Field Notes

Sambal Oelek

At this point, Sriracha has become a household name, appearing with frequency on restaurant menus, featured on food trucks, and lining the aisles of every major supermarket.

Now it’s time to shine the spotlight on its cousin, sambal oelek.

With roots in Indonesia, sambal oelek has a thicker consistency than Sriracha--more of a paste than a sauce. It also has less of a vinegary punch, allowing the heat of the chilies to take a larger role.

In Indonesia, sambal is defined by the technique used to make it: by pounding out chilies in a mortar and pestle. Beyond that, sambals vary substantially depending on what other ingredients are present. Shrimp paste, sweet soy, lemongrass, even peanuts are all regular additions. But the sambal that most Americans are familiar with is made by the same company that produces the “rooster” label of Sriracha, Huy Fong Foods in California. This version is straight chili, and, if you don’t have time to make your own chili paste, is a worthy short cut.

Here are a few recipes that rely on this condiment.

Grilled Shrimp with Citrus-Sambal Oelek Dressing (Food & Wine

Halibut with Sambal Oelek and Wasabi Cream (Epicurious

Carrot Salad with Sambal Oelek (Cooking Light)

Singapore Noodles with Chili Garlic Sauce (A Pinch of Yum)