I know that you can readily get bottles of Thai sweet chilli sauce in even the tiniest and most boring supermarkets these days, but it’s not out of mere gimmickery that I make this sauce at home. While the bottled versions are good, the flavours in this sauce are so much fresher, even when the garlic and chilli have mellowed over several months. Sometimes bottled versions are one-dimensional and syrupy, but this has (to my palate) a far preferable balanced tang and sweetness.
This sauce is generally known as ‘น้ำจิ้มไก่’ (nam jim gai, chicken dipping sauce) in Thailand not because of its ingredients but how it is generally served: with grilled or fried chicken. But, as you probably know already, Thai sweet chilli sauce can be used in many ways–despite its association with chicken in Thai cuisine, this sauce is completely suitable for vegetarians as it’s made of just chillies, garlic, water, vinegar, salt, and corn flour. You can dip anything you like into it, drizzle it over what you please, and mix it into everything you can think of. Before I sat down and typed this post, I had this sauce with rice, spicy Thai carrot salad (som tam), and some roast butternut squash and jerusalem artichokes flavoured with a classic Thai coriander-pepper-garlic marinade. It was pretty awesome, yes, and also completely vegan.
I’ve slightly adapted Leela’s recipe to make up for the fact that I cannot easily find red jalapeño chillies anywhere, and also my lack of a blender and food processor. You should try to find red chillies of a similar heat and fleshiness such as serrano or fresno, the latter of which is sometimes included in Waitrose’s packets of red chillies. It is best to taste a tiny piece of chilli to gauge how hot they really are. Bear in mind that it’s the pulp inside which adds body, flavour, and some of the heat to the sauce; the seeds mostly contribute heat, so de-seed chillies as needed. If you can’t find an equivalent chilli, then you can combine different types: have made this sauce using mild yet fleshy generic red chillies with a small amount of Thai bird’s eye chillies solely for heat, both of which I can find at Sainsbury’s. Bird’s eye chillies are only thin skin and hot seeds so it’s best to mix them with fleshier chillies unless you especially want a very hot sauce.
Even if you do underestimate how powerful your chillies are, don’t panic, know where your towel is, and let your sauce sit in the fridge for several days (or even weeks) for the heat to mellow. It will then be ready to eat with absolutely everything.
THAI SWEET CHILLI SAUCE
Makes about 450ml. Keeps, very well sealed in the coldest part of the fridge, for 1 month. Don’t lessen the salt or the vinegar; they are needed to help preserve the sauce.
Source: Adapted from Leela@SheSimmers.com
For the sauce:
8 garlic cloves, peeled
Between 25g – 75g red chillies of your choice, stems removed. Here I used 6 red moderately hot chillies (about 50g); I have also used 6 mild chillies and 3 whole and very hot Thai bird’s eye chillies.
120ml white vinegar (the ordinary household/cooking kind)
200g + 1 tablespoon white caster sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons table salt
To thicken the sauce:
2 tablespoons corn flour
4 tablespoons cold water
Chop the garlic as finely as possible until it starts to form a coarse paste. Do the same with all the chillies, removing the membranes and seeds as desired to adjust the heat level. Place the garlic and chilli into a medium sauce pan with all the rest of the sauce ingredients (not the thickeners).
If you’re making this with a blender, simply blend all the sauce ingredients together except for the spoonfuls of cornflour and water until you have a fine puree. Pour into the pan and proceed.
Bring the chilli mixture to the boil and then let it bubble away on a moderate heat for 3 – 4 minutes until the sauce looks a little thicker, the little pieces of chilli and garlic soften a little, and everything is very fragrant.
Thoroughly mix the cornflour with the cold water until smooth and milky and then pour into the bubbling chilli mixture. Don’t worry if it clouds; let it cook for a further minute or two, stirring until the sauce thickens enough to suspend all the colourful flecks in a mostly clear, syrupy liquid.
Cool the sauce off the heat before pouring the glorious mixture into a very clean glass jar. Keep refrigerated.