Hot Stuff

I’m a born and bred Yankee all the way back to the 1630s. Both sides of the family. My mom used to say, ‘We didn’t come over on the Mayflower but we knew people who did. (Her family arrived in 1635 and my dad’s preceded them by five years.)

My dad was a chef and people of a certain age know that he and my brother Jeff produced what were unarguably THE MOST DELICIOUS fried clams and onions in the universe at Philbrick’s Snack Shack on Nauset Beach in Orleans, Cape Cod, for 35 years.

At home my mom and dad both cooked. It would be like a ballet in the kitchen as they maneuvered around each other to produce the most wonderful meals. There were so many times we’d have a supper that was so delicious we’d ask, “Can we have this again?”

My dad would say, “No. We can have something LIKE this again, but we can’t have THIS again. That’s because in the process of putting the meal together a little of ‘this’ and a dash of ‘that’ went into it and nothing was written down, so it would have been impossible to recreate it.

Mom and dad had different approaches to cooking. My mom was a “measurer.” The ingredients in a dish were generally precise…A result of having attended the Fanny Farmer Cooking School in Boston. There was a battered Fanny Farmer Cookbook in our kitchen and she rarely deviated from the recipe as written.. She also loved to bake and you have to be precise when you bake. It is, chemistry, after all. There is no room for improvisation. When my folks ran Philbrick’s Catering Service in Watertown, Mass., before we moved to Orleans full time, my mom baked all the Parker House rolls. Bread baking…what a wonderful smell to come home to after school.

Dad, on the other hand, pretty much added ingredients and put stuff together as inspiration hit. When he measured salt, for instance he’d pour it into the cupped palm of his hand. I mentioned this to mom once and she said if a recipe called for a teaspoon of salt “I guarantee that if you measured what he poured into his hand it would be within a grain or two of a teaspoon.”

In spite of centuries of New England cooking in my DNA I LOVE southern hot sauces. I like adding a dash or a splash to a lot of the things I cook. Some things, though, just aren’t made for hot sauce. Like NewEngland clam chowder for instance. Anyone doing that should be shot instantly and without warning.

A basic hot sauce is simply cayenne peppers in vinegar and salt. That’s the rock bottom recipe but the “brewing” process produces different, subtle taste variations…And there are certain hot sauces that are necessary for certain dishes.

For example, you CAN’T make a decent Bloody Mary with anything other than Tabasco. Using, say, Texas Pete’s, and it JUST WON’T taste like a Bloody Mary.

For me, there’s another food-specific hot sauce…Crystal. It is amazing on popcorn in lieu of butter. People initially react with an “ewwwww” when I tell them that, but they quickly become addicted to it. Crystal is also the perfect condiment for red beans and rice. Most restaurants in New Orleans have a bottle of Crystal at the table. The ingredients are the same as Tabasco but the flavor and intensity of the the heat factor are different,

When I was offered the job in France I brought along a couple of large bottles of Crystal hot sauce not wanting to be without the stuff for my popcorn. I was gobsmacked the first time I went on a shopping trip to Carrefour where the ONLY hot sauces on the shelf were Tabasco and Crystal!

Similar sauces to the above named include: El Pato (The Duck) from Mexico, Louisiana Hot Sauce, from USA, Texas Pete from North Carolina, USA, Trappey’s made in Louisiana, USA.

Many others, like the popular Cholula, and Frank’s, to name just two, add things like tomato paste, onions, garlic powder and other ingredients to the mix. A good number substitute habanero peppers for the small, red cayenne of the other hot sauces. All have their own niche, I guess, depending on sales distribution

I’ve been to Walmart, Dollar General, Dollar Tree, and Family Dollar stores up here in northwest Ohio near the Michigan and Indiana borders and NO ONE has Crystal. I’m going to have to order some online because popcorn just AIN’T RIGHT without it.

In 1992, while anchored off of Caye Caulker, Belize, on the edge of the second longest coral barrier reef in the world I discovered Melinda’s hot sauce. Five of the six lunches I had there were at the house of a woman who would set up four card tables on her front porch and serve up the best lobster tostadas in the entire known world. These were made by taking a tostada tortilla and smearing refried black beans over one as a base. Then came some shredded lettuce and chopped tomato, and some onion. This was topped with a health dollop of freshly caught, local lobster salad. Some grated cheese was scattered on top of it all. She sold these for $2 Belize or $1 US. Two of those along with a bottle of ice cold Belikin Beer made a lunch for $5 with a few pennies left over. Sitting on each table was a bottle of Melinda’s hot sauce. While Melinda’s comes in a variety variations this was the basic sauce made with a blend of fresh carrots, onions, garlic, and a hint of lime juice with the Habanero peppers. Really hot but,YUM !!!

I’m also quite fond of using Sriracha when cooking chicken wings.

I don’t know if it’s the DEFINITIVE list but the Wikipedia list is a good overview of hot sauces one can find around the U.S,

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