Randy Clemens Knows More About Sriracha Than, Well, Anybody

Randy Clemens's relationship with Sriracha began long ago, when he would eat at a Vietnamese friend's house after nightly band practice. What began as mere enjoyment quickly turned into infatuation and Clemens has now penned two cookbooks – his most recent work is The Veggie-Lover's Sriracha Cookbook for Ten Speed Press – based on the Thai sauce craze that has swept our nation. So, why is it so darn popular in the U.S. and what are some fun ways to use it? We caught up with the author to discuss all things Rooster.

Where did Sriracha originate?

Well, the version that's gotten a stronghold in the American market is thanks to Huy Fong Foods. It's actually very different from any kind you would find in Thailand – there's a town there called Si Racha that is known for its hot sauce, but it's more of a dipping sauce and they only use it with a few dishes – mostly for seafood and eggs.

What is different about the Thai version?

It's much thinner and closer to Tabasco in consistency. Flavor-wise, you still have the base flavors of Sriracha—fermented chili and garlic—in there, but they're different peppers and it comes off a bit sweeter.

What has made it such a phenomenon in the U.S?

I think there are a couple of reasons. The American palate may not be quite as into spicy food as others. Sriracha strikes a unique balance between spice and flavor. It reaches a point where it's almost too spicy for most people, but keeps you going back for another bite. "Ah, is it too hot, too hot? No, it lets off at the end." I think the design of the actual bottle plays in, as well. It's bright red and bright green with different languages on it – it looks like something from a far-off land, even though it's made in Southern California.

Speaking of the bottle, what's your take on all these rip-off Srirachas?

There are some places that are quite obviously trying to look like the Huy Fong bottle as much as possible. I would be quick to call those "knockoffs." I've heard it said that [company founder] David Tran laughs at that idea because they're not going to make it as good as they do and they're certainly not going to make it as cheaply as they do. It's a very inexpensive sauce that's made consistently well and no one is going to knock him off at his own game. There are other brands trying to make their own versions, though, and I respect and like those. I've got a couple of those in my cupboard at all times.

Just how many bottles at home do you have at a given time?

[laughs]. Right now, I have an exceptional amount. There are around 600 bottles sitting here. I have 20 different types of Sriracha at the moment.

What was the inspiration behind your new cookbook, The Veggie Lover's Sriracha Cookbook?

Not long after turning in the manuscript for the original Sriracha cookbook, I had a change in worldview and made an ethical and health decision to switch to vegetarian. As time went on, I was getting great feedback from people who were "veganizing" recipes from the original cookbook. There is certainly a big vegan and vegetarian community and it got me thinking that people would be into it. I'm not a big fan of overly processed fake meats and for the most part, I'm all about vegetables. That was the conversation I had with my publisher – I didn't want it to be the "Vegan Sriracha Cookbook," I wanted it to be "The Veggie Lover's Sriracha Cookbook." It can be for anyone who already loves vegetables or anyone who is curious about them.

What is your favorite veggie to put Sriracha on?

Potatoes are such an easy answer to give because you can do a lot with them, but I would say Brussels sprouts. Or maybe eggplant? I can't choose one!

Help settle our office debate. Is Sriracha a hot sauce or a condiment?

That's a loaded question. I suppose I consider all hot sauces to be condiments.

Can you give us something unconventional that works with Sriracha?

Time for another multi-faceted answer. People are most surprised to find it in sweets, like in my pineapple upside down cake recipe. It's great for presentation and you spread it out a bit when you serve it. The watermelon Sriracha sangria is also very good and refreshing, and a little bit of heat sneaks into it. Usually I call for between 1/4 and 3/4 cups of Sriracha in my recipes, but that one calls for only a couple tablespoons.

Do you have any more Sriracha-related cookbooks in the works?

I think I have one more idea that would be a lot of fun but there are no immediate plans for it.