Friday, 23 May 2014

The top five - Notes from the 2nd annual New York Hot Sauce Expo

Another great report from Buzz (our Englishman abroad).  Click 'ere to read his first report from the 2nd annual New York Hot Sauce Expo...


Notes from the 2nd annual New York Hot Sauce Expo


As promised, here’s my run-down of my five favourite hot sauce stands at the Expo. That’s not to say the other forty or so folk doing their thing don’t merit mention: so many good people, good ideas, and ultimately, good sauces. But too many to list. So thanks to everyone doing their bit to keep it spicy!

And without further ado, the Top Five:

1. Puckerbutt: My first stop on the proverbial Hot Sauce Expo train. The company lays claim to creating the Smokin’ Ed’s Carolina Reaper, 2013’s hottest chili. Wonderful South Carolina folk who knew their stuff and were keen to recommend a sauce for any taste or occasion. I plumped for a bottle of their Purgatory sauce, a searing hot number (though definitely not their hottest) with a deep, smoky, flavour and a heat that takes over the mouth and lingers, in a way that borders on the unpleasant but manages to remain satisfying.

2. Torchbearer: Wow. A veritable plethora of sauces. The sauce samples on their stand were lined up in heat order: from the very mildest upwards. Each one packed with flavour. The sky was indeed the limit for these guys, too. Every single one was delicious in its own way, from the self explanatory Oh My Garlic! to the outrageous The Rapture, which claims to be the hottest natural sauce in the world. I have no problem believing that. My choice, the Zombie Apocalypse, was a step down from this: full of Bhut Jolokia peppers and insanely hot, but irresistibly tasty. The fact they only sold this in bottles half the size of regular ones tells you all you need to know.

3. Whitehouse Station: This might just be the pick of the bunch for me. Straight-up, simple habanero hot sauce. Sweet, tangy, with all that delicious habanero flavour. It’s hot, but not intimidating, or even overbearing. It leaves a lovely tingle on the palate without ever taking over. All about the flavour: none of that “my sauce is hotter than yours” willy-waving (which, on balance, has its place, but isn’t the be-all-and-end-all). What I really like about these guys is that they don’t mess around: they make just the one product and they’ve really worked on making this as good as it could be. I could tell by talking to the owner that this sauce was a true labour of love. I suppose if you’re going to live or die on the power of a single product then it needs to be! Top marks.

4. High River Sauces: Now this was interesting. The owner had melded a career in the music industry with a passion for the culinary arts, publishing a recipe anthology entitled “Mosh Potatoes”, charting favourite recipes from the biggest bands in hard rock and heavy metal. He was showcasing a hot sauce, called the Grapes of Wrath, created by some bloke from a band called Trans-Siberian Orchestra who, shamefully, I had never heard of. The sauce was good though. As were the rest. My take-home was a bottle of Foo Foo Mama Choo, another Smokin’ Ed’s Carolina Reaper-heavy recipe. Not nearly as hot as the Purgatory, although it still has a serious kick; the burn creeps up and takes over the mouth in much the same way. What really sets this sauce apart from the rest is the fresh ginger, which gives it a delicious, clean, fresh flavour that adds real zip up front but goes as deep as the heat.

5. Defcon: Strictly speaking, not a hot sauce, but the chap behind these delightful wing sauces and horseradishes certainly takes his spicy seriously. Dressed as what I might describe as some kind of post-Mad Max dystopian cyber villain (replete with those weird contact lenses that make your eyes all white except for the black dot in the middle), he gave us the lowdown on his selection in his own inimitable way. The Habby Horse horseradish was satisfyingly sinus scorching as well as having that inimitable habanero kick; the Defcon #1 Buffalo wing sauce kicked the crap out of anything I’ve ever had in the bars of New York. And as a man with a nigh-on crippling addiction to Buffalo wings, that’s high praise indeed. It had a depth of flavour that went way beyond the usual synthetic and salty Frank’s Red Hot sauce that you’ll find most wings doused in (I realise this might be lost on many of you unfamiliar with the US. If you ever make it to NY, I’d be more than happy to show you the Way of the Wing). That unmistakable tangy flavour has its place, and isn’t altogether unpleasant, but I wouldn't be upset if Defcon’s blends became just as ubiquitous as Frank’s. Far from it.

