The Hot Stuff: Now You Can Get Sriracha That’s Made in Franklin County
The Recorder, September 17, 2015, Tom Relihan.
SUNDERLAND — It seems as though sriracha sauce is everywhere these days.
The bright red chili sauce in the green-capped bottle, with its iconic rooster emblazoned on the front, has been popping up as a table condiment in lunch joints everywhere, finding its way into special offerings at various fast-food restaurants such as Subway and Taco Bell, and, recently, has begun working its way into the ingredients list of other popular condiments or snacks, including ketchup, hummus and mayonnaise. Even Lays potato chips now come sriracha-flavored.
There’s the classic brand Huy Fong, based in Los Angeles and named for the boat that carried its founder, David Tran, to the United States as he fled his native Vietnam in 1979, and then there’s the cornucopia of other competitors, including popular Asian foods brands like Lee Kum Kee and Kikkoman and private label styles, such as Trader Joe’s house brand.
For Franklin County residents who want to spice up … well, just about anything … with a fresh, locally made version of the trendy sauce, they need look no farther than The Kitchen Garden Farm in Sunderland.
On a Monday morning in mid-September, pretty much anyone walking in the general vicinity of the Western Massachusetts Food Processing Center on Wells Street would have noticed a spicy and savory aroma of boiling hot peppers and garlic.
Since late August, Kitchen Garden owners Tim Wilcox and Caroline Pam have been renting time at the facility, which gives local food entrepreneurs access to industrial-grade food processing equipment and storage. Some equipped with respirators, the crew grinds up three varieties of their hand-picked, homegrown peppers — paprika, cherry bomb, and cayenne — and lets it ferment into the now-famous condiment.
“You’re making sauerkraut out of peppers, basically,” Wilcox said of the process, which he first decided to try after coming across a recipe on a popular food blog.
“We said, ‘We grow peppers and garlic, so why not try to make this product?’” he said.
After modifying it to his liking, Wilcox said he cooked up three five-gallon batches — about 100 pounds worth of peppers and equivalent to roughly 400 bottles. It was so successful that the farm, which is now in its 10th season, decided to market it under its own label. The first season, Wilcox said he produced 4,000 bottles of sriracha, but sold out so quickly that he decided to quadruple the batch this year.
“We were sold out by March last year,” Wilcox said. “We sold out so fast and we kept getting inquiries,” he said.
Each Monday, Wilcox, Pam and their crew grind and prepare roughly 1,500 pounds of hot peppers, filling both of the center’s two large kettles. Each batch is left to ferment for a week, then briefly boiled to stop the fermentation process and bottled up.
“After that first year we got a license to sell wholesale,” he said. Now, Kitchen Garden’s sriracha, which sells for about $8 per bottle, can be found locally on the shelves of farm stands, farmer’s markets and stores like Green Fields Market, Whole Foods in Hadley, Provisions, Sutter Meats and Cornucopia in Northampton, throughout the Berkshires, and as far away as New York State and Boston.
“We’ve had interest from all over the country,” said Wilcox, a demand to which he he attributed his particularly active Instagram presence.
Wilcox said the sauce gives the farm another product to sell that will keep better than fresh produce when transported. In the future, he said, he hopes to make some small batches to test out varietal flavors, such as the habanero-based sriracha that is also available from the farm.
Kitchen Garden Sriracha
5 pounds medium-hot red chili peppers (paprika, cayenne, cherry bomb, fresno, jalapeno)
16 garlic cloves, peeled
3 tablespoons salt
1 cup sugar
1½ cups vinegar
1 teaspoon xanthan gum (optional)
Pulse together chilies and garlic in a food processor until coarsely chopped.
Transfer to a large bowl or plastic container, mix in salt and sugar.
Cover loosely and allow to ferment for three or four days at room temperature.
When solids rise and separate from liquid, stir daily to ensure mold does not grow.
The mixture can be weighed down with a clean plate and a heavy object to keep it submerged.
After four days, heat the mixture to a gentle boil and add vinegar. Simmer five to ten minutes.
Allow to cool, then pass mixture through a food mill or a fine sieve to remove the skin and seeds.
Add xanthan gum to improve body. The sauce can be stored in the refrigerator or canned.
Food preparation gloves and a respirator are recommended when working with hot peppers.
You can reach Tom Relihan at: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 413-772-0261 ext. 264. On Twitter, follow @RecorderTom