Read time: 7 mins
Chilli sauce. It makes everything better. Although perhaps not depression, or chlamydia (untested), but it does help hangovers and that cold, horrible feeling that gnaws at the bones of us British in the Winter months. With £21m spent on chilli sauces in a year, it is an industry to be reckoned with </TheApprenticeVoice>.
Sadly, chilli and pepper sauces are fetishised by yawn-lads who are all like, ‘Yeah, bruh, this one is 10 million on the Scoville scale, watch, imma eat it like an apple on YouTube’. But just like with spice in curries, or the alcohol content of wine, it isn’t just about the punch. Flavour, yo. S’all about the flavour. Flavour which sometimes partly comes from the heat, but not solely about the heat.
Here are my top 6 favourite chilli and pepper sauces. And that isn’t to say there are no better sauces. These are just the sauces I can’t do without at home, the ones that I’ve arrived at as favourites. These 6 go with most things I eat or cook. Ok, so one is an oil.
Chilli sauce can make bland food brilliant and brilliant food better. It can also fuck that food up, but at your age, you should be aware that anything can ruin anything at any time anyway. So open the sauce and roll the dice. Here we go!
The spicy garlic goodness of Sriracha sauce
The first thing that hits you about Sriracha is how amazing it smells. This is not a sauce for a public sector committee meeting. A heady mix (I read that term in a wine review) of garlic and chilli hits your nose and the taste isn’t much different. This sauce comes to us from Thailand, made to a recipe that has been around since the 1930s. There is something wonderful about the squeezy, big bottle and the tiny little green plastic hole it fires out of, the sauce gloopy and runny, sort of the consistency of ketchup, but tasting oh so good.
What should you have Sriracha on? I tend to use the small nozzle/big bottle as some kind of decoration tool, zig-zagging spring rolls with the sauce. The best are those little chinese finger spring rolls. Sriracha goes great on chicken and vegetables and blasted all over what may be an otherwise bland stir-fry.
Sriracha do different variants, but I’ve only ever had the original. Have you had the others? Hit the comments and tell me if any of them are mind-blowing.
What does work well is warmed-up Sriracha – I put some in a pot and heat it a little – and what is a nice thing to try (but not for everyone) is mixing it with a bit of peanut butter as you do it, for a celebration of the best bits of a thai-type of thing.
Owl, Cholula, Cholula, Rabbit
The first thing you notice about Cholula is how goddamn runny it is. It is like it is excited to meet you and escape out of the bottle. Cholula comes in a few flavours, but Original and Chipotle are my favourites. Cholula is a Mexican hot sauce, made in a place called Chapala. Cholula is made with pequin peppers, whatever the hell they are, arbol peppers and spices. And hot-diggity damn, it tastes good. The flavour is kind of sub-Nandos in terms of hotness, but reminds me a little of the nicer things about the Portugese Peri-Peri sauce; hot but mellow, runny, tasty, versatile.
Cholula is my go-to sauce for burgers. Splash that Mexican deliciousness all over a cheeseburger, or a chicken burger. If I don’t have any Frank’s Red Hot (see below) in the house, Cholula ends up on the chicken too. If we’re having Mexican food like fajitas, Cholula is also the thing to use.
4. Frank’s Red Hot
This is a weird one, because there is something a bit crap about Frank’s Red Hot. A fairly crass looking brand with an unnatural-looking colour and fairly pungent stink to it, I was a bit unsure about it when I first had it. But jesus, it is nice.
I use Frank’s Red Hot exclusively for chicken and chicken soup (my girlfriend cooks chicken soup a lot and it is amazing in that). Frank’s is similar to Tabasco in ways (quite watery) but has a distinctive flavour that comes from the Cayenne pepper they use to produce it.
If you can’t find Frank’s in your supermarket, you can get some when you order a Dominos – the hot sauce Dominos group offers (at least in the UK) is Frank’s. Personal tip, however; Frank’s Red Hot Buffalo sauce didn’t taste good. Too buttery and nothing like Original. So if you see both in Costco in 1 gallon drums, go for Original maybe.
