Hot sauce is, hands down, the most complicated, sexiest, immersive, electrifying, suspenseful, powerful, intriguing and thoroughly satisfying condiment in the world. Personified, it would be the ultimate bon vivant, arm slung over your shoulder as you exit the bar at closing, full of enthusiastic suggestions about where to go next.

I would not call myself a hot sauce connoisseur, and I have zero interest in the Scoville scale or growing my own ghost peppers. What makes me happiest is the life-affirming, distinctive taste of an off-the-charts spicy, deeply flavorful hot sauce, and while I haven’t met one I’d refuse, a select few have taken their place high above the rest.

Each has been discovered in its own appropriately dramatic way – a steamy and volatile relationship with a man from Guadalajara when I was 20, a second-story Hokkien restaurant in Kuala Lumpur with my husband on our first trip to Asia, and finally an event I used to believe existed only in my daydreams: a pig roast.

Even just two and a half years ago, it would have been beyond my wildest imagination to find myself at a neighborhood pig roast – with its sense of community; chatter and music that lasted well past dark; and vibrant, messy, delicious dishes brought by people arriving from all directions. Recently, a close friend said to me about me and my husband, both transplants from New York: “You’re not neighbor people, are you?”

Enter Jill Duson’s Hot and Spicy Slather. I met Jill’s hot sauce before I met Jill. (Jill Duson, who, it happens, is a Portland city councilor.) I spotted the bottle among at least 20 gracing one of the picnic tables, and went for it on sheer, primitive instinct. I have many favorites about Jill’s concoction, but the first is that it is not, in fact a sauce; it is a slather. When it comes to food, slathering is always good. The second is that it isn’t too sweet, the most common – and valid – complaint about any hot sauce. But here’s where it starts to go from really good to mind-altering.

Jill’s slather starts at the back of your tongue. A surprise tanginess, almost like tamarind, lifts like a fog off the rich darkness of the base. And just like that, you’re in, fully committed to the journey. What follows is an intense, almost charred heat – a mix of jalapeño and habanero – that lingers just long enough, then a burst of flavor, like the lid being lifted suddenly from the pot, and there, in that moment, it all comes together. The gentle acidity of the cider vinegar, the dark molasses, tempered by the Worcestershire, the sweet onion, the comforting yellow mustard, the light-as-air tomato puree.

Jill’s slather achieves what few hot sauces do: balance. Light and powerful, familiar and unique, present but not overbearing, sophisticated but not fussy, easygoing but full of depth.

Jill Duson’s Hot and Spicy Slather – one of the luckier chance encounters I’ve had since moving to Portland. And the pig roast? Try to snag yourself an invitation. Too many tastes there to write about for just one Bite.

Anna Stoessinger lives in Maine with her husband, Keith, her son, Henry, and their dog, Bess. She is a writer who works in advertising. She can be contacted at [email protected] or on Instagram: @astoessinger.

Jill Duson’s Hot and Spicy Slather – tangy, hot and not too sweet – achieves a balance not all manage to attain. Photo by Anna Stoessinger

HOT AND SPICY SLATHER

Duson likes Mohlok Grub Rub and says the sauce is best if allowed to rest overnight before using it.

VEGETABLE PUREE:

1/2 large sweet onion, such as Vidalia, chopped

3-4 cloves whole garlic

1 medium whole jalapeño pepper

1 small whole habanero pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon of your favorite barbecue rub, or salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Spread the vegetables in single layer on a small baking sheet. Sprinkle with olive oil, plus the rub or salt and pepper, and toss; roast for 30 minutes. Place in small smoothie container or a blender and purée.

BASIC SAUCE:

1 cup tomato puree

1 cup ketchup

¼ cup apple cider vinegar

¼ cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons dark molasses

2 tablespoons yellow mustard

1 tablespoon your favorite barbecue rub or 1/8 teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper

2 teaspoons liquid smoke

Combine all the ingredients in a large saucepan and bring to a slow boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat and stir in the vegetable puree. Gently simmer the mixture until it is dark and thick, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer to a glass container and refrigerate. When you’re ready to use it, smear generously on smoked or barbecued meat.