Link to these vendors, and more:

My hot sauce haul!

Ian "Buzz" Burrows

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Chilango 100% Habanero Chillis Chilli Sauce

Chilango have won awards for making the best burritos in London, and you know what?  They deserve them.  In other posts on this blog I've ranted about English restaurants making American and Mexican food as if someone had described the dish to the chef over the phone at three in the morning (when the chef didn't have a notepad to hand).

The absolute worst burrito I ever had in the UK was one served to me in an expensive Mexican restaurant in Bath; apart from the fact it was smaller than a Sparrow's sock it was served in the middle of a puddle of gravy.  Oh my.  I assume two pages of their recipe book had got stuck together, resulting in a heinous burrito / shepherd's pie abomination.

Chilango Burritos - worth the hype?

Well I could make this a really short review and simply say YES, but then that wouldn't be very entertaining would it?  The burritos are the size of a child's head, full of fantastic fresh and tasty ingredients are warm, zingy and just about the most perfect burritos ever.  The staff are all gently friendly and very cheerfully guide each customer though the process of building their own burrito (sort of like Subway... but good).  They're not the cheapest, but if you've wondering why you've never had a burrito that's so good it verges on being a religious experience maybe that's because you've been pre-judging restaurants on price alone?  If you don't want to spend money on food then stick to sandwiches from petrol stations and accept that you're living your culinary life in black and white.

Chilango 100% Habanero Chillis Chilli Sauce

One of my favourite things about Chilango is their own-brand hot sauces; there's a 'standard heat' chilli sauce that hits quite raw high-notes but is quite reasonable with it, but the sauce that we really adore is their 100% Habanero sauce.  Made in Mexico by demigods (we assume) this Red Habanero has the slightly thick viscosity of a Sriracha, but is much less over-powering and (dare we say it) artificial tasting.  The burn sits deliciously in the middle of your tongue and rolls along for a perfect length of time without out-staying it's welcome.

As far as I can tell this remarkable sauce can only be bought in branches of Chilango, so if you take our tip and pop in to try one of the best burritos you'll ever eat then it's worth shelling out a fiver for your own bottle.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

The highlights - Notes from the 2nd annual New York Hot Sauce Expo

Another great report from Buzz (our Englishman abroad).  Click 'ere to read his first report from the 2nd annual New York Hot Sauce Expo...


Notes from the 2nd annual New York Hot Sauce Expo


I’ve been agonising over how to sum up a day of tasting easily over a hundred different hot sauces, wing sauces, horseradishes, bloody Mary mixes and seasonings, and there’s no way I could list them all and recount vividly my reaction to each. So here’s what I decided to do: firstly, here follows a series of observations and highlights of the whole Hot Sauce Expo experience. And subsequently, a Top Five of what I consider to have been the most memorable, and most delicious, sauces. Essentially, these were the ones I felt compelled to take home with me!

Dear reader, I offer you these snippets and observations, by way of summary:

It is possible to build up a worrisome tolerance. The jalapeno-bacon-cheese chips (courtesy of Deano’s Jalapenos) that I bought tasted fairly innocuous when sampled at the Expo. I have since discovered that they have quite a kick! They nonetheless come very highly recommended, and act both as an interesting topping and a handy snack. Although, nothing prepares the human body for the onslaught of the spiciest of the spicy, as my post detailing my brush with the fine folk of Voodoo Chile will testify.

What I considered to be quite unfair was the complete lack of anything on hand to temper the chili heat – no milk, no yoghurt, no other such concoctions designed to calm the spicy beast. There were free cheese samples: spicy cheese. Spicy cheese? Heavens above. For better or for worse, there was always beer, provided by the outstanding Lagunitas Brewery.

People are stupid. But when this stupidity is harnessed for the entertainment of others, it can readily be overlooked. The participants in both the wing-eating and spicy pizza-eating contests of course deserve high praise for their commitment to the cause. By, my lord, what idiots. Braver/hardier/foolisher (delete as applicable) souls than I, for sure. But all’s fair in the name of entertainment, and entertained we were. In fairness though, I suppose the same applies to those who were willing to put themselves through a day of tasting hot sauces in the name of fun, ergo everyone who paid the $12 to get through the door…yours truly included.