3. 고추장 (Gochujang)
Gochujang, my 2nd favourite Korean
There is nothing in the world like Gochujang. As a chilli or pepper sauce, it isn’t that ‘hot’, but in terms of flavour, it really stands out. If you’ve ever found yourself eating rice or Asian food (not just Korean) and wishing it had something more of a flavoursome kick, this is the sauce to try.
Gochujang is made from fermented soya beans (yum), salt, red chilli and glutinous rice. Wikipedia describes it as ‘pungent’, and it isn’t wrong; like lots of great tasting Korean foods (kimchi included), the smell can be as much of an experience as the taste.
I’m a huge fan of Korean food (which is good, considering my wife-to-be is a Korean person and also a great at making Korean food). Gochujang, together with a few other condiments from K-world, really work to make the food special and more delicious and most other Asian foods I’ve tried.
So what does Gochujang taste like? There is something quite strong (not necessarily hot, but strong) about it, almost like it tastes like you’re meant to water it down. The spice can build on you, but never overpowers, and there is something about it that really makes anything you eat it with just taste so much more delicious.
We eat Gochujang with Bibimbap (great recipe from my partner here) and I love it with BBQ’d beef, wrapped in lettuce. I’d also like to confess that I found a bag of chicken nuggets in the bottom of my freezer once. That’s right, folks; Gochujang even makes beige horror food better.
You can buy Gochujang at Korean and Japanese supermarkets, or, if you’re not in an area where you have one, you can probably order one from some nice Korean people on Amazon or eBay.
2. La-Yu Chili Oil
I love wasabi very much. I can’t really eat sushi without it, and I’m quite sure I am eating it ‘wrong’ (as in: not quite like how the Japanese might generally eat it). I know it might be wrong because it tastes just so good the way I eat it, and that is smeared all over the flat tops or sides of my maki or nigiri, then dunked in soya sauce.
One thing tastes better than wasabi and soya sauce on sushi, and that is La-Yu. While the rest of my favourites have been definite sauces, this is an oil, and a very delicious one.
The little bottle has a yellow cap that is about half the size of the bottle, and underneath it is a (at first) baffling little plastic button you have to press in for it to drip out over your food (upside down). The bottle doesn’t contain much, which makes me think it is precious when I use it. It also makes me buy two of them whenever I see them in a supermarket for sale. Each bottle has about 10 fluid ounces in it, but you really don’t need much; I drip-drop about 2-3 drops on a piece of sushi before I eat it, and it tastes great. This isn’t one for you if you don’t like the taste or feel of sesame oil, as that is essentially what La-Yu is. Because of this, you can use it to cook with too, turning a quick stir-fried rice or packet of prawns into an amazing tasting bomb of mouthlush.
In 1868, the first Tabasco was made, and people have been celebrating since. Whilst the order of the rest of my favourites is unordered, Tabasco is definitely #1 with a crown, for me, at least. It goes with everything, has a distinct (yet not overpowering) spice and taste, and is the most versatile of the sauces I mention.
An American hot sauce made in Louisiana, Tabasco is made with (drum roll) Tabasco peppers, named after the Mexican
state of Tabasco. Tabasco, often thought about as ‘the’ hot sauce or the hottest (I blame Tex Avery cartoons) is really quite tame by today’s sauce standards (the original, at least – if you’re after something more spicy, try the Habanero version).
I love Tabasco on fish, on potatoes, in soup and on vegetables. The watery nature of it makes it great for soups, and also makes it great for things like fish (breaded or otherwise) and chips, because they soak it up. I also use Tabasco to make hot mayo (just mix a splash with some run of the mill mayo). My favourite use for Tabasco, however, is probably predictably in a Bloody Mary. A well-made Bloody Mary is a beautiful thing and without Tabasco, it is just a bit of a slightly upset Mary instead.
In terms of variations of Tabasco, I’ve mentioned the Habanero (which I love, so hot and delicious and flavoursome), but if you want more delicious Tabasco adventures, try the Chipotle, Green pepper and Garlic flavours too. I picked up Chiptole and Green pepper at Tesco, but had to get the Garlic one from the US via eBay.
That’s my sauce adventure over with. Do you have a favourite? Do you also coo and mew over hot sauces? Leave a comment or find me on Twitter at @martynkelly, where I would love a good sauce talk.