August 26, 2016

Turning Up the Heat with Hot Sauce

On Sunday, August 21, the Austin Chronicle hosted its 26th annual Hot Sauce Festival. A panel including chefs, food writers and radio personalities judged the sauces produced by local commercial bottlers, restaurants and individuals. The event raised funds and canned goods for the Central Texas Food Bank as it celebrated all the flavor and ingenuity that goes into the best hot sauces.

Hot sauces come in an endless variety of forms, and chefs can find many great ways to incorporate them into dishes. Whether or not you’re attending one of the best culinary schools in Texas, you can appreciate a concoction that packs plenty of kick and brings excitement to a meal. Spice up your cooking by learning more about the many sauces available and what goes into some of the best.

Know your hot sauces
Hot sauces can vary greatly in terms of ingredients, preparation methods, flavor and heat level. What they have in common is that they are liquid condiments with an emphasis on spice, usually drawn from chili peppers. Different sauces have roots all over the world and may be used for a wide range of dishes, as Serious Eats pointed out.

“Hot sauces have roots all over the world.”

Harissa is the most common condiment in North Africa, made with ground red chilies, olive oil and spices such as cumin or coriander. The Caribbean is known for exceptionally potent sauces made with Scotch bonnet peppers. Sriracha, originating in Thailand, features chili peppers, vinegar, sugar, salt and garlic.

The U.S. is most closely associated with Louisiana-style hot sauce. The Joy of Cooking explained that this type is made with preserved chilies, usually cayenne, that is mashed and fermented in a salt brine. After weeks of fermentation, the pepper mixture is combined with vinegar. Buffalo-style sauces involve greater quantities of vinegar, plus garlic.

Five-alarm flavor
Diners and chefs appreciate hot sauces based on all of these traditions. The key is finding or creating a blend of ingredients that suits each application, whether you’re preparing chicken wings, seafood or scrambled eggs. Rather than relying on the dominant manufacturers, many chefs choose hot sauces from smaller companies or make their own.

Hot sauce is part of a wide range of dishes, including classic Buffalo wings.Hot sauce is part of a wide range of dishes, including classic Buffalo wings.

Chef and restaurant owner Scott Youkilis began preparing his Youk’s Hot Sauce after he opened San Francisco’s Maverick in 2005. He told SFGate that the inspiration came when he received a case of Fresno chilies instead of the pound he ordered. Since then, he’s been using roasted, organic peppers for his sauce, sold by the bottle and used at each of his restaurant ventures.

Brian Ballan, one of the two owners behind A & B American Style pepper sauce, told Bon Appetit there are only four key elements that should go into a hot sauce: Makers must choose the type of chili peppers, an acid such as vinegar or citrus, any aromatic additions, and the quantity and kind of salt. The founders of A & B pride themselves on exclusively using natural ingredients and no sugar to prepare a flavorful condiment. Ballan’s partner, Ariel Fliman, explained the logic behind the company’s approach.

“Chili peppers have great flavors of their own, and so we think there’s no reason to rely on added sugars to flavor our chili-based products,” Fliman said.

The Japanese company Mellow Habanero also takes an artisanal tack in crafting sauces featuring the namesake pepper. Founder Taku Kondu has recipes ranging from a sweet mild variety – made with tomatoes, onions, mango, garlic, sea salt and rice vinegar – to the extra-hot Heaven, which consists simply of pepper, mango, salt and vinegar.

Anyone taking classes from an accredited online culinary institute can find plenty of uses for hot sauce. Whether you prefer plenty of heat or subtler tastes, this is one ingredient that can make good food even better.