By David Walters. Illustrations by: May van Millingen.
Hot sauce, like any religion, inspires evangelical devotion and the occasional spirited argument. We asked a handful of chefs to tell us which spicy concoction puts the fire in their bellies.
The chef: Travis McShane, chef and partner at Adele’s in Nashville The sauce: Salsa Lizano The endorsement: “This is the go-to at my house. I discovered it on a friends trip to Tamarindo, Costa Rica. On the first night, we hired a local chef to come to our house and prepare a local dinner, and every course was served with two versions of Lizano: classic salsa and chilero. The classic is sweet and tangy with just enough heat and is best with grilled veggies and rice. The chilero is much hotter and goes great with meats, eggs, and tacos. The best way to get it: Take a trip to Central America and load up a bag. I brought back six bottles.” ed note: Don’t buy a plane ticket yet; it’s also available on [Amazon.]
The chef: Cheetie Kumar, owner and head chef of Garland in Raleigh, NC The sauce: Sambal Oelek chili paste The endorsement: “We hardly use any bottled hot sauces at Garland, but we always have Sambal Oelek on hand. I love the balance of heat, acidity, and the natural deep flavor of the chili peppers. It plays well with sauces made with tamarind, citrus, and peanuts, and it’s also a nice addition to broths. Like any good condiment, a little goes a long way. We serve it on the side of our Lamian noodles with grilled ribeye, and we’ve even used it in our Thai chile shrub cocktail. I’ll take it over Sriracha every time.”
The chef: AJ Walker, chef de cuisine at Publican Anker in Chicago The sauce: Poblano Hot Sauce Inc.’s green jalapeño sauce The endorsement: “This is by far the best hot sauce I’ve ever had. When Publican Quality Meats was first opening, we brought in different products from around the country to decide what was going on the shelf. This one blew us all away. Green hot sauce has a fresh taste that red ones don’t always have. It’s not as acidic as Tabasco or as spicy as Tapatío; it has a sneaky heat that doesn’t blow your face off—the spice doesn’t catch up until a few bites in, and it never gets overpowering. It’s my go-to condiment for a breakfast sandwich, and I’ll also use it in stews, vinaigrettes, and marinades.”
The chef: Alon Shaya, chef and partner at Shaya, Domenica, and Pizza Domenica in New Orleans The sauce: Woodberry Kitchen’s Snake Oil hot sauce The endorsement: “The first time I tried Snake Oil, I was cooking with [Woodberry Kitchen’s] Chef Spike Gjerde for the Food & Wine festival in Atlanta. We were cramped into this little kitchen, standing next to each other slicing and dicing. Once he realized I was a fan of his, he pulled out a bottle of the sauce and gave it to me as a gift. I couldn’t wait to get home and try it. I’ll always be loyal to Tabasco at Shaya, but now I always keep a bottle of Snake Oil at home. It has a great spice and vinegar balance. Whenever I want to mix it up a little, I’ll drizzle some on red beans and rice or over scrambled eggs with fresh garden herbs.”
The chef: Adam Schop, executive chef of Miss Lily’s in New York City and consulting chef at Rockhouse Hotel in Negril, Jamaica The sauce: Spur Tree Jamaican Crushed Scotch Bonnet pepper sauce The endorsement: “We use this sauce at Miss Lily’s and I’m obsessed with it. What I love about it is that it can be used as a condiment for spicing up a finished plate or as a seasoning for sauces, stews, and braises. It has a tropical, fruity flavor that captures the essence of the scotch bonnet in raw form, both its fragrant seasoning and its heat. And it isn’t clouded by many other ingredients—it’s basically crushed chiles and cane sugar vinegar. I used it to spice up most of my meals, but judging heat level is always highly subjective. It creates a light sweat behind my ears… that’s manageable for me.”
And some effusive praise for five sauces you already know…
Cholula “I love it so much that I have a tattoo of the Cholula woman as Jesus holding a sacred taco to pay tribute to the spice gods.” – Erica Abell, executive chef of Boneyard Bistro in Sherman Oaks, CA.
Tabasco “Tabasco is the quintessential hot sauce. All others bow before it, then try to copy it. I’ve had a lifelong relationship with it; it was a foul-language deterrent when I was a child, and it evolved into a seasoning component in multi-starred restaurant kitchens.” – Terrence Gallivan, chef and co-owner of The Pass & Provisions in Houston
Frank’s Red Hot “It’s the best, hands down. I love the acidity, and it has just enough heat and salt to keep me honest. I’ll eat Frank’s with anything fried. I love it as a base and as a marinade mix with yogurt.” – Dale Talde, chef and partner at Talde in Brooklyn and Massoni and Rice & Gold in New York City
Tapatío “The easy answer is Sriracha, but people literally put that shit on everything. I’m not one to judge, but when is enough enough? I will admit my Latino bias but, in my opinion, Tapatío is the most balanced. It has incredible acidic value with the perfect amount of spice and works perfectly with tacos, eggs, and sandwiches. If I could own stock in it, I would.” – Michael Barrera, chef at Townhouse Detroit
Crystal “There are few subjects I feel as passionate about. Full disclosure: It’s made in my hometown of New Orleans, so I’m not exactly impartial. Still, nothing else I’ve tried does what it does. Whatever you put Crystal on, it still tastes like itself, only hotter and better. It’s more of a seasoning and less of a blunt instrument. They’ve also started making Crystal Extra Hot, which is even better.” – Aaron Harsha, chef at Lady’s in Brooklyn
This story originally appeared on Bon Appetit.
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