The Essential Hot Sauces

“He who controls the spice controls the universe.”
― Frank Herbert, Dune


Oblique Strategy:
Don’t break the silence

I am all about the hot sauce. Food exists largely as a means to shovel hot sauce into my mouth. There is a simple test – if it doesn’t make the top of my head sweat – it isn’t hot enough.

Ok, I’ve been digging around my archive USB hard drive and found a blog entry from 2006, my second version of The Daily Epiphany, called The Essential Hot Sauces.I had a magazine ask for an article version of this – though they settled for a different one.


Right now, I have only three essential hot sauces. There are others that are good, but these are essential.

Cholula

First, is Cholula, the one that I guess would count as my single favorite. It’s the one with the wooden ball for a cap – easy to spot on a shelf. What makes it special is the fact it is made with Chile Pequin (or Piquin, similar, but not quite there, to the cultivated Tepin), a tiny wild chili instead of some cultivated pepper. The sauce costs more because of that but it has a complex flavor unmatched in cheaper sauces.

Bufalo Chipotle

Next, I still have Bufalo Chipotle on my list. None of the other Bufalo brand sauces are very good – but their Chipotle is the best. I’ve enjoyed the various uses of chipotle (smoked jalepeno peppers) for years, long before they were as famous as they are now, and am a little perturbed at something I like so much become chic, Americanized, and homogenized. Still, the old standby, Bufalo Chipotle hasn’t changed a bit. Its flavor, from a smoked pepper, is very different from any other type of sauce, and it great for a change of pace. Also, it’s thick and dark in color (almost a black-purplish-brown) and can be attractive when used with a contrasting sauce such as:

The third sauce is one I learned to like since 1998. It’s Sriracha, and is an Asian sauce – the one in the plastic squeeze bottle with the rooster on the front.

Sriracha

It’s thick too, and a bright orange, and mixes well with other stuff. I think I eat more of this than any other kind.

I think I need to add a couple more – a Louisiana sauce at least (Something other than Tabasco – that old favorite seems to be getting too thin and vinagar-y lately) and maybe a habanera-based sauce (these are so hot… I want to find one with some flavor in it).

Any suggestions would be appreciated.


It’s funny to read this after all these years. It’s odd to thing about a time before Sriracha because it is now such a ubiquitous part of my life. Otherwise, those three are still essential.

At the end, I wondered about Louisiana hot sauce, since then I made up my mind and wrote a blog entry about it:

Tabasco or Crystal

A tough choice.

Crystal it is.

And I wondered about Habanero based sauce. I have a homemade habanero sauce that is great and the link takes you to a blog entry and recipe, but I don’t make it too often – it’s too dangerous (I’m sitting here sweating, just thinking about it). I will buy a Yucateco sauce, green or red, to keep on hand in case of emergencies. Be careful with it, it’s hot.

But what I wanted to write about, is that I am addicted to a new hot sauce. We were at a restaurant (already forgotten what it was) and they had a green Sriracha sauce that was delicious. It wasn’t very hot – but it had a great flavor. They had red and green, but the green was something new.

Green and Red Sriracha

What caught my eye was that the bottles were labeled Distributed by ALDI.

Aldi, if you don’t know, is this cool new model of a grocery store. There is one at the end of our street and over a block. I like it especially because it is uphill from the house. I ride my bike uphill and then buy milk or water or other heavy items and coast downhill back home.

Now every time I go there I buy three bottles of the green Sriracha. I eat a lot of it because it isn’t all that hot – so I put too much on. I put it on everything. And I mean ever-y-thing. It’s too soon to say if I will add it to the essential list – I might tire of it. We’ll see.

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Homemade Habanero Hotsauce

According to WordPress, this is the one thousandth entry in my blog. I’ve written a little over one blog a day, not missing a day, for almost three years now.

This is the third or fourth blog I’ve done over the years – the first one, The Daily Epiphany, was the thirteenth (as best as I can tell) blog in the world, started in July 25, 1996. Of course, there weren’t any blogs in those days – we called them online journals. It was a lot of work back then – the entries were written in Notepad and all the HTML tags were written out by hand. Think of how much work it was to add new entries with back and forward links and tables of contents – all done without electronic help and uploaded by FTP. Within a year I had developed a series of Microsoft Word Templates with macros to help do all that – but it was a long way from today’s fully automated content systems.