Stupid people.

 It was a great day out, for aficionados such as myself and for the hot sauce novice such as my friend’s mother who, despite travelling 200 miles from New England, didn’t begrudge the fact that she was spending a rare trip to NYC in a room full of nutjob spice fiends, and even looked like she was enjoying herself! That said, it was pelting it down outside – she could have just been happy not to be soaked through. An impressive mix of people of all ages, from all walks of life, in one room, with at least one thing in common (I’m going to assume I don’t have to spell out what that one thing is). A special experience.

The following day, everything tasted weird. Not spicy, just strange. Even water had a bizarre flavour to it. My taste buds had been well and truly annihilated.

All in all, ridiculous. Fun. Entertaining. A learning experience. I certainly feel that I’ve been given plenty to think about, more than I thought possible. After all, it’s just a bunch of sauces made from peppers, right?! Great conversations about cultivating chilies, hot sauce recipe tips, different types of pepper and the nuances of their respective flavours, the merits of sampling tinctures not recommended for human consumption, how starting a hot sauce company wasn’t an obvious career choice, obligatory questions about my out-of-place accent and many more besides. All being well I’ll be there again next year. It might take that long to truly recover.

Ian "Buzz" Burrows

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Chilli Drops - BollyGood

The fact that the bottle is half-empty after two doses should give you an idea of how we feel about this hot sauce straight off the bat.  A quick quint at the label tells the tale of a sauce trying to be a bit like a cheerful evening at your local curry house.  We approve, we've had a go at making a sauce like this ourselves (see our 'Profanity Hot Sauce' recipe) but found that echoing the spices that one might put in a home-cooked curry a bit too overpowering.  Overall we like sauces to compliment food, not dominate it.

The coriander, garlic and turmeric in this 'BollyGood' sauce would be core ingredients in something like jalfrezi, but the lack of cumin dials back the crazy to a level that hits the notes that curry-influenced sauces so often miss.

The initial taste is very recognisable as the pleasant lingering trace-tastes you get maybe half an hour after finishing a really nicely done curry(ish) dish.  The heat is there, but quite gently, this is a sauce that is all about the taste.  Some of the heat comes from added mustard, but it has been added in low enough amounts (we're guessing) so as not to overly influence the taste.  To taste the polar-opposite of the BollyGood mild-mustard hit you might like to try something like the 'Rectum Ripper' sauce we featured a few weeks ago.

As with a lot of our sauce tests we first tried the Chilli Drops 'BollyGood' sauce on a decent cheddar and Carrs plain crackers, and like with all the sauces we try (and love) we were keen to try it on something a little more demanding.  Last night we slathered a veg and rice stir-fry in BollyGood and it worked really well, we would have also added some of the Chilli Drops 'Smoky Naga' but we've nearly run out of that just a few days after cracking it open!

Back when we started 'Hot Sauce UK' we were of the opinion that at least 75% of the hot sauce available in the UK was tomato-based, it's chuffin' brilliant to review sauces like BollyWood that prove that tomatoes are not the only fruit that matters when it comes to making delicious sauces.

Get it direct -

P.S The label says 'shake me drop me do me!' - no idea what that's all about.

VOODOO CHILE - Notes from the 2nd annual New York Hot Sauce Expo

We started this food blog to focus on the hot sauces available here in the UK, so it might surprise you to see some reports from across the pond.  Our mate Buzz is living in New York and offered to send over a few reviews for the hot sauce-related experiences he's having while living in the USA.  So Buzz's guest posts are written from outside the UK they are very much an Englishman's perspective.  We are HUGELY grateful to Buzz for taking the time to write these posts, please follow him on Twitter, you won't be disappointed!  Photos on this page were taken by Buzz; he's a bit of all-rounder!


