Growing up, I was a wimp when it came to spice. Oh, I could ingest enough garlic to leave vapor trails and I’d pile the sauteed onions on my bistek Tagalog until you couldn’t see the beef underneath, but if I so much as half-bit into a whole peppercorn, I’d be fanning my mouth and asking for water. I couldn’t even tolerate our local banana catsup that was flavored ever-so-slightly with banana peppers.
A wimp. That’s what I was.
Then I spent a few days in Singapore with my grandmother, my uncle, and my cousin. The first meal we had was quite spicy, so I merely picked at the food on my plate. This went on for the next few meals, and after a day and a half, I was starving. Grazing on the steamed vegetable and fruit garnishes just wasn’t cutting it anymore; I needed protein and real food. And I no longer found it amusing that every dish we seemed to order had some degree of heat to it. I was tired to watching my cousin savor the local specialties while I sat quietly with my glass of water or iced tea, waiting for the plate of fried rice that would come at the end of the meal.
It was in Singapore that I first learned to endure the initial sting of spicy food, and by the time we returned to Manila, I started adding a touch of hot sauce to my food. (I will, however, forever be small fry compared to my other uncle, who pops raw ultra-spicy bird peppers in his mouth as if he were eating popcorn.)
Then I married a man from Trinidad, a country where just about every dish is seasoned with scotch bonnet peppers. They’ll eat everything with hot peppers: oysters, fresh fruit, preserved plums, beans, roti, tomatoes … they’ll even toss a green salad with slivers of these fiery hot peppers. These guy are serious about their spice, and many have their own special way of making hot sauce, more commonly referred to as pepper sauce.
Once again, I’m small fry.
One night last summer, I started reading Georgia Pellegrini’s book Food Heroes. And I couldn’t put it down, not after starting off with the chapter about Jon Rowley, which put the taste of oysters in my head for a week or two. He also had me obsessed with finding a refractometer for my dad so he can start measuring the degrees Brix of every fruit growing in his farm.
But it was in her chapter about Jess Graber and Jake Norris of Stranahan’s that I spied the recipe I couldn’t wait to try: Whiskey Hot Sauce. I’m not sure what was a stronger draw, the whiskey or the chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. See, I recently discovered chipotle peppers when I tried my hand at Rick Bayless’s amazing Tropical Beach Ceviche. It was a flavor I instantly loved.
The ingredients are simple enough: a hot pepper, one carrot, half a lemon, half an onion, vinegar, water, molasses, cumin, chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, salt, and whiskey.
I used a whole habanero pepper. I wish I had a scotch bonnet pepper, because I think they’re much more flavorful. But the habanero was an acceptable substitute.
The method is simple, too. Boil the peppers and vegetables in water and vinegar, then add the rest of the ingredients and simmer for a few minutes. Then puree and store!
Want to know how my boys like to use hot sauce?
They like hot sauce with cheese. In fact, one of their favorite breakfast items is a warm roll with a slice of cheese and dabs of pepper sauce. Want to know something else? It’s good. Really good. Take it from this small fry. I can’t get enough of it, too.
Georgia gave me permission to share her recipe here, and I urge you to try it. It’s my favorite hot sauce, and I’m not just saying that because it’s the first that I’ve made. I have a husband who likes to make his own pepper sauce, and he loved this. It has great depth from the cumin, a nice zing from the whiskey, the wonderful smoky flavor of the chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, and just the slightest hint of sweetness from the molasses. It’s great on pizza, sandwiches, hot wings, burgers, and chili.
And cheese sandwiches.
|Whiskey Hot Sauce
(From Food Heroes, recipe courtesy of Georgia Pellegrini)
Makes about 1 1/2 cups hot sauce.
You can use a different kind of pepper, or adjust the amounts to taste. The original recipe called for 1/4 cup serrano peppers, but I used a habanero pepper instead. I prefer the taste of molasses, but Georgia says you can use brown sugar in its place. I’ve also made this with blended scotch whiskey because that was all I had at the time, and it didn’t seem to hurt the sauce one bit.
1 cup water
Heat the water and vinegar in a small saucepan. Add the peppers (habanero and chipotle), onion, and carrot. Let it come to a simmer, then cover and continue simmering over low heat until soft, about 15 to 20 minutes. When soft, add the remaining ingredients and simmer for an additional 3 to 5 minutes.
Let cool slightly and then puree in a blender or food processor. Transfer to a glass container and allow to cool completely. Keep in the refrigerator for up to a year.
I highly recommend Georgia’s book Food Heroes. It’s so well-written and each artisan’s story is so compelling that it made me want to make my own cheese, brew my own beer, sit in the warm waters of the Philippines with a sack of fresh oysters, and make my own bacon. Her passion for the story is evident, and the narrative flows so freely, it feels like you’re right there with her, spending time with these true masters.
In the meantime, please make this whiskey hot sauce as soon as you can. Seriously. It really is that good. I’m banking on my regular and steady consumption of this hot sauce to help me in my quest to climb up the chili-head ladder.
How about you? On a scale of 1 to 10, how much of a chili-head are you? Are you a 10 and have to wear a mask when cooking lest you choke on the pepper fumes? Or are you small fry like me and live closer to the 2 or 3 mark?