Why Sriracha Cookbook Author Randy Clemens Is Not Trying to Kill Us All
Tyler GrahamRandy Clemens
Turns out, Sriracha is more than just some Thai-inspired hot sauce that should be dumped on damn near anything you can put in your mouth. At least that's what Randy Clemens, author of The Sriracha Cookbook and The Veggie-Lover's Sriracha Cookbook, says. Rather than creating a bunch of traditional recipes and writing "then add Sriracha" as the final step, the 29-year-old Valley resident has found ways to incorporate the hot sauce into everything from sangria to peanut butter cookies.
If adding hot sauce to everything sounds crazy to you, perhaps you should visit Clemens on Monday, July 21, at Mohawk Bend, where he will be the featured writer at this month's Authors Worth Celebrating event. The gathering includes a vegan menu featuring recipes from The Veggie-Lover's Cookbook. While technically a four-course meal, Clemens says seven of his dishes will be served family-style so everyone can enjoy the many ways in which so-called "rooster sauce" can add spice and flavor to every dish.
Squid Ink: Seven dishes of Sriracha, huh? Are you trying to kill us?
Randy Clemens: The goal of the book is to get people thinking of Sriracha not just as a condiment but as an ingredient as well. So what I found when I was cooking with it is that it really blends well with other flavors. You definitely know it's there — you feel the heat and you get that flavor — but it's not that same punch. Each application is different.
If I were to cook with it, it's better integrated and it meshes really well with other flavors. For someone who wants that stronger punch, put a little more on top. When you're writing a hot sauce cookbook, you want the recipes to run on the hotter side. I haven't heard from anybody that these recipes don't have enough Sriracha, so that's great. None of these jumped out at me as a particularly hot recipe. Of course, there's the 72 taps of beer that Mohawk Bend has that could certainly help cool off.
SI: So what are you serving?
RC: This first course is a selection of appetizers. There's the Burning Thai Bruschetta, which is one of my favorite recipes from the book. It's a really simple play of bruschetta, but it's got Thai basil, lime juice and ginger, so it's a really surprising take on what you'd expect from the Italian version. They're also doing stuffed mushrooms with a cashew cheese, made with Sriracha and basil, that serves as a stuffing. Then there's a cucumber hummus served with flatbread.
For the second course, they're doing the Kicked-Up Caprese, which is basically a softer tofu that's been soaked in a pretty strong brine solution to give it that saltiness you'd expect from the mozzarella caprese. Then, for the third course, there's a curried kale and squash risotto that they're serving family-style, and a charred broccolini. For dessert is one of my favorite recipes from the book. It's the Upside-Down Pineapple-Sriracha Cake. Where you'd normally see the maraschino cherries, there are little puddles of Sriracha. I recommend people spread it out and take a little with each bite. It's really, really good. It's not just a novelty.
SI: Can you give me examples of foods Sriracha doesn't work with?
RC: I really wish I could. All these recipes were put on a mock table of contents when I submitted the proposal, so even before I tested them, they were things that sounded good to me. It sounds like I'm bragging, but I was just as surprised when everything was really freakin' good. Some dishes needed tweeks or were missing one or two things. The pineapple upside-down cake was the one I thought for sure would be the one that wasn't going to work. Then I started laughing when I tasted it because it was really good. I'm not a fan of it on ice cream. I think it works better on sorbet.
SI: I've got this friend who won't put Sriracha on food that isn't Asian. She's crazy, right?
RC: For me, nothing's sacred. The Sriracha most people know and love is the Huy Fong Foods version, which I love. It's made here in California, by a Vietnamese guy of Chinese descent, based on a Thai style of hot sauce. The Thai original is nothing like this. If you took the Huy Fong Foods version to Thailand to the town of Si Racha, there's no way they'd identify it as Sriracha. Conversely, if you bring any of the Thai Srirachas here, they're so different. We're already dealing with a mishmash of cultures, so why not? It's the American way. We take things and make them our own. I see where your friend is coming from, but yes, she's crazy. I just don't like to limit myself.
SI: So I can tell her I talked to the Sriracha guy and she's an idiot?
RC: You can quote me. Tell her I hate her and hope I never meet her. I'm kidding.
SI: My mom says Sriracha is too hot. She's crazy too, right?
See also: Tour of the Huy Fong Sriracha Factory
RC: I don't know. I don't get that one often. Most people who try it seem to think it's the right heat level, like almost too hot, but right when it's about to be too hot it goes away. Maybe your mom is just really sensitive. The only people I know who don't like Sriracha are terrorists.
SI: What has Huy Fong Foods' response been to your books?
RC: They've been really, really supportive. They were a little resistant at first, and I understand that. It's a family-owned company that has seen people try to copy their sauce. They've dealt with actual counterfeiters. They've very protective of their reputation and their brand.
David Tran is his sauce — his sauce is him. He's put his life's work into building this company and new factory, so at first they were a little stand-offish — but still accommodating and polite. They asked if there was some kind of disclaimer to show that it was unofficial, which we were happy to comply with because that's exactly what it is. They've embraced it a lot more when they saw people liked it and, in theory, selling a little more of their sauce.
SI: You gave up meat between the release of your two books. Are you ever put into a position where you have an issue with having a book with meat recipes?
RC: I'm 99 percent vegan. I'm 100 percent vegetarian. I switched about four years ago. When I wrote the first book, I was not at all a vegetarian. I dance delicately because I don't want to be disingenuous and, really, I'm not comfortable cooking meat anymore. When I wrote the first book, that was where I was. It was a time and a place and I have no qualms about it now, but if someone called and wanted me to cook a few dishes from the book, I'd be very clear that I'm no longer interested in directly promoting meat consumption. I wouldn't feel right going to sleep at night.
There's not much I can do about the book being already out, but if nothing else, maybe they get excited and buy the second book. When I went vegetarian, it was as big of a surprise to me as it was to everyone else. I'd read Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, and the manuscript had been turned in. If nothing else, it's allowed me a small but measurable platform, so I take that as the blessing that it is. I use it to try to get people to try something vegetarian or vegan.
SI: Are any of those other Srirachas any good?
RC: I've become a big fan of them. They're so different from each other — it's really apples and oranges. Certainly other brands have sprouted up. What's cool about them is, in most cases, it's not someone trying to copy the Huy Fong Foods version. What these new brands are doing is adding their take on it. Each one has its time and place, for me. It just depends what I'm feeling that morning, evening, afternoon, whatever.
On Monday, July 21, at 6:30 p.m. at Mohawk Bend, join Randy Clemens for a four-course vegan meal inspired by his cookbook, The Veggie-Lover's Sriracha Cookbook. $25. Reservations: email@example.com.
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