Dipping sauces are very much a part of the Asian culinary tradition and sweet chili sauce is among the most popular. We have tried at least half a dozen brands of sweet chili sauce, both local and imported, and the only one we like is Pantai, a Thai brand. The sweetness is just right, it is syrupy rather than thick and lumpy, and it comes in at least two varieties, one for meat and another for seafood. The other brands we’ve tried are either bland or contain a lot of starch, or both. And the starch is just so wrong because it makes the sauce lumpy.
The problem is that Pantai sweet chili sauce is not always available in the groceries in our neighborhood. And driving down to the city for a bottle of sweet chili sauce is too impractical and expensive. And even in the groceries in the city, supply is, at best, hit and miss. So I learned to make sweet chili sauce from scratch. No artificial color, no artificial flavorings, no extenders and thickeners, no preservatives. And that makes it even better than Pantai.
Homemade sweet chili sauce
- Peel the garlic and the ginger. Cut of the tops of the chilies and discard. Chop the ginger, garlic and chilies.
- Place the sugar in a thick-bottomed pot. Add the chopped garlic, chilies and ginger, and the salt.
- Pour in the rice wine vinegar or lemon juice and add the lemon zest. The vinegar or lemon juice and the salt will create the contrast to prevent the sauce from tasting irritatingly sweet. The lemon zest will give the sauce a pleasant aroma.
- Pour in a cup of water. Stir to dissolve the sugar and salt.
- Set over medium heat, bring to the boil then lower the heat to medium-low and cook, uncovered, for 10 to 12 minutes.
- The sweet chili sauce will appear watery after 10 to 12 minutes of cooking. DO NOT be tempted to cook it much longer. The sauce will turn syrupy as it cools. If you cook it until it is thick, by the time it cools, it will harden and no longer be pourable at all.
- Cool the sweet chili sauce and enjoy.
- If you’re wondering what the tiny black specks in the sauce is, that’s vanilla. You don’t have to add any. It’s just that we throw in vanilla beans into our jars of white sugar so all the white sugar in the house have those little black specks.
- To store, pour the sauce into a jar (you can transfer it into a bottle but you will need to use a funnel). Cover and keep in the fridge.
- Don’t ask me how long it will keep in the fridge — that will vary on the temperature of your fridge and how you use the sauce. If foreign objects get inside the jar every time you take some the sauce (as when you use greasy spoons), the freshness will be affected. The vinegar or lemon juice in it should act as natural preservative but nothing lasts forever.
- Don’t ask me if it will stay good without refrigeration because that is something I have not, and will not, try (ants here can wiggle their way into tightly covered jars and bottles).
Vary the amount of the chilies to modify the intensity of the heat of the sauce. Roughly, 2 to 3 chilies will yield a mildly hot sauce; 6 to 7 chilies will give you a very hot sauce.
To make sweet and sour sauce, follow the same recipe but increase the amount of vinegar to 1/4 cup and reduce the amount of water to 3/4 cup.