I wrote every day for seven years or so, until my kids grew old enough to read the thing and share it with their friends and I had to give it up. For a long time then, I switched to paper – looking to my left I see a stack of Moleskines I filled up in the years I would write every day in longhand.

Finally, a friend of mine started a WordPress Blog and I thought it would be fun, so I cast my line in. Old habits die hard and I found that putting an entry up every day was important to me, even though I hadn’t intended to do this starting out. I don’t put much effort into the thing – most of my writing blood, sweat, and tears, nowadays goes into my pitiful attempts at fiction. I know I often only put up a single photograph… maybe a bilious quotation – but I have learned that if you are going to put something up every day you have to give yourself permission to sometimes do something easy.

If you don’t like it, I’ll refund your money.

At any rate, a while back I came across a recipe for Habanero Hot Sauce on the Facebook page of a friend.

6 habaneros
1/2 can peaches in light syrup
1/4 cup yellow mustard
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 T salt
1 T paprika
2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp allspice

Whirl it all up in a blender or food processor until it’s smooth.
I poured mine into an old 12 oz Crystal hot sauce bottle I’d washed out. The ingredients sound a bit strange, but it works!

A similar recipe I found also added 1/4 cup of molasses, but I didn’t have any in the house.

I like hot sauce and this one looked good… so I bought a handful of red, round peppers and ground it all up.

It tuned out very good… and very hot. There is a lot of talk about bhut jolokia – Ghost Chilies and Trinidad Moruga Scorpion and such – but let’s face it – habaneros are pretty damn hot and they are readily available. I still have wonderful memories of fresh grilled seafood served with an Habanero paste that I had on Passion Island off of Cozumel – the best meal of my life.

When I first tried the sauce my lips were swollen, my face burned, and the top of my head was drenched with sweat. When I tried the same dose a couple days later, it wasn’t nearly as toxic. At first, I thought it was losing its punch – but I realized that I was quickly developing a resistance. I began plotting meals that I could use to eat a little (only a little) of the sauce.

When my two sons came home for the holidays, the remaining sauce quickly disappeared and I knew I had to kick up the production and at least triple the batch sizes. I had to go to work for a while today and on the way home stopped off at the local Fiesta Mart for a bag of habaneros.

Recently, Candy bought a Ninja Master Prep food processor – Hey… just because it’s on TV doesn’t mean it doesn’t work – and it’s perfect for the dangerous task of chopping up the toxic peppers. My first batch had the seeds in it, which tended to stop up the dispensing apparatus, so I thought about cleaning the peppers first – but that’s a tricky proposition, so I simply screened the seeds out afterward.

This batch came out even hotter than the first – but pretty darn flavorful. I have a feeling I might be making more of this stuff in the future.

Funny, they don't look that hot.

Funny, they don’t look that hot.

Habaneros and other main ingredients

Habaneros and other main ingredients

Ninja Food Processor with hot sauce and spices

Ninja Food Processor with hot sauce and spices

Final product - filtered into re-purposed containers.

Final product – filtered into re-purposed containers.

What I learned this week,December 14, 2012

Why The Hot Sauce Industry Is The New Craft Beer Industry

and

Hot Sauce Goes Mainstream


11 Foods You Can’t Buy Anywhere Anymore


How to Make Beer

Check out this beautiful 1933 brewing guide from the pages of Popular Science.


Pint Sized
How nanobreweries—fledgling operations in garages and backyard sheds—are revolutionizing the American beer industry.


Pan’s Labyrinth to be Adapted into Stage Musical


The Decade’s 25 Most-Essential Foreign Films


Cook Your Meat in a Beer Cooler: The World’s Best (and Cheapest) Sous-Vide Hack


The Monster Collection of Moleskine Tips, Tricks and Hacks

Hot Sauce Overdose

Halloween, French Quarter, New Orleans

Tabasco, Crystal, or Louisiana

I don’t think there is such a thing as too much hot sauce, but this guy will disagree. Not even the cool Mardi Gras beads could protect him.

Notice he has all three of the Louisiana Hot Sauces… the Holy Trinity: Tabasco, Crystal, and Louisiana (Red Dot) Brand on the table in front of him. No establishment should have less.

But that means you have to choose. Life is full of tough decisions. Though I have great respect for Tabasco, and like the Red Dot, I am a Crystal man myself.

Tabasco or Crystal

I’ve been watching what I eat with some success but sometimes I give in. Candy left a newspaper article in my office from last Friday – there is a new Cajun Restaurant in Richardson, Wicked Po’Boys. I couldn’t resist.

