We all know that chilli is addictive; the more you eat the more you become tolerant to the fire and want increasing amounts on everything. I have this ‘problem’. I want chilli pickle, chilli oil and every type of imported dried chilli I can get my hands on. I even bought a naga chilli plant (at Brockley Market), so that I can grow plenty of the hottest chillies in the world while simultaneously being too scared to eat them. When it comes to hot sauce though, it’s been a real personal mission. A great hot sauce can liven up just about any meal, be it jerk chicken with rice and peas (a must) or simply cheese on toast.
Everyone has at least one hot sauce in their cupboard, right? I think it’s a shame that so often that bottle is nothing more than a lonely Tabasco, a weeny thing that suggests fierce heat but doesn’t particularly deliver, despite having a pleasant peaty flavour. It has its place, which is often at the back of the cupboard where it sits unloved for years sporting an orange crust betwixt bottle and fiddly green cap.
The best hot sauces make you pause before dinner and think, ‘I wonder if I could get away with a blob of X on this?’ and they make you push the boundaries of your tolerance; we’ve all enthusiastically scooped up a massive blob – ‘I can take it!’ – only to be reduced to a snivelling wreck. A good hot sauce will make you crave, crave, crave. I’ve tried a LOT of varieties in recent years and these are the ones I think find the right balance between their position on the Scoville Scale and flavour. A hot sauce shouldn’t simply be very hot, you see (I’ve tried ‘Death Sauce‘ and found it unbearable); it should have depth, sweetness, acidity, salt and it should capture the flavour of the chilli in question. It’s a big ask. Here are my favourites, in no particular order:
1. ‘No Joke’ [see www.nojokepeppersauce.co.uk. £3.25 + pp for 170ml. You’ll need to e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to order some, for the moment – new website coming soon. Follow the creator, Susanna on Twitter at @nojokepepper].
‘No Joke’ hot sauce (‘created in Trinidad, hand-made in Cumbria’), the newest addition to my cupboard, winged its way to me via food writer Adam Coghlan (his girlfriend’s mum makes it). I’ve tried a lot of scotch bonnet-based sauces in my time and this is one of the best. It has a jammy consistency, with a pure scotch bonnet flavour offset by the sweet, sour and spicy notes of papaya, lime and ginger. The heat pulls no punches but is balanced by the sugar and spicing. A truly tropical-tasting hot sauce.
Londoners have been going crazy for this sauce, and rightly so. It comes from the kitchen of Mark Gevaux (The Rib Man) and was apparently named ‘Holy Fuck’ because that’s what people say when they first taste it. He uses scotch bonnet and a smaller amount of bhut jolokia or naga, the world’s hottest chilli. It does, of course, pack serious burn but somehow – possibly through some kind of sorcery – Mark has managed to capture the rich, fruity perfume of the chillies. There is no other hot sauce with a comparable flavour; it’s truly addictive. A lot of sweetness balances out the heat and I wonder if he uses ketchup in the mix. It has the most incredible thick texture, too. I’m not sure I can ever be without a bottle.
3. Tan Rosie Garlic and Pepper Sauce [£4.00 for 250ml, available from www.tanrosie.com]
I came across this one thanks to a tip-off on Twitter. It’s made to a family recipe by Tan Rosie foods (based in Birmingham) who advertise it as a ‘true taste of the Caribbean’. Phewee! Yeah, this is a hot one all right. Despite the heat which, for me, hangs just on the right side of searing, the flavour of scotch bonnets is so incredibly pure. It does border slightly on frustrating, because I always want more of the flavour with a little less of the heat but I can’t help going back for more. I’d choose ‘No Joke’ over Tan Rosie if it came down to it, but a great one to have in the cupboard nonetheless; it’s livened up many a mediocre jerk chicken, although the jerk pictured below was fantastic (from Caribbean Spice Jerk Centre – my favourite until it got taken over by new management recently. So sad).
4. Frank’s Original and Frank’s Extra Hot [you can buy 148ml bottles of Frank’s in major branches of Tesco, Sainsbury’s and through Ocado for £1.49 a bottle and at Waitrose for £1.59 a bottle].
I came across this American brand of hot sauce when I first made hot wings back in the summer. The classic buffalo wings recipe uses equal quantities of Frank’s and melted butter (although these days I’m inclined to skew that ratio a little); one batch and I was hooked. My favourite to date was this pile of hickory-smoked, Frank’s and butter slathered beauties (below). Phwoar. Frank’s is a mild sauce (even the extra hot, which is below Tabasco on the Scoville Scale) but it has a lovely flavour, made as it from a mixture of aged cayenne peppers.
I also love it sprinkled over my poached eggs in the morning. It’s mild enough for 8am in my book.
Those are my favourites, but I want to hear yours. Does Sriracha warm your cockles? What about Encona? Are you a hard core Death Sauce fanatic? I’d like to find some new varieties to try so please do let me know in the comments.