Old empty jars are a hot commodity in my mother’s kitchen. Mayonnaise jars, pickle jars, spaghetti sauce jars, peanut butter jars, jelly jars, jar jars… if it’s glass and has a screw-top lid and is almost empty, chances are that my mother will soon rinse out any remnants and set the jar aside for another use.
For instance, the ol’ lass has been known to pour cooled bacon grease straight from skillet to mayo jar (though she also sometimes uses an old coffee can for grease containment). My mother has also taken to the practice of pouring some oil and vinegar into a jar, screwing on the lid, and then shaking the bejeebus out of the jar to make a simple vinaigrette (I’m not sure that my mom owns a whisk).
However, perhaps the most common purpose for my mother’s repurposed jars is in the containment of Spicy Filipino Vinegar: vinegar that has been infused with Siling Labuyo (Thai chili/Bird’s eye peppers). This fiery concoction is also known as Sili Suka, Sukang Sili, Suka’t Sili, and/or Sinamak (I didn’t know of the Sinamak nomenclature until some readers commented on it in my last post on Filipino Vinegars).
You can buy Spicy Filipino Vinegar at the Asian market–it’s just a bottle of Suka with the chilies already in it. Or, you can just plop some of your own chilies into your own bottle of vinegar. But because chili retrieval from a bottle is a bit troublesome, a jar is best for this application.
Making Spicy Filipino Vinegar is simple: put some siling labuyo (Thai chili/Bird’s eye peppers) into an empty jar, pour in some vinegar to cover, screw on the lid, and let the whole thing sit for a week or two, or if you’re like my mother, a year (so she says). Now I’ve seen my mother’s old pickle jar of chili-infused vinegar sitting out on her counter, and from the looks of it, I believe in its alleged age. The contents of this jar are eerily dark and nearly imperceptible–but I can still see the chilies through the murkiness.
While Sinamak may seem like nothing more than pickled peppers (technically they are), the sole act of eating only the peppers is eschewed in favor of the intensely flavored spicy vinegar. Filipinos use the chili-infused vinegar as a dipping sauce for a variety of applications like grilled fish, barbecued chicken, deep-fried pork belly, anything really. Me, I like to use a splash of the spicy vinegar and one of the chili peppers (instead of the olive brine and olive) in a dirty martini:
Dirty Martini, Filipino Style
I usually prefer my martinis fairly old school (2 parts gin, 1 part
vermouth, orange bitters, lemon twist) and stay away from “dirty” martinis and other alterations of the same ilk, but I couldn’t help myself from this little experiment. Although the spicy vinegar is quite potent (it hurts so good), a small splash won’t overpower a good floral gin. And what better way to finish off an ice-cold martini than to gobble down the hotness that is the chili pepper at the bottom of your glass?
Anyways, although my mom keeps things simple with her spicy vinegar (it’s just vinegar and chilies), my version is a bit different in that I first simmer the vinegar with a bit of sugar and salt, and I also add some black peppercorns, red pepper flakes, a bay leaf, and some garlic to the jar of Thai chilies. Lastly, I also bought some pickling jars instead of reusing old glass jars–not because I didn’t want to use old jars, but because the jars in my fridge are far from empty.
Spicy Filipino Vinegar/Pickled Peppers (Sukang Sili)
Notes: You can use any kind of Filipino Vinegar you like in this recipe, I happened to use Cane Vinegar. Also, depending on how big your jar is, the amounts needed will vary. To figure out how much vinegar you need, place your chili peppers in your jar and pour in enough water to cover. Pour the water out of the jar and into a measuring cup–this will be the amount of vinegar you need.
1 Tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/4 cup vinegar
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 garlic cloves
1/4 pound siling labuyo (Thai chili peppers, red or green)
In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the sugar, salt, and vinegar. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
Place the black peppercorns, red pepper flakes, garlic, and chilies in the bottom of a large glass jar (I used a pint-sized jar). Pour the vinegar into the jar, then place the lid on the jar. Allow contents to cool to room temperature, then place jar in the refrigerator for at least a week before using the vinegar and/or eating the peppers. The vinegar will intensify in spice and flavor the longer it sits. This will keep in the refrigerator for months.
Filipino-Style Dirty Martini
2 ounces gin
1 ounce dry vermouth
Splash of sukang sili (spicy filipino vinegar)
Pickled siling labuyo (Thai chili pepper) for garnish
Stir (please don’t shake) the gin, vermouth, and spicy vinegar in a mixing glass full of ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, garnish with chili pepper.
Nothing says “Fancy” like a doily.