Notes from the 2nd annual
New York Hot Sauce Expo


“It’ll last around ten to twelve minutes”, he said as he produced an unmarked vial from a leather pouch on his belt and proceeded to measure a mere teardrop of sauce on to my outreached plastic spoon. I had already experienced the hellfire of CaJohn’s Black Mamba, the tear-inducing agony of Tom’s Roid Rippin’ Crimson Reaper and the sheer searing scourge of Volcanic Peppers’ Olympus Mons, all of which were well into the millions on the Scoville range. It wasn’t like I hadn’t already spent all day subjecting myself to these and many more intensely hot, though intensely delicious, concoctions. I thought I was ready. But Voodoo Chile’s offering was a different beast altogether. Having sampled a few of their tamer offerings, including the positively delectable Porcus Infernum (bacon-infused hot sauce? Yes please!), it was time to get down to business. I had made it my mission to sample the hottest hot sauces known to mankind. This sort of opportunity didn’t readily present itself all that often.

The man behind the stand couldn’t put a finger on exactly how hot his latest tincture was – somewhere in the 9-12 million Scoville ballpark was his educated guess. He also mentioned that the stuff was not, and probably would never be, available for purchase. He certainly wasn’t doing anything to encourage me that taking a sample was a good idea. Quite the opposite, in fact. That should have served as a more than adequate warning. But no. I insisted: I wanted to go to the “next level”.

Black Mamba. 6 million of your finest SHUs...

As I unleashed the sauce upon my taste buds, I felt that unmistakable tingle on my tongue – though without any of the flavours or nuances that, as any discerning hot head would agree, make the whole experience worthwhile. The kind man was talking me through the various stages I’d encounter on my “trip”: two to three minutes of gradually building heat working its way to the back of the throat, followed by a couple of minutes of sustained heat. After which, the spice would spend the next few minutes coming and going in waves, eventually tailing off…as he was describing this experience to me I could feel nothing but pain; my nose and eyes were streaming, my throat throbbing and tightening up to such an extent I was gasping for air. There was a point at which I genuinely thought it was never going to end.

In the midst of all this, and hitherto unbeknownst to me, a small crowd had started to gather to witness what can only be described as total hot sauce meltdown, seemingly taking pleasure in my misadventure. At this point, I hastily took off for the nearest bathroom, hoping to expel the build-up of nasty stuff in my nose and to put my head under the tap for a good few minutes. Alas, no. A queue for the gents. A QUEUE! The well-drilled Brit that I am, I stood patiently in line, desperately trying my best to act as if everything was quite alright, whilst reassuring myself that this is probably one of the few occasions where it is acceptable for grown men to be seen crying in public, and noting that I had reached “the waves” stage: relative relief as the spicy surge abated, only for it to come back stronger each time. My body was shaking. My temperature going hot and cold, sweat rushing down my face, in unison with the snot and tears. A certain numbness had come over me, although I was still in pure agony. The end had to be near – to the queue and to the suffering. And sure enough, it was over just as quickly as it had started. By the time I had made it to the front of the line, my desperation had suddenly subsided, the onslaught was over and the fire in my throat was slowly but surely fading to glowing embers. It seemed to last a lifetime, but a glance at my watch confirmed that around ten minutes had elapsed; my ordeal was over. On to the next one.

Links to these purveyors of fine hot sauces and other such spicy products:

Ian "Buzz" Burrows

Want more?  Read Buzz's second report from the New York Hot Sauce Expo...

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Chilli Drops - Smoky Naga

The biggest challenge presented to a sauce being tested here at Hot Sauce UK headquarters is the 'substrate' used to accompany it.  The test taste for the 'Smoky Naga' by Chilli Drops of London Town was carried out using a £3 pizza from Sainsbury's.  I horribly over-cooked the pizza and the toppings were clearly applied by a chimp with one eye on the clock.  These pizzas were born to disappoint, and consistently achieve their mission.  Harsh conditions indeed.

There is a reason to my method though, I've previously talked about how the Cottage Delight Naga Chilli Sauce can rescue a crap pizza, so this is a sort of comparison.

