Spicy Filipino Vinegar

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.

  • Manggy June 2, 2009, 2:11 am

    Ooch! Do you eat the pepper after you’ve finished the drink?
    You should check out some of the condiments at some inasal restaurants– I think I’ve mentioned this before, with the nematodes in the vinegar. Creepee!

    Reply
  • joey June 2, 2009, 5:24 am

    Your mom is a wise woman! We do this here too (the home made sinamak)…also, I am also a jar hoarder!!! I use them for everything (yes dressing in the jar too!)!
    Love the sound of that Pinoy dirty martini! Even if I’m not a martini drinker :)

    Reply
  • marguerite June 2, 2009, 7:12 am

    Nice!!!!

    Reply
  • Sheila June 2, 2009, 12:09 pm

    Hehe, my Filipino mom collects jars, too. I have subconciously started doing it myself but I haven’t actually used them.

    Reply
  • Lorena June 2, 2009, 12:48 pm

    My grandma does the same and I find myself mimicking her. It’s a sad, sad day when you realize that you’re not only becoming more like your mother (I’ll save that sob story for another day), but also more like your grandmother.
    In other news, I’ll have to tell my dirty martini-loving husband to try it Pinoy style from now on. As always, thanks for the fun recipe. Off I go to make spicy vinegar!

    Reply
  • veron June 2, 2009, 12:53 pm

    this reminds me of my brother and my mom the king and queen of sukang sili. Always a sawsawan at almost every meal.

    Reply
  • Julie June 2, 2009, 3:51 pm

    Hotcha! My dad is our family’s pickler. He grows his own sili peppers in our front yard (we have no front lawn–just an interesting menagerie of food plants and flowers/pretty plants). Apparently, sili peppers are easy to grow.

    Reply
  • Mike June 2, 2009, 8:26 pm

    Oh man, i suddenly had a craving for Kropeck (Fish crackers). It would definitely go well with that spicy vinegar and cocktail.

    Reply
  • meemalee June 3, 2009, 4:22 am

    Hi Marvin – I found you whilst browsing Wandering Chopsticks – you do indeed have a good site name!
    I know next to nothing about Filipino food so I’m hoping you and your blog’ll educate me …
    ps I think pouring hot oil into a container for later disposal is an Asian thing – at least my Western friends think I’m odd for doing it :)

    Reply
  • Mila June 3, 2009, 6:56 am

    The bacon/oil jar was a constant at home, and all the jars that were emptied had to be washed and dried and stored. I opened a cabinet at my parents and found it filled with empty jars, ice cream plastic containers, tupperware dating back to goshknowswhen. They all smelled a bit too musty to use for storing anything, but they do come in handy if I need to wash out paint brushes.

    Reply
  • Jikuu June 3, 2009, 9:15 am

    Get your mom a whisk! Maybe for the next time you hop over there and grab some food. =P

    Reply
  • Efren June 3, 2009, 10:37 am

    Wow…my dad has tons of jars of that vinegar at his house. I swear the jars are almost completely filled with the sili and only has a little bit of vinegar in it. That stuff terrifies me, though now I’m tempted to try a little bit in a cocktail…

    Reply
  • oggi June 3, 2009, 2:09 pm

    You always have a good excuse for a mixed drink. LOL
    I love your “fancy” doily and the martini sounds good.
    I also keep a few empty jars for used cooking oil. When full I put the lid on it, then into a grocery bag before putting it in the garbage bin.

    Reply
  • ahnjel June 3, 2009, 11:25 pm

    what the deuce! are we like related? hahaha
    its exactly the same in my family while i was growing in the philippines and somehow the trait was handed down to me without even knowing it, i tend to save jars and bottles for the same reasons… i even use my babys empty milk container for dirty overused oil.
    anyway, wow… i never thought of using suka in a martini, maybe i should try that. having a hubby who used to bartend at neptunes at pier 39 at the fishermans wharf maybe ill let him do it instead…

    Reply
  • Trisha June 6, 2009, 4:03 pm

    I really enjoy reading your humourous posts topped with really enticing Filipino food photos! I’m a fan now. :)

    Reply
  • Cynthia June 7, 2009, 4:11 pm

    I’ve never had a martini before but now I am thinking that if I must have one this would be the way to go first.

