Hot sauce (Recipe: lentils and brown rice)
For as long as I can remember, I've had a bottle of Tabasco hot sauce in my pantry.
For many years, it was the same bottle.
Not the twelve-ounce bottle you see here.
I used to buy the little two-ounce supermarket standard, and those two ounces would sit on the shelf for a few years, until the sauce turned brown and gunky. I'd throw it out, and buy another little bottle, and start the cycle all over again. No matter what a recipe called for, I never used more than a drop at a time. Sometimes I just left out the hot sauce altogether. I was afraid of the heat.
Then Ted and my cousin Martin and I visited New Orleans, and followed our noses to the McIlhenny headquarters on Avery Island, where the unmistakeable aroma of peppers and vinegar seeped in through the car's vents long before we actually arrived at the Tabasco factory building.
I got hooked.
Yes, friends, today I am a hot sauce junkie. I'm convinced everything tastes better with a little bit of heat — sometimes with a lot of heat. My hot sauce of choice is still Tabasco (I go through a twelve-ouncer every month), though each of the sauces in my pantry adds a slightly different flavor and heat intensity to my cooking.
The process of making hot sauce from peppers, vinegar and salt is simple. The hot peppers are picked as soon as they ripen to the perfect shade of bright red. The same day the peppers are picked, they're mashed, mixed with a small amount of salt, placed in wooden barrels, and allowed to ferment and age. When that process is completed, the mash is strained and diluted with vinegar.
Rhode Island Red Hot Sauce incorporates all of the flavors of Rhode Island's famed Italian cooking: tomatoes, carrots, onion. The homemade hot sauce from the Turquoise Mining Museum in Cerrillos, New Mexico, was a real find; made with the same ingredients as Tabasco, it has a deeper, more-pepper-less-vinegar quality. Tabasco (a trademarked name referring not to the type of sauce, but to the region in Mexico where the peppers are said to originate) is the easiest to find and the standard against which all other hot sauces are measured. I'm a purist, but if you prefer chipotle, sweet-hot, or jalapeño flavored hot sauce, go for it. And don't forget to combine; I often temper the vinegar of Tabasco with the thickness of Rhode Island Red.
If you're serious about hot sauce, it may be time to start your own life list. Mine: Tabasco, Rhode Island Red, Dave's Insanity, Hotter Than Hell, Schnitzius, Cholula, Lake Chapala, Melinda's XXXX, Inner Beauty, Pain is Good, Mo Hotta.... and some too-hot-to-handle homemade stuff from our homestay host in Trinidad.
What's on your hot sauce life list?
Lentils and brown rice
Another weekend "pantry dump" that became a favorite. It's a great recipe for using up leftovers. Serves 6.
1 cup lentils
1 cup brown rice
6 cups liquid (water, or a mix of chicken stock and water)
1 bay leaf
2 tsp dried oregano
8 oz tomato sauce
1 large onion, sliced
2 carrots, sliced
1/3 cup smoky barbeque sauce, or more to taste
1 Tbsp hot sauce, or more to taste
1/2 lb sliced mushrooms, any kind
optional: 1 cup chopped chicken breast, or 3/4 pound peeled and deveined shrimp, or 1 cup leftover shredded chicken breast, or 1 cup roasted vegetables, or 1/2 cup sliced cooked sausage
In a stockpot, bring lentils, rice and liquid to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook for 30 minutes. Add tomato sauce, bay leaf, oregano, onions, carrots and Grandma McBride's and cook, covered for 15 minutes. Add chicken, shrimp or sausage, and mushrooms. Continue cooking 20 minutes or until everything is tender, and the finished dish is quite thick. If you need more liquid to keep it from sticking to the pot, add water a Tbsp at a time.