The act of “saucing” food in Singapore is not as simple as I expected it to be. From what I can tell, there’s two schools of thought on the matter.
First: the ‘dip & dunk’ variety, a.k.a. those who keep a bowl of incendiary hot sauce next to their plates for regular food baths.
Second: the ‘drizzle & bedazzle’ variety, a.k.a. those who let the sauce rain down over their food, free-form.
While I wouldn’t normally expect this to be a big deal, the foodies of Singapore are so impassioned that they are more than happy to come up to you and show you their preferred method… especially if you look even the littlest bit unsure (this happened to Bourdain countless times on his No Reservations trips there).
Should this ever happen to you, my advice is to enjoy the free cultural lesson – the chance to learn from a local.
There are hundreds of Singaporean recipes for Chilli Sauce (P.S. You can spell chilli with one “l” or two, and I can’t quite decide which looks right… thoughts?).
So how does one make homemade chili/chilli sauce?
At her most basic, locals blend together a happy assortment of red chillies (preferably something like a red fresno) amped up with the crazy heat of a couple of Thai bird chilies (pictured above). The beauty comes from the dance of flavors – puckering lime juice, biting garlic, invigorating ginger, and a bit of sugar and salt to balance it all out. Surprisingly to me, some hot chicken broth seems to be standard. The benefit of using hot broth is that the heat makes quick work of melding the pungent ingredients.
While traditional methods chop the chillies and grind them in mortars and pestles, I made quick work of the recipe with a blender. I prefer this because then the garlic and ginger is smoothly and evenly distributed. For a little texture, you could slice up the Thai bird chilies and float them in the sauce.
Like little hot pepper boats in sea of fire.
This small batch makes about 1/3 cup and is perfect for a few dinners.*
2-3 red fresnos
1-2 thai Bird chilies
1/2 inch ginger, sliced in coins & peeled
5 cloves garlic
3 Tbsp lime juice (1-2 limes)
4 Tbsp hot chicken stock
1 tsp sugar, or as desired
1 tsp salt, as desired
For starters, cut everything into sizes your blender can handle. Be sure to peel the ginger. Toss everything in and blend until you like how the sauce looks and tastes. Feel free to monkey around with the ingredients to make it to your liking.
P.S. The red fresno I used looks like the pepper pictured below:
That’s it! Enjoy the burn with little Chicken Rice, one of Singpore’s most beloved dishes.
When you’re done, cool off with an easy, breezy island dream.
* or a hundred, if you’re whimpy like me.