Chili-Garlic Sauce, Malaysian Style


Chili-Garlic Sauce, Malaysian Style



When we lived for those seven and a half years in Malaysia in the 1970s, we enjoyed many different styles of hot chili sauce, from Chinese, to Indian, to Malay (“sambal api”), to various commercial sauces that had flourished during British colonial period not many years before then. Many sauces represented fusions of the various culinary traditions that the immigrants and native people followed.


I do not remember what particular condiment I was trying to imitate when I started making this sauce, probably a Malay-influenced Chinese sauce. But I made it often while we were in Malaysia, then repeatedly in the US in the decades since. My chili sauce in jars is frequently given, and happily received, as Christmas gifts to family. There is always some in our refrigerator for highlighting stir-fry dishes, rice noodle dishes, and even scrambled eggs.


The Vietnamese-origin Huy Fong Siracha (“Rooster Brand”) sauce, which became wildly popular in the US, is not extremely different from what I started making before that sauce was launched here. That one was originally developed in the former Saigon, now Ho Chi Ming City, by David Tran, an ethnic Chinese business man from Vietnam, who made and sold it there. He started making it again when he and his family migrated as refugees to southern California, and the business went on to great success. His recipe is secret, obviously, but I do know that the chilies are entirely red jalapeños because they all used to be grown by my old college roommate, Craig Underwood, a 5th-generation farmer in Ventura County, CA.


Here’s the way I have been making this sauce for well over forty years, though I’m only now writing down the quantities of the various ingredients. Typically when red chilies are available, I make multiple quantities of the sauce and pack it in clean glass jars with non-corrosive lids, such as canning jars or used jelly jars or olive or pickle jars. That way I always have some for our use plus plenty to give away. The recipe is written for one pound of red chilies, though it is easily – and usually -- multiplied.


One recipe makes about a pint and a half. It stores for years in the refrigerator. Or if good canning procedures are used, the sauce can be stored on the shelf and only needs refrigeration after opening.


1 pound red jalapeño chilies or red Fresno chilies

2 medium-large cloves garlic, peeled

6 tablespoons distilled white vinegar

6 tablespoons sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons salt


Cut the green stems off the chilies, saving as much of the red flesh and seeds as possible. As you do this, cut the chilies across into halves and put them into a food processor or large blender. Add the garlic, vinegar, sugar and salt. Run the machine until the chilies are pureed, scraping down the inside of the container with a spatula several times.


Transfer the mixture to a stainless steel or enamel pan (not aluminum or cast iron). If doing multiples of the recipe, repeat the process with each batch. Bring the pan just to a boil, stirring frequently. Turn off the heat. With a large spoon, skim off any foam that has formed.


Spoon while hot into very clean jars, to a half inch below the rim. Wipe any sauce off the edge, and put the lid on the jar. Turn the jars over so the lid gets heated by the sauce.


Allow to cool overnight. Store in a cool place, or in the refrigerator.


The sauce needs a week or so for the flavors to emerge fully.




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