Red is a passionate colour—brimming with life and flavour. As an ingredient, it adds a pop of colour to food, while as a sauce, it adds a touch of heat to your food.
While the French have their brown sauce, Demi Glace, Asians turn to their red sauce for contrasting flavours. Sweet and spicy, sweet and sour, or even all three with that savoury umami to tie it all together, these red sauces are a sure-fire way to jazz up your dishes.
Here are eight common Asian sauces, and how you can use them for easy recipes that guests will definitely enjoy.
1. Thai Sweet Chili Sauce
This quintessential Thai sauce is commonly used as a dip for shrimp and spring rolls. Its combination of garlicky, spicy and sweet flavours and transparent colour makes it an excellent glaze for meats or even veggies! Add a creative spin to the well-loved orange chicken by using this sauce or cook up a spicier take on the Chinese Sweet and Sour dish, which you can place on top of greens for that oriental twist. Don’t forget some fruits like Mandarin orange slices for that sweet contrast to your salad!
This Korean paste has savoury, sweet and spicy flavours, along with a slightly fermented taste—all thanks to the fermented soybeans that are used as its base. Dark and reddish in appearance, gochujang is often used in Korean cuisine as a base for other sauces, and even in stews, soups, meats and marinated meat dishes. Gochujang can be used to make dishes spicier, just like this Eggplant and Pumpkin Parmigiana with Gochujang, which is perfect for vegetarians, or this recipe that features Gochujang Roast Chicken Thighs with Ricotta Cheese and Spinach Checkered Polenta for those who want something hearty.
Sambal is an Indonesian Chili paste made with chili, shrimp and aromatic spices like ginger and garlic to give it a hot and spicy flavour that lingers in the mouth. It is often served with meat, particularly grilled fish, but can also be served with vegetables. You can try creating a Tom yum-inspired soup dish with sambal, just like this Seafood in Chili Lemongrass Coconut Broth to warm guests up nicely on cold nights.
Sriracha is known for its characteristic red colour and squeeze bottle. Made with chili peppers, distilled vinegar, garlic, sugar and salt, Sriracha has a medium level of spiciness and a tangy and sweet taste with a mild kick from the garlic. It is often paired with Vietnamese cuisine, especially with pho noodles and spring rolls, but you can upgrade this classic by turning it into a creamy Sriracha Mayo Dip that you can pair with deep-fried fish fillet or even with meatballs.
Also known as “chili oil”, Rayu is a spicy Japanese condiment that is often paired with ramen or even with fried or steamed dumplings called Gyoza. Rayu is made by infusing oil with chili peppers to achieve that red colour. In order to add a creative twist to Italian cuisine, try using the Rayu to create an aglio olio pasta paired with some leeks, shrimp and miso.
6. Red Curry
Another spicy Thai ingredient to add to the roster, Red Curry is often paired with coconut milk to create a soups and stews. The paste is made with dry red spur chilis, garlic, shrimp paste, kaffir leaves and a mix of spices to give rich flavours. Singapore food that make use of this ingredient include laksa, which you can innovate by turning it into a pasta dish, or even a Mashed Potato Dome with Hot Laksa Lava and Salted Egg Prawn. One easy recipe that makes use of this versatile curry includes a Japanese-inspired dish called tsukemen, where you dip noodles in a soup—in this case, a creamy and spicy red curry soup with bites of seafood.
7. Tom Yam
Tom Yam is a hot and sour paste often used for soups. Taste-wise, it focuses heavily on sour and spicy flavours, which comes from the lemongrass, Thai chilis, cilantro and other spices that go in it. Oftentimes, it is paired with shrimp and seafood, which is why a Tom Yam Pasta is a great way to pair Eastern and Western ideas, while Tom Yum Cauliflower Poppers with an Aioli Dip is a quirky dish that vegetarians and spicy aficionados will enjoy.
Szechuan cuisine is known for bold flavours and high levels of spiciness, which comes from their liberal use of garlic and chili peppers. Whether its dried chilis or fresh ones, the spiciness is numbing and very hot. Easy recipes that can maximize the use of this oriental flavour include a Szechuan-style Spicy Squid dish that you can serve with rice, or a Hot and Spicy Honey Sauce Chicken that uses honey to temper down the strong chili flavours.
Red sauces aren’t all just tongue-numbing and extremely spicy—rather, they each have a unique profile that makes it a great addition to any dish. Mix and match some favourites, and who knows? You might just make the next bestseller for your restaurant.