Saturday, August 7, 2010

Kickin It Up

Robert brought up the topic of hot sauce last week. Something along the line of having a favorite.
I remember not much liking hot sauce while growing up. Most of my friends were of Mexican decent. Not particularly remarkable as I did grow up in a blue-collar burb, less than 1/4 mile from what was officially the Los Angeles city line. Hot sauce was more of a Mexican thing to me. And seemingly, always synonymous with Tabasco: Something that an older Mexican would pull out of their coat pocket or purse whenever taking a meal away from home.

And it wouldn't surprise me if there were more small bottles of Tabasco languishing in purses and coat pockets (not to mention tool boxes, high school lockers, and automotive 'glove' compartments) than were sitting on dining room tables.

Why? Because back then hot sauce wasn't something you found next to the salt and pepper shakers of any coffee shop or diner. An ethnic condiment, some might even call it a staple, that hadn't (yet) gone mainstream.

My, how things have changed. Today, I see Tabasco and Cholula sauces in even the most 'White' of food establishments, located in mid-America cities that twenty years ago didn't know what a Mexican population was, let alone the pervasive historical and cultural presence that I had grown up with.

It's not a regional or Mexican thing anymore. Instead, it's as mainstream-American as pizza and hot dogs.

I have changed as well, and now confess to having not one, but four different hot sauces in my steady rotation. I have no favorite as each serves it's own specialty, and are not readily interchangeable in usage.

The Mexicans at work turned me on to this one last year. Huichol is probably my most used hot sauce. It's thick and sticks to the palate. Not too much bite, but strong enough of a burn to satisfy your needs while it washes away with a simple drink of water.

It's main draw is it's flavor as opposed to it's fire, with almost none of that vinegar taste most hot sauces are known for.

You can't find it in the supermarket. You gotta go to a Mexican market to find it. Even then, it's gaining in popularity around here.

I use it mostly on tacos, burritos, tamales. Sometimes fried eggs. It's good to blend with canned crab and spread on a cracker, or with shrimp as a cocktail sauce substitute. It's unmatched in its versatility, so I tend to keep a bottle at work or in my car, and at only a buck a bottle, you can afford to spread the supply around.

Cholula is every where you are... almost, and has found it's way not only into Waffle Houses down south but at even at a truck stop in Tuscola, Illinois.

I use it primarily for fried eggs, but it's a solidly tasty all-purpose for everything else,too.

It's a good sauce, but nothing all that special that can't be easily replaced with any one of several similar types that are out there.

I'd say Tabasco is probably the original all-American hot sauce that gained the widest acceptance the earliest. Probably because it's a domestic product with a homegrown fan base.

A really strong vinegary taste that overwhelms the flavor of any other ingredients makes this one mostly a loser for me. All it seems to add to a dish is heat, and little else.

But I do use it fairly regular. It's awesome with canned sardines. And it seems all that vinegar is the only thing that can cut through the overwhelming 'smoke' flavor of canned oysters and kippered herring.

Lastly, I got Sriracha, also known as Rooster Sauce, because nobody knows how to pronounce 'Sriracha', and there is a rooster on the label.

A Thai product with a bright red color commonly found in Chinese and Vietnamese eateries, Sriracha provides good flavor, strong heat, and wide versatility and also serves as a dipping sauce.

I use it at home for shellfish, sardines and ramen or pho noodles. So good with pho, so appropriate in it's compliment, that I can't eat a bowl without it. It's great stuff. And like I said, a strong heat.
Once you take an acceptance it's hard to do without it's flavor. It's that damn good. Use lightly til you know what you're doing because too much is a real punch to the face that will make your make your eyes bleed and your nose run.


Brian said...

One of my favorite late night soak up the booze snacks is a fried egg on wheat toast with peanut butter and sriracha.

Don't knock it til you've tried it.

tully said...

I'm sooooo with you on the Salsa Huichil.

Tabasco: sometimes you need that runny consistency. With eggs, I want a sauce that doesn't cover the eggs in blotches, but runs over the surface. And the vinegar cuts through that alkali, protein taste of an egg yolk.

My new favorite is Tamazula. Aged chili peppers give it a solid, rich flavor to which the heat, though substantial, rides back seat.

my name is Amanda said...