    Reply
  • Pat June 8, 2009, 10:48 am

    i must admit, albeit a little sheepishly, that i have a collection of jars just like your mom, marvin. i am realy turning into my mother! btw, pickled green chilies are awesome with fried noodles.

    Reply
  • Jo Boston June 8, 2009, 3:04 pm

    i eat spicy vinegar with almost everything: tocino, longanisa, fried chicken, chicharron, dilis, dried pusit. *sigh* i am such a condiment whore, and spicy vinegar is up there on the list.

    Reply
  • mr. nonsense June 8, 2009, 11:01 pm

    request naman how-to ng achara

    Reply
  • Burnt Lumpia June 10, 2009, 10:58 am

    Manggy, like the olive or any other garnish in a cocktail, you don’t have to eat it. But I always do eat the pepper! And yes, you’ve mentioned the nematodes before, but I try not to think about them;)
    Jar hoarding must be a filipino thing, joey. But you do the dressing thing too? Ack! 😉
    Thanks Marguerite.
    Collecting is half the battle, Sheila. Now all you have to do is pour some used grease into one;)
    There are probably some worse things you can become, Lorena;) And as for the martini, it may sound crazy to add vinegar to any spirit, but it’s only just a splash for some heat and flavor, not enough to overpower the drink.
    It’s the same with my family too, veron. If there’s only one sawsawan at the table, it’s sukang sili.
    That sounds like a sweet front yard, Julie! My mother also grows her own sili.
    Mmmm, kropeck and spicy vinegar. Good call, Mike.
    I’m glad you’ve found me meemalee! I hope you continue to read.
    Washing out paint brushes is another good use, Mila. I forget about the tupperware containers–those things get pretty icky after a few years of use/nonuse. I’m always afraid to take the lid off of one of my mom’s old tupperware containers.
    My mom wouldn’t know what to do with a whisk, Jikuu;) She’s happy shaking jars!
    Depending on how old the jars are, I get pretty terrified too, Efren;)
    Any excuse is a good excuse for a mixed drink, oggi!
    Hi ahnjel! Awesome that your husband was a bartender, he sounds like a keeper–so long as he still makes cocktails.
    Thanks Trisha!
    The martini is probably my favorite cocktail, cynthia. But it depends on my mood I guess.
    Nothing to be sheepish about, Pat. It turns out that this is the jar collector support group!
    Hi Jo. If you’re gonna be a whore, a condiment whore is a best choice;)
    Hello Mr. Nonsense. I’ve actually already made atchara and my recipe can be found here: http://burntlumpiablog.com/burnt_lumpia/2008/05/atchara.html

    Reply
  • greasemonkey July 19, 2009, 7:32 am

    lol! it hurts so good! =)
    i didn’t know you were also part bikolano (from the bicol region, they’re the hardcore chili eaters…)! hahaha!
    great looking martini! now that i have a little time on my hands for some right debauchery, i think i’ll give it a try. 😉

    Reply
  • Shiela Walker June 30, 2010, 2:10 pm

    wow..
    I love spicy food as well. That maanghang na suka should definetely be paired to a chickaron and a lumpia and oh oh TUYO… yummy!!
    I would love to try that Martini.. one glass pls..
    Happy Eating!! ^_^

    Reply
  • Phil Lozano August 27, 2011, 5:34 am

    Nematodes are roundworms found in plant roots. If it shows up on the plant food, it’s due to improper preparation i.e. washing. If ingested count your blessings for the extra protein.

    Reply
  • filipino chat June 9, 2012, 12:09 pm

    OMG! Im craving now for chicharon in Cebu. I love the maanghang na suka. I need to go online again in filipino chat so I can ask my friends from Phils. about this one.

    Reply
  • Sansin Dio April 14, 2014, 12:05 am

    Yes that is the sukang halang in Cebuano term. An infusion of siling labuyo and coconut sap (toddy). Aside from sili(Capsicum frutescens), the other ingredients are garlic (Allium sativum) & ginger (Zingeber officionale).

    Reply

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