Monday 30 December 2013

A note on chilli pepper sauces

Chilli, or pepper, sauces are many and legion.  

In fact, there are flipping thousands of them.  There are collectors, there are clubs.  I'm not kidding – people actually travel around the world in search of new and diverse sauces for their bookshelves.  Seriously.

I reckon that any chef ought to have a few in, to be honest.  It's completely wrong to think that Tobasco can cure all ills – you need a range, with different flavours and styles. 

Tabasco first.  Bloody good stuff, and the standard by which most sauces in the UK are judged by.  It's from Louisiana and, as such, perfect in creole-American cooking, like jambalaya or gumbo.  Also, it's the mainstay of a bloody mary – seriously, accept no substitutes on this front. 

Just as an aside, should you find yourself in Louisiana and able to pop into the home of Tabasco on Avery Island, I strongly recommend it - a fun day out, and a wicked gift shop that's almost more entertaining than the tour.

However, much as I love the Louisianan hot stuff (and it is hot) it just doesn’t cut the mustard as a one-size-fits-all sauce.  For starters, I understand that the production process is little more than macerating peppers in vinegar.  As good as any other method for extracting heat, it sadly leaves the sauce very sharp and, well, vinegary. 

For a one-size-fits-all sauce I prefer Marie Sharp's.  It's a Belizean classic, and too much time in that country has left me utterly dependent on it as a chef.  It's habanero based, so hot, although it handily comes in different heat levels.  Sadly, they don’t import into the UK, although the internet can find and provide if you're interested. 

Marie Sharp's does an amazing range – from 'Mild' (still bloody hot) through to 'Fiery Hot' standard sauces, and then progressively hotter 'novelty sauces'.  Her sauces are predominantly carrot based, so you don't get the vinegar flavours you get off Tabasco that can really infiltrate whatever you're eating - the plus is heat without an overpowering taste.  They also have a number of fruit based sauces, including a fantastic grapefruit pepper sauce.  Also, and for me an essential for the kitchen, they do a green pepper and prickly pear sauce, which I think is perfect for guacamole as it's a bit lighter and fresher, whilst still being fiery.

I have also had the great honour of spending some time at Marie Sharp's factory in Belize, now about 10 years ago.  Marie was there herself, a great (if elderly) lady who has become a national sensation just by growing peppers and making sauce. 

Here are some pictures from an incredible time in an incredible country.

My home in Gracie Rock Village

Learning to make tamales with my hosts

The habanero pepper fields of Marie Sharp's

Anyway, I digress...

Next up, and another essential, is a habanero sauce.  These have the rich, fruity flavours of habanero peppers and tend to be sizzlingly hot as well.  However, peppers such as apricot chillies – a heatless habanero - can sometimes be used to get the great taste without the sting.  Use for Caribbean dishes and tomato salsas. 

My examples come from the epic, and historic, Black's BBQ from Lockhart, Texas.  If you find yourself down that way, drop in and meet Edgar Black, who served brisket to LBJ.

This stuff is also excellent as a condiment, or to make something like a spicy mayonnaise or ketchup.

(FYI, I don’t really count Marie Sharp's for this, as whilst it is made with habanero peppers, it doesn’t have the fruity flavours, so is really more of a heat enhancer than a flavouring, in my opinion.)

Chipotle sauces are another great touch.  Chipotle peppers are regular jalapenos that are then dried and smoked, producing a rich, smoky favour coupled with searing heat.  I think the best format for chipotle sauce is actually a chipotle paste, but sauces abound too.  Tobasco do one (although see my slight reservations above) and most chilli pedlars will have something chipotle-based to entice as well. 

 - GrubsterBoy -

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