Jim Hillibish: Hot pepper sauces are ‘da’ bomb’
Once upon a time, there was Tabasco and Louisiana. Those were kinder, gentler times in the universe of hot-pepper sauces.
These memories rapidly are morphing into today’s tongue-numbing hell of boutique hot sauces.
You once encountered them at the tourist traps. Now walls of scorching liquid fire with attractive labels such as “Mother Pucker” and “Dat’l Do It” have invaded our grocery stores.
As usual, YouTube is powering the explosion with its Stupid Human Tricks. You’ve seen them, bald guys chugging bottles of hot sauce for a video freak-out. What you don’t see is the emergency room pumping stomachs.
But still, we have hard evidence that hot sauce is a phenom. Consider the popularity of Sriracha pepper sauce. Thrill-seekers, including kids, carry it around in backpacks to pep up a Big Mac or a pizza slice.
I find it hard to discern differences. All of them are peppery and spicy, creating a firestorm on my tongue that masks any subtle flavor variations. I have a notion that some of these specialty numbers are repackaged generic blends with a few twists of black pepper or some garlic powder mixed in. Then again, the most expensive bottles, the habaneros, perhaps are made from scratch.
One thing I have noticed: The milder the name, the more serious the sauce. So much for “Rat Sex Date.”
All of that is moot because it’s not flavor they’re selling — it’s heat. There’s tremendous competition here, but Consumer Reports has yet to run the claims through the test lab. I have six different bottles guaranteeing they are the hottest in the universe.
Beware of the recipes on many labels. My bottle of “Kick Yo’ Ass Hot” requires four of its five ounces for an “Ass Kickin’ cheese log. Serve with more sauce on top for an Ass Kickin’ snack.” Then call 911.
This is not just an American phenom. Europe is wading in hot sauces. England is home of “Far Too Hotter.” A half ounce is — yikes — 29 bucks. It comes with an eyedropper and a claim, “1,200 times hotter than Tabasco.” The French offer a milder Dea Harissa, so rich it comes in tubes.
As profit margins climb, perhaps you’re tempted to invent your own sauce. The hardest part is finding a name. I like “Chile Today-Hot Tamale.” How about “Pro Football Hall of Fame Intestinal Hemorrhage Devil Red.” That might be cool enough to be hot.
For those of you who can stand the heat, here are some real hot sauces recommended by my pepperhead friends who actually eat the stuff. They assured me they make no videos.
HOMEMADE PEPPER RED
• 1 1/2 cups vinegar
• 6 chile peppers (at least one cayenne), minced
• 6 ounces tomato paste
• 1 T minced garlic
• 1 t black pepper
• 1 t lime juice
Sauté peppers and garlic in about a tablespoon of olive oil. Stir in the tomato paste and half the vinegar. Bring to boil and add the rest. Puree in blender with a dash of water and strain. If you use habanero peppers, reduce the vinegar by a third. Canned chipotle peppers work well for a smoky flavor.
Store in jar in refrigerator.
Da’Bomb’s 1.5 million Scoville heat units: The only sauce coming with a warning: Do not eat straight out of the jar. “I took the lid off and had to put it back on.” $32 for two ounces.
Dave’s Ghost Pepper Naga Jokia: The Naga is one of the hottest peppers on earth, “makes a great industrial cleaner and grease remover.” $6 for five ounces.
Melinda’s Original Habanero Pepper Sauce: Heavy on the carrots, thick, hot. “It reminds me of napalm.” $7 for 5 ounces.
Huy Fong Sriracha: The original, fermented, made from chilies, in a squeeze bottle. “It smells up a neighborhood in L.A.” A steal at $6.49 for 17 ounces.
The Cajun Injector: Six varieties of new Louisiana Hot Sauce in three-ounce bottles. “Just when you like one, it’s empty.” $13.90.
Pain is Good Jalapeno Pepper Sauce: Micro-batch, strong on jalapeno flavor. “Pain is never good, period.” $11.95 for 7 ounces.
Marie Sharp’s Fiery Hot Sauce: A habanero heater with lime juice, carrots and garlic. “Never eat it on date night.” $12.25 for 10 ounces.
Reach Jim at email@example.com.