February 20, 2013

Some like it hot. Really hot. Really really really hot

By Noelle Carter / McClatchy Newspapers

Maybe it's the sense of danger that reels you in at first. The crazy name, the wild picture slapped on the bottle. Before you know it, you're on for the ride, and the best ones leave you reduced to a sweaty and speechless mess. When it's finally over, you can't help but want more.

Some like it hot. Really hot.
click image to enlarge

Red jalapeno chiles

Some like it hot. Really hot.
click image to enlarge

There is a world of possibilities for home cooks looking to unleash the pleasure-pain flame with their own hot sauces.

McClatchy Newspapers photos

Additional Photos Below

I'm talking about hot sauce, a virtual thrill ride for the taste buds. And for fans, nothing beats the feeling.

So what makes hot sauce so attractive? Blame it on the capsaicin, the chemical behind a chile's heat. When you eat hot sauce, or any chile-spiced foods, your mouth reacts to the capsaicin as if it's in pain, signaling the brain. Your body responds by releasing endorphins, much like it does with laughter, chocolate, stress and sex.

Pleasure and pain, conveniently packaged in a bottle. All I know is I can't get enough of the stuff. I have a collection at home and drizzle at least one sauce – more often two – over everything. A sure sign of a junkie, lately I've even taken to making my own.

It's amazingly simple. A puree of chiles and salt, thinned perhaps with vinegar or water, maybe a secret ingredient or blend of spices thrown in for good measure. Voila.

For a quick Sriracha-type sauce, take a pound of fresh red chiles – red Fresnos and jalapenos can generally be found year-round – and mash them with fresh garlic and salt, a touch of sugar and vinegar. A little love on the stove-top – simmering the mash helps to marry the flavors – then blend and strain the sauce, thinning as desired with water. The sauce literally comes together in minutes (as opposed to fermented hot sauces, which can take days, or more, to make). And while it tastes good right away, it gets even better after a day or two in the fridge.

Play around with the sauce to personalize it to your tastes, changing up chiles and flavorings. For a Caribbean jerk-inspired hot sauce, use the same method but switch out the Fresnos for Scotch bonnets or habaneros, rounding out the flavors with fresh ginger and green onion, lime, a blend of spices and a touch of dark rum. Playfully sweet and fruity at first, the heat will sneak up on you in the most wonderful way.

The variations are endless. Probably the hardest part to a great homemade hot sauce is giving your wonderfully potent creation a fitting name. I simply call mine "Shock in a Bottle."


Total time: 1 hour

Servings: Makes about 1 quart hot sauce.

Note: This sauce should be prepared in a well-ventilated area.

3 ounces dried New Mexico chiles

1½ ounces dried ancho chiles

1 ounce dried arbol chiles

½ ounce dried pequin chiles

8 to 12 cloves garlic

¼ to ½ teaspoon ground cloves

2 teaspoons dried oregano

2 teaspoons toasted whole cumin seeds, ground

2 teaspoons salt, more as desired

1 cup cider vinegar

¼ cup olive oil

1. Bring a kettle or large saucepan of water to boil.

2. Meanwhile, heat a large comal or skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Place a few chiles on the comal at a time, gently pressing to flatten. Leave the chiles just until aromatic, a few seconds, then turn them over and heat again until aromatic, careful not to burn (burning the chiles will make them bitter). Repeat until all of the chiles are heated; for the smaller chiles, shake them briefly in the comal to warm.

3. Stem the chiles and place them in a large bowl. Pour over boiling water to cover. Weight the chiles with a plate to keep them submerged, and set aside for 15 minutes until they are softened.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

Some like it hot. Really hot.
click image to enlarge

Habanero chiles

Some like it hot. Really hot.
click image to enlarge

New Mexico chiles

Some like it hot. Really hot.
click image to enlarge

Ancho chiles

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