How many half-used bottles of condiments would you say you have in your refrigerator at this very moment. Five? Ten? Twenty? I don’t know how many I have but I know it’s too many. So when I have the opportunity to make a sauce or condiment from things I already have on hand insteading of buying yet another bottle, I’m going to do that. I love sweet chili sauce, but I only use it maybe once or twice per year and each time I’m left with half a bottle that haunts the back of my fridge for-ev-er. So this time I decided to make my own smaller batch of easy sweet chili sauce using a few simple ingredients that I usually have on hand (including another condiment that commonly haunts my fridge!).
What is Sweet Chili Sauce?
This incredibly simple sauce, sometimes called Thai Sweet Chili Sauce, is sweet, sour, and spicy. If you’re a fan of the classic sweet and sour sauce, this is quite similar, but with a delightfully spicy kick. This sauce goes great on tofu, chicken, seafood (especially shrimp and salmon), and vegetables. If you’d like to try the traditional Thai version of sweet chili sauce, check out this recipe from Hot Thai Kitchen, or this recipe from Thai Cookbook.
How to Use Sweet Chili Sauce
Sweet chili sauce is great for dipping or drizzling over your favorite foods. Here are a few recipes where I’ve used sweet chili sauce in the past:
- Sweet Chili Tofu Bowls
- Coconut Crusted Tofu with Sweet Chili Dipping Sauce
- Sweet Chili Chicken Stir Fry Bowls
- Coconut Crusted Chicken with Sweet Chili Dipping Sauce
It would also make a great dipping sauce for baked chicken wings, chicken nuggets, or dumplings.
Short Cut Sweet Chili Sauce
This isn’t a from-scratch, authentic sweet chili sauce. Sweet chili sauce is usually made with fresh red chiles, but I rarely see those at the store, so I took a short cut. I used sambal oelek, which is basically just red chiles and vinegar. Since vinegar is another main ingredient in sweet chili sauce, this using sambal oelek is a great shortcut.
Where Can I Buy Sambal Oelek?
Thankfully, sambal oelek is really easy to find in major grocery stores these days. Just look in the international foods aisle, near the sriracha. There is another product, chili garlic sauce, which is similar but has garlic in addition to the red chiles and vinegar. You can use that for your sweet chili sauce, but it will add a slightly garlicky flavor.
How else can you use sambal oelek? It’s great in all sorts of stir fry sauces, I like to put it on my eggs, rice bowls, soups, and more. It’s extremely versatile and can be used on just about anything. Here is the archive of recipes that use sambal oelek on this site.
Easy Sweet Chili Sauce
- 1/4 cup rice vinegar ($0.47)
- 1/4 cup sugar ($0.08)
- 1/4 cup water ($0.00)
- 1 Tbsp sambal oelek ($0.13)
- 1/2 Tbsp cornstarch + 1 Tbsp water ($0.02)
- Add the rice vinegar, sugar, water, and sambal oelek to a small sauce pot. Heat and stir the mixture over medium heat until the sugar fully dissolves.
- Stir the cornstarch into 1 Tbsp water until dissolved, then pour it into the sauce pot with the sweet chili sauce. Continue stirring and heating until the mixture comes up to a simmer, at which time the cornstarch will thicken the sauce and go from appearing cloudy to clear.
- Use the sauce immediately, or refrigerate and use within one week.
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How to Make Homemade Sweet Chili Sauce – Step by Step Photos
Combine 1/4 cup rice vinegar, 1/4 cup cup sugar, 1/4 cup water, and 1 Tbsp sambal oelek in a small sauce pot.
This is what sambal oelek looks like. This is the same brand that makes the most popular brand of sriracha, so you can usually find it in stores that sell sriracha. It’s just a mixture of red chiles and vinegar. Super simple, but really good, and extremely versatile! I put it on everything. :)
This is the rice vinegar I use. It’s important to use rice vinegar because it is more mild than other types of vinegar and will make the sauce tangy without being overly sour. I do not suggest using a different type of vinegar.
Heat and stir the mixture in the sauce pot over medium heat until the sugar fully dissolves and the mixture looks clear. This should happen very quickly, within a few minutes.
Dissolve 1/2 Tbsp cornstarch in 1 Tbsp water, then pour that into the sauce pot. Continue to stir and cook over medium heat until it comes back up to a simmer. The cornstarch mixture will make the sauce look cloudy and white, but that will change…
When the sauce reaches a simmer, the cornstarch will thicken the sauce. At this point you’ll also notice the cornstarch going from white and cloudy to clear. And now your Easy Sweet Chili Sauce is finished!
You can either use the sauce immediately, or refrigerate it and use it within a week.
I haven’t made this for years and came back today to make sure I had the ingredients in so I could sweet chili chicken bowls. I don’t remember making it sambal oelek – was there a different version of this with something else in place of that? I’m not opposed to trying it :) – I’m just driving myself crazy thinking the recipe changed. Sriracha maybe? with red pepper flakes?
Nope! I’ve never updated this one. :) That being said, you can definitely experiment with using different chile sauces to see if you like them!
This was fab! Thank you!
I only had seasoned rice vinegar on hand (seasoned rice vinegar has sugar and salt pre-added), which I used in this recipe without making any other changes. Tastes good: spicy, tangy, and sweet. So in case anyone else was wondering if seasoned rice vinegar will work here: yes, it’s fine. It will come out sweeter and saltier than the recipe as written, but it doesn’t ruin it.
As much as I like spicy, this was even too much for me. I would recommend to start with 1/2 of the sambala olek as recommended in the recipe, add more if you want it spicier.
Also, big tip, add a splash (say, 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon) of MAGGI Seasoning. I source
it locally, and it’s usually available in supermarkets, It’s kinda like a super-charged
soy sauce. Be careful ! A little goes a long way. It just adds that umami flavor.
It takes the edge off the spiciness and acidity. Bon appetit !
I made this the other night and it was so easy and so good. I ususually double up the cornstarch in recipes and did that here and liked the consistency of my sauce. I made sweet chili chicken bowls and was really pleased with it. Will make again! I love making a sauce from scratch. I feel like a real cook.
I hope I can find sambal olek at my grocery store. I’d really like to make chicken sweet chili bowls.
I cooked this in my microwave instead of on the stove and it came out perfectly. 2 minutes (with stirring) then add cornstarch slurry and cook 1 more minute at full power.
I get that this says it needs rice vinegar but that would nullify the “budget” part for me. So would apple cider vinegar work? ( I don’t need it to taste 100% the same). i know it works in most cases as a 1:1 ratio but for this recipe should I change The ratio?
Yes, you can do AC vinegar, but it does tend to be stronger than rice vinegar (in both flavor and acidity), so I would try reducing the amount. Unfortunately, I’d need to test it before offering a suggestion on just how much to reduce it. There isn’t really an exact ratio for this sort of thing because it can depend on the other ingredients in the recipe. You could always start with ½ and just add more to taste, though! :)
Thanks so much! I was able to actually find rice vinegar on sale so I will actually be able to use that this time. But when I make it again I’ll experiment with the AC vinegar since I usually have that on hand. Glad to know it would still be workable with some tweaks though.
I’m so glad you were able to find some rice vinegar on sale! Rice vinegar really is special and now you’ll have it on hand for other recipes, too. :)
What’s great about this recipe is that it really does make a small batch and tastes great with only a few ingredients (as opposed to other recipes I found online with 12+ ingredients). I swapped out sambal oelek for chili garlic sauce since that’s what I had on hand. Excellent.