Simply put, I am a hot sauce slut. I put it on everything, from scrambled eggs to deli sandwiches to a brief flirtation with sriracha on sliced peaches (the hus-b is still horrified). The guys at Marina Deli (one of my favorite San Francisco haunts even though they perpetually mess up my order) interpreted my affinity for hot sauce as a challenge, culminating in one particular vegetarian sandwich so drenched in electric green El Yucateco sauce that tears streamed down my face within a matter of bites (I admitted defeat and they’ve respected me ever since).
But as any hot sauce connoisseur well knows, there is no such thing as an all-purpose sauce (the inexplicable frat boy devotion to Tapatio notwithstanding). Indeed, there is an ideal hot sauce for nearly every dish, and believe me, I’ve pretty much tried them all. Here’s P&V’s list of our favorite purveyors and uses of liquid fire:
Crystal Hot Sauce. A tried and true Louisiana-style classic made from fresh cayenne peppers, Crystal Hot Sauce has a mellow heat and distinctive vinegar-y kick (I like to think of it as Tabasco’s spunky country cousin).
Our favorite uses? Breakfast *anything* (insane on a fried egg and bacon breakfast sandwich) and fried dishes like fish tacos or old fashioned buttermilk fried chicken.
Harissa. A spicy condiment of North-African origin, Harissa can vary vastly depending on the recipe, with some incorporating coriander and garlic but the key ingredients always remaining chiles and olive oil. The consistency can also vary, with some blended into a smooth sauce and packaged in a toothpaste-like tube (such as La Cabanon) and others sold as a chunky paste (arguably the more authentic preparation).
Our favorite uses? Stirred into Greek-style yogurt for a cooling condiment on tajine dishes, blended into ketchup (“harissa-spiked ketchup” sounds so much more dignified as part of your game day buffet), and whisked with olive oil and fresh lemon juice for a brilliantly simple chicken marinade.
Cholula Hot Sauce. It would be impossible to talk about hot sauce without entering the heated Tapatio vs. Cholula fray. Both are taquerîa staples and have their ardently devoted (the polite way to call someone insane) fans. Our two cents? Cholula is fresher tasting and has flavor as well as heat, whereas Tapatio just goes for the jugular with spice and little finesse.
Our favorite uses? Burritos (duh) and pretty much any Mexican dish are improved by a healthy dose of Cholula. Totally acceptable on a breakfast sandwich when you don’t have any Crystal or sriracha on hand.
Sriracha. While sriracha began as a traditional Thai condiment, the American-made chile paste of the same name is an electric red, intensely spicy sauce that has catapulted to popularity in recent years (even being named one of the “ingredients of the year” by Bon Appétit in 2010). Sriracha is a darling of chefs across the culinary spectrum, being a fixture on the tables of tiny Vietnamese phở joints as well as a favored condiment of James Beard-recognized chefs like Jean Gorges Vongerichten and Daniel Patterson.
Our favorite uses? Stirred into soups (including the aforementioned phở, which just isn’t as delicious if it’s not bright red), and drizzled atop just about any kind of takeout, from Thai fried rice to grilled chicken and potatoes from Il Pollaio (one of the hus-b’s and my favorite weeknight go-to’s). I also can’t wait to try it in a homemade bloody mary once the little lady makes her exit!
Baron’s West Indian Hot Sauce. The hus-b and I discovered Baron’s spectacular West Indian Hot Sauce on our honeymoon in St Lucia. Upon requesting hot sauce to accompany our breakfast (per usual), we were brought a minuscule dish of tangerine-colored sauce and were soberly warned that it was very, very spicy (clearly unaware of our penchant for challenges). It was pretty much love at first taste, and we ended up requesting the scotch bonnet, vinegar and mustard seed-based sauce at nearly every meal (and the same warning was repeated. Every. Single. Time.)
Our favorite uses? Hands-down, the most insane burger condiment we’ve ever tasted. Our resort served it atop steak burgers on fresh grilled buns (seriously, a bowl of dough sat next to the beach side grill), which we found especially brilliant when paired with a banana daiquiri to put out the three-alarm fire (and yes, we can’t hear “banana daiquiri” without thinking of poor Fredo in The Godfather: Part II either).
Melindas Scotch Bonnet Habanero Pepper Hot Sauce. This is some of the spiciest hot sauce on the market, which is reason enough to adore it, but it is also the closest the hus-b and I have come to a domestic version of the Baron’s sauce we fell in love with in St. Lucia. Now that we have the good stuff readily available and free of any emphatic warning messages, we’ve experimented with it on, oh, just about everything.
Our favorite uses? Drizzled on eggs — an absolute home run on a soft scramble — as well as added to deli sandwiches and as a condiment to anything grilled — burgers, chicken, fish — where the slight sweetness pairs beautifully with the smokiness imparted by the grill.