I think the first time I came across Sriracha was in a Noodles and Company as an awkward middle schooler. Tables each had their own sticky red bottle with a green top and roosters printed on the side–they were completely foreign, yet fascinating to me. I suspect that every Midwesterner had this same introduction unless they had super-cool foodie parents. Though truthfully I only went to Noodles in order to stuff my face with macaroni and cheese and a giant Rice Krispy treat. So I did not feel obliged to be very adventurous. I was content with the rather American feast.
Years later, I began to recognize the bottle (and the strange spelling of the word) in every trendy restaurant and food magazine. And then it graced the cover of mint tins, water bottles, and beers alike. It seemed that this fluke of a condiment was a superstar. It would be irresponsible not to give it a whirl. And boy is its popularity well-earned.
Spicy, yet with a savory flavor all of its own, Sriracha is beyond just a hot sauce. I could understand why fellow friends were using it as a sole seasoning in its own right. Though I’m still skeptical of its use in every dish (much like the takeover of bacon-everything).
Now as hot sauces go, Sriracha is pretty tame. Look it up on Wikipedia, and you’ll find that it has a rating of 1,000-2,500 on the Scoville Heat Unit (SHU) scale. And if you are anything like me, you always see these values and think…huh?
Hot peppers have compounds called capsaicinoids which set off that spicy sensation. This is actually another manifestation of chemesthesis that I love in my candied ginger and Moscow Mule popsicles! There are receptors all over your mouth and body that detect capsaicinoids and report their presence in the form of heat. The hotter the sensation, the greater the capsaicinoids.
The Scoville scale is a way of representing how hot a food is based off of the concentration of capsaicin, the most common capsaicinoid, in the food. Multiples of 100 in the scale represent an increase in capsaicin content based off of human sensory testing. The higher the SHU value, the hotter the pepper!
There are some flaws in this way of measuring heat because peppers with very high levels of capsaicin are virtually indistinguishable to participants. They just know it’s really freaking hot! So theoretical measures based off of the concentration alone give us an estimation. And of course, personal preference and prior exposure to heat will mean that where you want to be on the SHU scale is all purely relative. So start tasting those peppers! Hey—maybe start with Sriracha?!
Sriracha, Corn, and Feta Salad
Serves 8 as a side or starter
2 tablespoons Sriracha (more or less depending on your taste)
2 cups of corn (either fresh or frozen and thawed)
3 green onions, chopped, green and light green parts only
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
½-¾ of a cucumber, chopped
2-3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
¼ cup crumbled feta cheese
Plenty of salt and pepper
- In a heavy, large sauté pan (or cast iron pan), heat the olive oil and butter over medium-high heat. Add the corn and the green onion. Heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens and the corn is browning slightly (about 5-8 minutes).
- Reduce heat to medium and add the red pepper. Cook for about 3-5 minutes more until the peppers soften slightly (but don’t go to mush).
- Add the Sriracha to the pan and stir to coat everything. Take the pan off of the heat.
- Add the cucumber, parsley, and feta. Cut the lime in half and add the juice to the pan as well (alternatively, only juice one half of the lime and cut the remaining half into wedges for serving).
- Season with a bunch of salt and pepper to taste. Serve! Top with additional feta if desired.