, until smooth, thick, and glossy.  Pour into hot, sterilised bottles or jars, and seal.

Note:  The actual amount of dried chilli is up to you and depends on how hot you like your sweet chilli sauce, and the heat of the fresh chillies.  Chilies bought from the supermarket in Australia don’t often have a name, and you don’t really know what kind they are and how much heat they hold until you taste them at home (or try to remove your contact lens – hyeah, tell me about it).

This sauce was a rescue mission for the red peppers which,
as you can see, wouldn't see another day.  And yes, that's
frost on the lemongrass:  I keep it in the freezer.  The
chilies too, hence the wrinkly skin.

Have a look and keep in mind how the liquid looks before...

... the cooking time is up.  Liquids should be reduced and
syrupy, and veggies should look glazed.

Give the whizzing a good minute.
It helps thicken the sauce.

After its burl in the food processor, your sauce should be
thick, garnet red, and glossy.

Pot 'er up.
Aroi mak mak!


  1. The ingredients say this has to be good. If its filled with goodness, looks goodly - well yes!

  2. Thank you. It's divine. Tonight for dinner I am making anything that can be a vehicle for this sauce.

  3. The last sweet chilli sauce I made was so hot I had to give it away. Now I see why. There was way more chilli than capsicum. What else can I do with a 6 foot chilli tree (They are little red bullets of fire and brimstone)?

  4. Hiya Trish, what are you DOING to that plant? It sounds very, very happy. :)

    If the chilies are so hot that you can't use a whack of them at once, I'd preserve them. Something easy, like just popping them in the freezer (I don't defrost them before using them, just chop from frozen), or doing what Italians do and slicing/chopping them finely and putting them up in sterilised jars with vegetable oil to cover. A spoonful in just about anything is marvellous, plus there's the wonderful oil, as well. They'll keep like this for a year in the 'fridge.

  5. I want to try and make this. I suppose bird's eye chili will work for this ? Thanks for sharing. dunno why i'm showing as admin here. Mgoh - www.whattocooktoday.com

  6. Absolutely, Mgoh. Just adjust the dried chili to taste, or simply omit it. Let us know how it turns out!

  7. This chilli sauce sounds perfect! Thanks for sharing.

  8. Hope you give it a go, Eftychia. It's a great thing to have on standby.

  9. OMG. YUM! I am going to have a go at this! Delish! x


So! Whaddya reckon?