It’s located in the Eastside development not far from where we live.

Wicked Po’Boys in Richardson, Texas

They have put up a bit of an iron balcony out front to try for a little New Orleans style. Not quite the Garden District, but a nice touch.

A real balcony in the French Quarter.

Balcony in the Lower Garden District

The place is long and thin inside – but attractive, with a big bar and a big menu. I ordered a grilled shrimp po’boy and an Abita Amber, Candy ordered a roast beef po’boy. Most people think about po’boys and seafood (shrimp, oyster) but the roast beef or debris style is right up there too.

Blackened Shrimp Po-Boy from Wicked Po’Boys

Roast Beef Po-Boy from Wicked Po’Boys

Our sandwiches were greatness. I’m afraid we’ll be back. There are pots of gumbo that beckon. There are still oysters.

Now, if you are going to eat Cajun, you need to make a huge decision. There are a number of eternal “this or that” questions you must face during you short time upon this mortal plane. These questions must be faced and must not be shirked. Ocean or mountains? The book or the movie? Hot dog or hamburger? Paper or Plastic? Shaken or stirred? White or wheat? Boxers or briefs? Tea or coffee? Dogs or cats? Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings? Coke or Pepsi? Shower or bath? Chocolate or Vanilla?

But the most basic question, the one that truly reveals the tint of your deepest soul, the most difficult conundrum of them all….

A tough choice.

Tabasco or Crystal?

Now I know some folks will put Original Louisiana  (the one with the red dot) there (and it is a worthy contender) instead of Crystal – but I’ve been to New Orleans and I know the truth. It’s Tabasco or Crystal. A tough choice.

Choose your weapon.

Here is the condiment rail at Wicked Po-Boys. If you are a true hot sauce eater you will recognize the bottles from the shapes on the top.

Now, I understand the duality of the Crystal and Tabasco choice. But, really in life, things do not come in twos. The duality of nature is an illusion brought on by our own weakness of perceiving the true nature of things. Life is not a duality – there are really three choices. Wicked Po-Boys recognizes this deep philosophical truth by offering Sriracha. Oh, and in Richardson, you had better have Sriracha.

But, as much as I love the rooster sauce, I’m not quite adventurous enough to put it on Cajun food yet…. It’s not that I’m afraid as much as I’m not sure how to improve on perfection. Sometimes the classics are that way for a reason.

So what did I choose? Ever since my visit to Avery Island I have held a deep respect for Tabasco. It is truly a culinary treasure. But it is also too vinegary. I respect Tabasco… but I ate the Crystal.

A lot of it.

By the way – take a look at the “best used date” on that bottle of Crystal in the photo above. You have to eat it by March 7, 2015. Don’t worry – it’ll be gone by then.

Wicked Po’Boys Set To Open In Richardson

Wicked PoBoys Facebook

First Look: Wicked Po Boys

Le Petit Baton Rouge

Somewhere miles deep underground the dried salt remnant of an ancient sea is being squeezed by the unimaginable weight of the Mississippi delta building up above. All the loose mud from Ohio and Minnesota ends up washed downstream, piles up, and presses down. The salt becomes a sort of geological fluid and globs rise like pale columns in a crystalline subterranean lava lamp – reaching miles up until they almost burst forth under the starry sky.

One of these salt domes sits under Avery Island – pushing the land upwards above the surrounding sea-level flatness. It is truly an island – a disk-shaped protuberance rising above… not the trackless sea but the feckless swamp – a bit of dry, elevated land looking down on the miasma and the bog.

The salt dome rises and bears a number of gifts. There is the salt itself – mined or boiled from springs for centuries with only a short break when the saltwork was captured by Union troops during the Great War Between the States (as it is known in these here parts). There is the gift of petroleum – oil is dragged along and concentrated by the rising column until, like Spindletop to the west, a forest of derricks sprout up sucking at the black gold.

And finally, there is the gift of high, dry farmland – rich and fertile. The Avery Island Plantation could grow pretty much any crop and – luckily for us – they chose a unique crop, grown from seed brought back from Central and South America… Hot Peppers.

For Pepperheads and fans of spicy food Avery Island is capsaicin ground zero and a visit there, at least once during a lifetime, is a necessary pilgrimage – a hot sauce Hajj.

