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ingredient spotlight: Sriracha

ingredient spotlight

Spice it up. If you’re looking for a new way to spice up your life, give Sriracha sauce (a.k.a. rooster sauce) a try. Made from sun-ripened red chile peppers, Sriracha adds heat and tang with a touch of sweet to your favorite dishes. The sauce is most often served as a condiment in Thai, Vietnamese, and Chinese restaurants. Its popularity in the United States is continuing to grow—an entire cookbook, The Sriracha Cookbook, is devoted to the tangy sauce (Ten Speed Press, 2011, $17), and it has a solid fan following with more than 50,000 “likes” on Facebook.

Origins. Many look-alikes have come along. However, the original Sriracha sauce is manufactured by Huy Fong Foods, a company David Tran started in the 1980s after he was forced to expand production and distribution to keep up with demand for the unique sauce that he was selling from the back of a truck. It is now available in the ethnic food aisle of most grocery stores. The packaging features a rooster—Tran’s Chinese astrological sign—and an eye-catching green cap.

Beyond Asian cuisine. Although commonly associated with Asian cuisines, Sriracha is extremely versatile and is being incorporated into western favorites such as barbeque marinades and Buffalo wing sauce. Sriracha is turning up in recipes for Bloody Marys and other spicy cocktails and classic appetizers such as deviled eggs. It is also being used to kick up the heat in ketchup, mayonnaise, cocktail sauce, and other condiments.

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ingredient spotlight: Coconut Oil

ingredient spotlight

What is it? Coconut oil is an alternative to butter and vegetable shortening that is solid at room temperature and has a high smoke point, which makes it a superb frying oil. The main benefit of cooking with coconut oil is the rich flavor it adds to the food. And because it’s plant-based, it also fits into a vegan diet.

Up for debate. Until recently the high saturated fat content of coconut oil has kept it from becoming a mainstream ingredient in the home kitchen. Coconut oil’s healthfulness remains a topic of discussion among scientists and nutritionists, but supporters have defended its culinary honor by arguing that it contains good as well as bad cholesterol and may not contribute to the buildup of cholesterol associated with heart disease. Just be sure to use the virgin variety—its hydrogenated relative has none of the benefits and all of the disadvantages.

Storage and use. Coconut oil is solid at room temperature, so it is shelf-stable and can be stored longer than butter, which must be refrigerated. Solid coconut oil can be used to make a perfectly flaky piecrust. Melt it in a hot pan to fry breaded fish or shrimp or to sauté vegetables. Coconut oil can also be used for baking but may require some alterations to traditional recipes calling for butter or shortening.

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ingredient spotlight: Brown Sugar

ingredient spotlight

Soft, moist brown sugar is simply granulated sugar that’s been mixed with molasses. Light-brown sugar has less molasses (and therefore a milder flavor) than dark-brown, but the types are interchangeable in most recipes depending on your taste.

How to store. Once you open a box, transfer the brown sugar to an airtight container or a tightly sealed zip-top bag to prevent it from hardening.

How to measure. When a recipe calls for packed brown sugar, scoop it into a measuring cup, then press down firmly. The sugar should be packed tight enough so that you can unmold it like a sand castle.

How to soften. If you find that your block of brown sugar is more suited to building a house than baking a batch of cookies, don’t worry! Brown sugar can be softened. For an instant solution, wrap it in a lightly dampened paper towel and microwave for 20 seconds. If you have time to spare, add a few strips of lemon peel or a slice of bread to the container, seal, and let sit overnight.

Make your own. If you get in a pinch, you can make your own brown sugar by blending 1 cup of granulated sugar with 4 teaspoons of molasses for light-brown sugar or ¼ cup molasses for dark.

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