What Is Chili Sauce?

Chili sauce ingredients, uses, recipes, plus all-time favorites

Nam Prik Pao Chili Sauce
Nam Prik Pao chili sauce - my mother-in-law's secret family recipe!. D. Schmidt

Chili sauce is a condiment that adds spice and flavor to anything you might be eating, from Asian recipes to Western favorites. It can be used as a wonderful dip for finger foods of all kinds, a side condiment to add more spice to your food, just as you might add salt and pepper, or you can use it as a handy cooking ingredient -- a good substitution for fresh chili. In most Asian countries as well as in Mexico and Central America, no table setting is complete without a bottle or jar of spicy chili sauce!

Ingredients in Chili Sauce and How It's Made

Depending on what kind of chili sauce you buy or decide to make, the ingredients will vary, but not very widely. Mexican chili sauce is usually made with Mexican hot chilies (often they are dried first), red or green, which are simmered in a base of vinegar and sometimes tomato. Louisiana sauce is made of aged red or green chilies simmered with vinegar and salt/sugar. Asian chili sauces are usually made with Asian hot red chilies (Thai bird's eye chilies are popular). Usually, the chilies are roasted first, then blended to form a paste that is then simmered with fried shallots and garlic, shrimp paste, sugar, and fish sauce/soy sauce. The oil-based chili pastes are made in a similar way, but with soybean, palm, or other oils added.

Chili Sauce Recipes:

    Types of Chili Sauce

    Here in North America, there are various types of chili sauce available for your eating pleasure, including the two most famous ones: Mexican Tobasco sauce and Louisiana hot sauce.

    On the other side of the world are the Asian-style chili sauces which, personally speaking, I find more flavorful and slightly easier on the stomach because most are made without vinegar (I've personally found the vinegary-chili combination of Tobasco chili sauce can stir up heartburn if you're not used to its potency).

    There are numerous types of Asian chili sauces, including oil-based chili paste, chili-garlic sauce, classic Thai Sriracha Chili Sauce (now available at most supermarkets in North America), and famous Thai Nam Prik Pao Chili Sauce (homemade recipe - see photo above).

    Thai cuisine also has a wonderful Sweet Chili Sauce (mentioned above) which makes an excellent dip for spring rolls, egg rolls, chicken wings, and other finger foods (to make your own, see Sweet Chili Sauce Recipe ). This chili sauce works well as a side sauce for roast chicken or fried chicken, and also makes a fabulous marinade as well as a dip!

    The Advantage of Asian Chili Sauce

    Asian chili sauce can be used with nearly anything you might be eating or cooking, including western dishes like hot wings or spicy pasta dishes. One family favorite is this homemade one: Thai Nam Prik Pao Chili Sauce (homemade recipe - see photo above)

    Favorite Store-Bought Chili Sauces

      How to Use Chili Sauce in Your Cooking

      Generally speaking, if a recipe calls for fresh minced red chilies and I don't have any in the house, I will substitute 1 tsp. of Thai chili sauce in place of 1 red chili (I prefer Thai Nam Prik Pao Chili Sauce (homemade version), or the store-bought Thai Sriracha Chili Sauce OR Sambal Oelek). These chili sauces can also be made into spicy stir-fry sauces - experiment by adding soy sauce or fish sauce, a little sugar, and some chicken/vegetable stock; otherwise it will be too spicy.