For years, my in-laws owned a restaurant in Castro Valley, California, serving up the Americanized Chinese dishes to customers craving deep-fried wontons, pot stickers, crispy chow mein, sweet-and-sour pork, and egg foo young. Although these Westernized creations aren’t authentically Chinese, they reflected the tastes of Americans in the 1950s and 1960s who were dipping their toes in the “exotic” flavors of Asia for the first time.
Back then, a whopping 90 percent of all Chinese immigrants in the U.S. came from a tiny area the size of Rhode Island in the southern province of Guangdong (Canton), so it’s no surprise that the flavor profiles of this new hybrid cuisine were distinctly Cantonese-American. And that’s what my in-laws offered on their menu.
But over the years, as immigration expanded to other parts of China, Americanized Chinese food began taking on more flavors from other regions of China, from Fujian to Sichuan. Westernized Chinese cuisine began rapidly evolving.
Orange chicken—battered and fried chicken pieces slathered in a thick glaze of sweet orange-chili sauce—is one of the Chinese-American dishes that surged in popularity during this period. Hunan in origin, orange chicken started popping up in Chinese restaurants across America over the past few decades.
Sadly, as this dish made its way to fast food Chinese joints, the recipes got sloppier and sloppier. The gloopy version you’ll find at the mall food court these days is often grosser than gross; it’s coated in soggy clumps of batter and drowning in overly sweet, artificially colored sauce. This incarnation of orange chicken isn’t even remotely close to real-food-friendly.
Wanna try my recipe for Orange Sriracha Chicken instead?
Question: Who doesn’t love sriracha?
Answer: People who haven’t tried it yet.
But I know you. You’re a sriracha connoisseur. The first time you spied it on the table at your favorite Vietnamese joint and squirted some onto your spoonful of phở, you were hooked. You squealed when you spotted little squeeze packets of sriracha at the food truck near your office. You sought out the rooster-emblazoned bottle with the green top at Asian supermarkets. You stockpiled the stuff in your pantry and ate the spicy, umami-packed condiment with, well, everything.
You even got yourself a T-shirt with the Huy Fong Sriracha Sauce logo on it. Also? A matching iPhone case and tattoo. And why not? Sriracha’s been called The World’s Greatest Condiment and The Most Amazing Condiment on the Planet and “a delicious blessing flavored with the incandescent glow of a thousand dying suns" — and you know that’s no hyperbole. Sriracha is magic.
But then you went Paleo. And for the first time, you read the ingredients on your store-bought squeeze bottle of sriracha. You saw that it contains stuff you don’t recognize, like potassium sorbate, sodium bisulfite, and xantham gum. And it felt like someone let all the air out of your balloon.
You couldn’t bear to toss out your sriracha. But you ate it less frequently. And when you did, you felt a gnawing guilt about ingesting all those chemical preservatives. Every time you passed by your pantry, you eyed that bright orange bottle with longing — until the little voice in your head whispered: “Faileo.”
Yeah, after some furious Googling, you found a detailed recipe on the Internet for D.I.Y. sriracha — but it calls for a week of fermentation and daily stirring. And sadly, patience isn’t one of your virtues. You want sriracha today. Sad face.
I know how you feel. I felt the same way…until now.
For a while, Henry and I have been testing and re-testing various ways to make a quick, real-ingredients-only version of the world-famous “Rooster Sauce.” There were plenty of challenges: Getting the right balance of spice, tang, and sweetness. Mastering the texture. Achieving a deep, rich, satisfying umami without a week of fermentation. Not rubbing capsaicin into our eyes.
After tinkering with the formula for months, we knew we were close to unlocking the ancient Asian secret of sriracha. (Actually, what we all think of as “sriracha” — the Huy Fong version — is an Asian-American concoction. Just like modern ketchup, it was first made in the U.S.A. by Vietnamese immigrant David Tran. And it’s not all that ancient, either, having been birthed in the 1980s.)
After a long shift at the hospital yesterday, I came home with a bag of fresh red jalapeños, and decided to stay up until the code was cracked. Henry and I rolled up our sleeves, and soon enough, we captured lightning in a (squeeze) bottle.
That’s right: In our hands is the Holy Grail of Condiments: Paleo Sriracha.
Want the recipe? Well, I’ve decided to offer it only in my iPad cookbook app.
KIDDING! Really — stop screaming at your computer screen, and check out the recipe after the jump. (Though if you own an iPad and have more than five bucks in the bank but still haven’t bought my app, I have a bone to pick with you, buster.)