What a great post, Gino! I really enjoyed reading the history of hot sauce from your perspective, especially the part about how now it's part of mainstream American culture.

I'm not a hot sauce expert at all, but I like Cholula a lot, especially with rice, beans, cheese, potatoes, and eggs. Love Sriracha in pho, or kimchi with sriracha. I have never particularly liked Tabasco sauce; it does seem to be hotter than tastier. But it's okay, since I also don't like (any) oysters or herring.

Perhaps I will have to be on the lookout for the Hoichul!

RW said...

White Shark Predator, habanero sauce is my go-to. I want burn. Horrible burn. My daughter bought me some ghost chilis for Christmas. Yes, I'm nuts.

Gino said...

brian: ok, i wont. not this time anyway.

i give odds that you actually do know how to pronounce sriracha. am i right?

tully: and where would i find that tamazula things?

amanda: just go to the local carneceria. they should have huichol.
sardines and oysters: give it a chance.

RW: yeah, nuts. definately. i tried habanero salsa once. in all seriousness, i'm shocked that wasnt illegal.

tully said...

Tamazula is one of about 10 hot sauces offered by my local Mexican market. By local, I mean "bad part of town where I don't live" but it's just off the freeway. Your mercado should carry it.

Palm boy said...

I'm going to keep my eyes out for Huichol in the future now.

Tabasco makes tuna much better.
Even as a young man with a cast iron gullet, I would strongly caution against putting it on pepperoni pizza.

Sriracha? Best used as a ketchup substitute for unsuspecting friends when dishing up hot dogs off the grill. Its what they get for trying to use ketchup.

Night Writer said...

I read an article a couple of years back about how America has become "spicier" in its tastes, with more and more varieties of sauces and peppers available. Some of it's from the Hispanic influence, but also from the Asian foods.

I like hot sauces, though I don't have one that I seek out. I'll try anything that's on the table and prefer those that add flavor (especially a smokey one) over those that just bring the heat.

That said, one of my all-time favorite commmercials was for McIllhenny's Tabasco sauce. It featured a good ol' boy, bare-armed in overalls, sitting on the porch of a shack in the Louisiana swamps, eating a pizza. He was liberally dousing the pizza with McIllhenny's. A mosquito lands on his forearm and he merely glances at it, unconcerned. The mosquito sucks its fill and lifts off, getting only a few feet away before exploding in a ball of fire, much to the enjoyment of our diner.

Brian said...

For pizza, I like fish sauce. Basically the same thing as putting anchovies on it, but with the salty/umame goodness more evenly distributed.

There's a bar in my neighborhood that serves a corn dog with grilled onions, cream cheese (both inside the corn part), and Sriracha. It is awesome.

Gino said...

palm boy: as a hot dog with ketchup guy i miust tell you that you are just plain mean.

NW: the hispanics get all the credit, but i've never had anything from them that can beat what the asians are capable of for heat.

brian: ok, i let the egg and p-nut butter sandwich go... but fish sauce on pizza is wrong. just wrong.
but anchovies themselves??? thats a winner every time.

麗王王珠 said...


Jonny Hamachi said...

Great Post. We call Huichol - "Mexican Ketchup" and Tapatio - "California Ketchup". Look for Piri Piri sauce (new and interesting heat).

oh, and Welcome to the Society.

Brian said...

Again, don't knock it til you tried it...

Gino said...

brian: two 'no knocks' in the same post is asking a bit much, dont you think?

johnny hamachi: thansk for stopping in. i'll check out that piri stuff.

and i like your society blog. i've now seen just about every blog subject there is.

kr said...

man, that "no ketchup" Chicago thing is so mean ... I think it has to do with different basic flavors in midwest "hotdogs" than on the west coast maybe. Ketchup with some hotdogs I can now get here (Hebrew National, for instance, which in my ignorant and prejudiced state regarding Hebrew issues I presume came from the NE), is NOT a hotdog for ketchup--but Oscar Meyer sure is!

