Updated August 2010.
Once upon a time, there lived a maiden so afraid of spicy food that nary a Szechuan dumpling, nor a bite of chicken with Thai red curry sauce, nor a nacho's worth of salsa ever passed her lips.
In her kitchen, a bottle of Tabasco hot sauce filled the space on the spice rack where hot sauce is supposed to be, though the maiden's specimen was aging slowly from red to brown, separating in the bottle and gathering dust.
Then, one day, the maiden and Ted and Cousin Martin traveled to New Orleans. She tasted jambalaya and blackened catfish, po' boys and shrimp caught fresh in the Gulf of Mexico. She visited Avery Island, the temple of Tabasco, where she walked up and down the rows of pepper plants, breathing in the aroma of pepper and vinegar.
There was hot sauce everywhere, and the maiden fell in love.
Louisiana-style hot sauce, the most popular in the United States, is made from chile peppers, vinegar and salt. Nothing more. The peppers are mashed, salt is added, and the mixture is transferred to oak barrels to age for up to three years. Then it's strained, and diluted with vinegar.
The heat of the peppers, which comes from the capsaicin present in the seeds and ribs, determines the strength of the sauce. The maiden who once feared Tabasco (2,500 to 5,000 Scoville units) now uses Dave's Insanity Sauce (180,000 Scoville units!). Sometimes she mixes a few sauces, including Rhode Island Red, which is a full-flavored, tomato-based sauce.
Hot sauce is super-healthy, with hardly any calories or fat. Some brands have a few carbs, and all have some sodium -- approximately 2 milligrams of sodium per shake of the bottle.
Even though her hot sauce could stay in the pantry for up to five years without refrigeration, it never lasts that long, because these days the maiden puts it in everything from bean soup to Buffalo wings.
Mardi Gras has come and gone, but this Creole dish forever reminds me of my first visit to New Orleans. Make etouffee (pronounced eh-two-FAY) with crawfish tails instead of the shrimp, if you're lucky enough to have crawfish (or buy online and support the Louisiana economy). Serves 4; can be doubled.
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
3 cups chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
2 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp minced fresh basil
1 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp kosher salt, or more to taste
1 tsp sweet paprika
1/2 tsp Tabasco or other mild to medium hot sauce
1-1/4 cup shrimp stock or chicken stock
1 lb peeled medium shrimp (31-40 per pound)
1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions
1 Tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
Set a large heavy Dutch oven over medium heat. Melt the butter, add the flour and make a roux the color of peanut butter (this is called a medium roux). Add the onion, celery and bell pepper. Cook until the onions are translucent and the celery and pepper are tender. Add the garlic, basil, black pepper, cayenne, salt and paprika, and cook for two minutes. Stir in the hot sauce and stock, and bring to a gentle boil. Add the shrimp, scallions and parsley. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve over steamed rice.
Other recipes that use hot sauce:
Buffalo wings, from Simply Recipes
Tabasco and asparagus quinoa, from 101 Recipes
Pomegranate barbecue sauce, from Cooking with Amy
Cilantro-lovers perfect guacamole with red onion, lime, and chiles, from Kalyn's Kitchen
Cholula cheese bread, from Baking and Books
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