Help me identify this sushi smoky, potentially Mexican-inspited, hot sauce
August 9, 2009 11:43 AM   Subscribe

Help me identify this terrific hot sauce my local sushi bar offers. What makes it unusual is that it is not creamy, much darker than sriracha, has a thick marmalade consistency, and has this deep sweet, slightly smoky flavor, while still being hot. And in it are darker tiny bits of somewhat grainy/crunchy red specs. Also, I definitely see some sort of oil as part of the mixture (you can see the oil in the crevice under the top in the linked pic above). I frequent sushi places and have not found another place that carries this. One thing that occurred to me: The head chef at this place is of Mexican decent - so there is a chance he created/brought in with him something from Mexican cuisine that I am not familiar with - not sure if that helps anyone. Would love to figure out what it is and be able to but containers/make some of my own!
posted by cha4 to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Have you thought about just asking the sushi-bar what it is? No doubt they just buy it wholesale, so perhaps you could buy a big tub of it from them.
posted by Static Vagabond at 11:51 AM on August 9, 2009

There are a lot of variants of sambal. Thats my guess, as for the brand you would have to ask them
posted by Black_Umbrella at 12:00 PM on August 9, 2009

I am totally guessing here: maybe a Chimichurri sauce? It's from Argentina, but a lot of places i've visited in Mexico have served it.
posted by arimathea at 12:22 PM on August 9, 2009

It's probably Thai sweet chili sauce, also called Thai BBQ sauce. Recipe here.
posted by Brian B. at 12:28 PM on August 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Smoky and hot imply chipotle to me; maybe it's garden variety hot & sweet chili sauce made with them instead of regular dried chilis?
posted by PontifexPrimus at 12:38 PM on August 9, 2009

I agree that asking is the most obvious move--the people who serve it are obviously going to have more insight than people looking at pictures.

That said, based on the picture, I'm seconded the Thai sweet chili sauce guess. The bright-redness is right, and the way your picture looks kind of viscous-shiny suggests there's a lot of sugar involved.

(Chimichurri? That's a green herb sauce. Nothing to do with either description or picture.)
posted by neroli at 1:21 PM on August 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding chipotle, which often gives a slightly smoky/sweet BBQ-type flavor.

Whatever it is, it sounds great. I like well-done fusion cuisine, and the idea of a Mexican/South-American inspired sauce on sushi sounds wonderful. Be sure to report back.
posted by rossination at 1:48 PM on August 9, 2009

Seconding sambal. I recently discovered this brand, which will CHANGE YOUR LIFE.
posted by CunningLinguist at 2:17 PM on August 9, 2009

Have you asked the restaurant? I have no idea how a bunch of random people on the internet are going to be able to identify a sauce based on a photo (especially when it may have been produced in-house at the restaurant). The obvious move here is to ask the restaurant, and if you haven't done that, please start there.
posted by jdroth at 2:54 PM on August 9, 2009

it looks to me like it could be hot chilies in oil. i have such a thing in my fridge called saigon oil n' chili hot sauce (can't find an img, sorry). i've also had it at chinese restaurants -- it burns!
posted by tamarack at 2:55 PM on August 9, 2009

Unfortunately, asking a restaurant what the ingredients of their food does not always yield a straight answer, especially if it is a family restaurant and the food is their livelihood. When I asked, they were pretty tight-lipped. And I plan to move soon - so I was hoping I could find something more reliable than trying to get it from them only. Also, I am curious what it is exactly - the flavor is great and I would love to figure out ways to use it in recipes. (hermitosis, feel free to "flag" if you feel you need to.)

Thanks everyone for your help so far - these are great ideas. Sambal - particularly sambal bajak - looks promising, since it is described as having a deeper, smoky sweet flavor.

Chimichurri seems to always have parsley / may be something different what what I am seeing here.

The chipotle route looks worth exploring as well, since that could be the source of the smokiness.

The Thai sweet chili sauce linked to above is already in my pantry (to my wife's dismay - "when are we ever going to use all these sauces?"). I went just now to give it a taste. It is not nearly as dark as this, lighter in color, and has a more "simple" sweet taste and no smokiness at all. The sauce I get is very thick and has a very complex "deep" flavor.
posted by cha4 at 2:56 PM on August 9, 2009

When I asked, they were pretty tight-lipped

Thanks, that's helpful to know. Carry on...
posted by hermitosis at 2:59 PM on August 9, 2009

To me, that looks a lot like nam prik pao (another version) which is a Thai sauce based on toasted chiles and shallots. The toasting of the chiles gives it a deep, slightly smokey flavor and the tamarind gives it a marmalade-like consistancy. It's utterly delicious, but best cooked in a well-ventilated area.
posted by TungstenChef at 3:58 PM on August 9, 2009

Well done, you've stumped me! (and I was just reading a Japanese cookbook I picked up recently that is written entirely in Japanese, but I know enough about the cuisine generally that the pictures and the techniques demonstrated in the illustrations makes it a book that is ENTIRELY useful for me....)

I don't exactly recognize the sauce in your pic, sadly. My guess is it is a combination of pre-made sauces and ingredients someone associated with the restaurant came up with. No worries! I have a process for figuring that kind of thing out...

1. Especially if you over-order and get some items to go - ask for extra sauce on the side.

2. Try to tease out where the owners or the staff are primarily from. Are they Japanese? Korean? Mexican? Chinese? This will give you hints towards which ingredients you should consider.

When you get home, taste a small amount of the restaurant sauce. Try to discern the individual elements. On the side, use your thai chili sauce as a base and mix in different things (btw, have you kept the chili sauce in the fridge? Is it fresh? If not, get a new jar.)

From the pic, your sauce could be anything from a base of thai chilli sauce dressed up, to a reduction of dashi (japanese broth, often contain smoked dried shaved bonito flakes) doctored with a variety of chilis and sweet elements. The viscous sweet part is likely some form of Mirin (perhaps reduced?) and the chili element could be pan roasted sirichi (sp?) canned chipotles, or something I haven't thought of yet.

Point is, if your wife complains you keep too large a collection of condiments - you probably already have the elements of this sauce in your pantry.

Please do not discount that there might be toasted sesame oil, dark or light soy sauce, tamarind paste, fish sauce, honey, fermented shrimp paste, etc. etc. added in small amounts. I can't tell from your pic. But if the restaurant staff is secretive, I am assuming it is a base of something common (to them) doctored up a bit.

good luck.

posted by jbenben at 5:11 PM on August 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

It sounds a lot like Guilin Chili. It is what sushi places use to make spicy mayo. After taking a sushi class, I bought it to use spicy mayo, and found my self using it on everything, even hamburgers and tacos.
This is the same bottle I have:
After searching a bit I couldn't find a picture of it opened, and the one I found on google images was not the same I have, looked more homemade.
Usually, you can find it in Asian markets around your area.
posted by orlandop at 11:26 PM on August 9, 2009

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