I have enough "white trash" in my heritage to be of the opinion that one needs even less excuse for ketchup than mayonaise. (Canned tuna is of course merely an excuse for excessive mayo consumption.) (White trash ... I'm told this is where it's from. Having grown up with it, I have no objectivity on the matter ;). )

Hot sauces. I recently read or heard the (very reasonable it seemed to me) scientific-type assertion that the reason alcohol has ridiculously strong impact on the Native Americans and many people of Asian descent is similar to the lactose thing and the smallpox thing ... their populations didn't stew in Europe killing off all the genetically 'normal' humans for the genetically more unique ones who could survive extreme conditions, like having to digest large quantities of alcohol successfully ... the genes that would make the population able to handle regular intake and be a productive society aren't there (or aren't common).

M'self, I immediately thought about the latest spate of restaurant reviews centering on spicy asian foods, the off and on joking coverage of spice addiction, spice jonesing, hot sauce highs ... and I immediately started laughing that the indigenous populations of all the places Europeans colonized have turned the dopamine-addiction tables on us.

Because you know it's true--you never get the same pleasure again as the first time ;), but we all ramp it up ... maybe just a little ... to get the thrill ;). The same population that gets thrill addicted racing or skating or etc., at least here in Portland, are the guys (about 17 through 40) who go way too far way too fast on the spice, graduating within months from Taco Bell to scary Thai ... I expect to read about wipeouts and addiction recovery programs any day ;).

I like Cholulua on hash browns (although I usually use ketchup ;) ); my Ex introduced me to it in 1995. I order my Thai "medium" (a good solid burn) and don't add sauce (I go to a restaurant that I trust to balance their flavors in the kitchen). I look forward to the return to medium salsa as the kids age (the brand I like doesn't flavor their hot as carefully as their less hot, growl).

My (male) Ex went the Cholula teenager-->habenero sauce-->habenero sauce home kit route, but a bad (and accidental) experience in college with an unknown Thai pepper kept him exploring only Western Hemisphere peppers, at least while we were married. His work travels have taken him to Asia, so maybe that's changed, but he's kinda over the full-out, perceived immortality risktaking stage now, so I'm sure the ascent (decent?) will be less precipitous ;).

kr said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
RW said...

kr - it's not so mean here in Chi re: ketchup/hot dogs. You're allowed up to the age of 12 without ridicule because the real purpose of ketchup is simply to induce kids to eat their dinners. But as of 13, if Mommy has to induce you to eat your supper, something is wrong.

So we're quite liberal here, actually.

Gino said...

ketchup + mayonaise + hot dog = White Trash.

i'll let you get away with that.

kr said...

dude, it was someone else's definition ;). I just happen to fit it. It was especially worrisome since this person generally has a very negative opinion of what he calls white trash ... but, what can ya do?

RW ... and yet, I still like other childhood foods. Of course, I have it easy: since I am the only adult in the house with four smalls, I'm often making "at least I know they'll eat this" foods (organic and from scratch, but I should get my lipid levels checked sometime soon ; P ).

I just tried to make a further foray into discussing the relative properties of hot dogs in different areas of the country and the directly related justifiability of ketchup use upon them, but it can't be done without fairly disturbing double entendre possibilities, so I now return this thread to its regularly scheduled discussion of hot sauces ;).

Gino said...

but i'll grant that a kosher dog is best with mustard.yes, i've had it.
my issue is that i just do not like the tatse of mustard.

Mr. D said...

Very late to this party, but I like Sriracha especially well -- it's assertive. Have not had Huichol yet, but will have to try it.

I knew hot sauce was mainstream when I started seeing bottles in Culver's.

Brian said...

I picked up a bottle of Huichol at the mercado yesterday. Thanks for the's good stuff! Kind of reminds me of a thicker, smokier version of Valentina.

Gino said...

brian: i was thinking that rooster sauce might be perfect for them korean tacos you mentioned. i've never had them, but i hear they pretty good.

Bike Bubba said...

Hmmm....ketchup and mayo are white in Salt Lake City, they've got a "fry sauce" that is basically the two mixed. What does that mean? Hmm.....

I knew I was getting to be a hot sauce junkie when I started thinking about a "restaurant blend" sauce in Tucson the way oinophiles start talking about wine...."a little smoky, nice finish, no aftertaste..."

Or is that cigars?