Avery Island is the home and only manufacturing facility of the McIlhenny Company – the maker of Tabasco Pepper Sauce. Every little red bottle – somewhere around 750,000 bottles a day – are made on Avery Island.

We were going to drive back to Dallas from Lafayette, about a seven hour drive, but I wanted to go see the McIlhenny Tabasco factory on Avery Island first so we drove south instead and, after a couple of wrong turns, crossed the little wooden toll bridge (one dollar per car) onto the complex of green hills atop the salt dome.

The first thing you notice when driving up to the factory is the smell. It is wonderful. It’s not a hot, painful tear-gas like capsaicin reaction like you might expect, but a mellow, complex warm feeling that envelops the whole complex. First, we took a tour of the factory. You get a lecture; watch a film, then walk past the filling lines behind a glass wall. It was a Sunday, so the filling lines weren’t running, which was fine with me – I’ve seen plenty of food filling equipment filling food in my day. It was good enough to be standing behind the glass looking at the place where all the goodness happens.

At the end of the tour was a little museum with facts about Tabasco Pepper Sauce. I already knew most of it, having seen it on the How It’s Made television show. The most amazing thing about Tabasco is that the ground up peppers are aged in second-hand whisky barrels and allowed to ferment for three years before being mixed with vinegar, blended, and bottled. The barrels are covered with a layer of Avery Island salt while they age. Ground peppers (the seeds are developed on Avery Island, though the peppers are grown in Latin America), water, salt, and vinegar… that’s it.

To help the pepper pickers pick the perfect peppers they are given le petit baton rouge – a little red stick. This is painted the color of a perfectly ripe Tabasco pepper.

Then we walked across to the Tabasco Country store and bought our share of touristy knick-knacks and hot sauce products. I looked long and hard at the gallon jugs of hot sauce with the plastic pumps – and was able to resist the siren song. They had a sampling table with all the different flavors, including one I have never seen before – a chipotle raspberry sauce (I bought a bottle). There is no reference to this chipotle raspberry Tabasco anywhere – it’s a bit gimmicky, but it tastes good.

They also had spicy cola, two flavors of ice cream, and anything else you can imagine – plus a few you can’t. Candy bought some stuff for Nick (he loves Tabasco) and a bag of cooking wood made from their broken fermenting barrels.

One odd thing I did buy was a big ziplock plastic bag of pure pepper mash. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it, but it makes every room smell wonderful.

I took a walk around and snapped a few pictures, like a good tourist. Down at the end of the factory were some long brick buildings – these must be some of the fermenting warehouses where the sauce ages for three years in those oak barrels because the odor wafting out of the vents was unbelievably wonderful. One must have been the Chipotle warehouse because I could detect a smoky note in the air.

We had planned on stopping by a tony Cajun restaurant north of Lafayette on the way home, but there was a little trailer set up next to the country store selling red beans, rice, and sausage from crock pots. Of course, there was a large selection of spicy condiments available for testing.

I doubt the expensive restaurant had anything on the five dollar foam cup of red beans that I gobbled down with dabs of at least seven different Tabasco sauces on different nibbles.

There is a lot more to Avery Island – the Jungle Gardens and the Bird City went unvisited by us. We had a long drive ahead and couldn’t tarry. I’ll be back though, to smell that smell and explore some more. Once is not enough.

The factory has this crazy bayou gothic look to it.

The recycled whisky barrels with salt on top. The mash ages in these for three years.

Walking around, I found this pallet of old barrel lids after the peppers have been aged.

A box of labels from the filling line.

The food stand - great beans, rice, and sausage.

I haven't seen or read about this anywhere else.

Avery Island, Louisiana

Taking on Big Tabasco – Or, a little undercover research into le petit baton rouge

Tabasco’s Red-Hot Beginnings in Louisiana

The Fascination of Tabasco Sauce

Cajun Country’s Saucy and Spicy Tour

That’s a spicy ice cream

January, 2012. On the Geaux – Again – in Louisiana

McIlhenny Tabasco – Avery Island, Louisiana

Avery Island and Tabasco Sauce

Yes! My Camera Loves New Iberia Louisiana

5 Healthy Reasons to Love Tabasco Sauce

Avery Island – Tabasco, Alligators and Egrets

Touring the Tabasco Hot Sauce Factory and Scenic Avery Island, Louisiana

RV Trip Favorite Photos #51-55

Roadtrip: South Louisiana, Part 1

653: St. Martinville_Avery Island

Prejean’s Famous Gumbo