On first tasting the overwhelming impression is of the smokiness (provided by lovely liquid smoke), there wasn't much of a burn, and if the taste scope range had stopped at that point I would have been quite disappointed.  What's the point in buying boutique hot sauces if they're no point interesting or exciting than the crap that Heinz shunts out to people with polystyrene tastebuds, trained on the banality of microwave suppers and food designed to 'play it safe' rather entertain and excite.  But the taste didn't stop at smoky.  Oh no.

A very warming heat started coming through, fuelled by an impressive variety of peppers contained within.  This is a reassuring cuddle in a bottle.  Both the consistency and taste of the Chilli Drops 'Smoky Naga' is very satisfyingly thick.  I love hot sauces that I can slather over food (without ruining it).  Hell, I could probably drink this sauce straight out of the bottle.

There's a rewarding complexity in the after-taste of this sauce, something that many sauce 'auteurs' don't attain.  Good sauce keeps on giving, preferably for a while after you've finished eating.

I tip my hat to Chilli Drops, this the first of their sauces I've tried, and it's incredibly likely to become an essential component of my shelf of pain.  I'm really looking forward to trying the rest of the range now.

Get it direct -

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Baktat Jalapeños

It's curious that I manage to find so much variance between different types of pickled jalapenos that I can actually write plenty of reviews about a pepper that is in the bigger scheme of things quite mundane...

These jalapenos came from our local Turkish shop, which is strangely enough is mostly stocked with goods from from Eastern Europe.  I've seen Baktat Jalapenos in quite a lot of places and I can see why; they're a very nice brand of peppers.

Unfortunately Jar is quite small, the reason this is a problem is that the chunks and slices of Jalapeno are quite generously cat. A large and crunchy pepper is just what I'm after. Lovely.

There are not as many seeds as are sometimes found in other jars of pickled jalapeno.  This is a mixed blessing; I like the heat from the seeds but they can be little acerbic to some tastes.

On the whole this is a hearty and reliable pickled jalapeno, you can't go wrong, they're still better than any other crappy efforts you'll find in major supermarkets. The many Eastern European cornershops that have opened up in recent years are an absolute goldmine for fan of hot sauce.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Holkum Hot Sauce - with Norwich mustard!

Hot sauce isn't a topic that often leaves my consciousness, and even although I'm technically on holiday this week my hot sauce radar never takes time off.  A couple of days ago while doing the obligatory gift shop part of a trip to the lovely Holkum Hall Estate in Norfolk I spotted some interesting looking hot sauces, accompanied by the info-card you see at the top of this post.

The Holkum range of sauces were developed and made in conjunction with Norfolk Heatwave (based in nearby Holt), and are partially made using ingredients grown on the Holkum Estate.

I bypassed the Jalapeño sauce as I whenever I've bought a predominantly Jalo based sauce in the past I never seem to find the right dish to use it with - while I adore eating the actual peppers (raw or pickled) when 'sauced' they add a certain taste that I struggle to find complimentary to anything other than salsa.  But enough about what I didn't buy, what did I buy?

Holkum Mango and Scotch Bonnet Sweet Chilli Sauce

My first impression on trying this sauce was that it's remarkably similar to one of my all-time favourite sauces, the mouthwateringly tangy 'Certain Death'.  Then the penny dropped!  The reason this Holkum Mango and Scotch Bonnet tasted so familiar is that it's made the same folk who make Certain Death!  Further inspection reveals a very similar list of ingredients for these two sauces.

At first I was a little disappointed to find out that Norfolk Heatwave apparently were playing it safe by re-using an already established recipe, but on trying both sauces next to each other (yes, I actually travel with a bottle of Certain Death!) I was relieved to find out my assumption was baseless.
The Holkum Mango sauces isn't bolstered by Jalokia chillies like Certain Death, neither does it contain the ginger that gives Certain Death it's unique deep punch.  If was being uncharitable I'd say that the Holkum Mango and Scotch Bonnet Sweet Chilli Sauce is 'Certain Death Lite', but if was being realistic I'd say this is a sauce that stands up perfectly well on its own.

It's a cheeky little number, and the only real minor negative point I'd mention is how thin this sauce is.

Holkum Hot Pepper Sauce

I fetched this bottle because I accidentally left my usual 'general purposes' hot sauces at home and wanted the type of sauce that gives tomato-based dishes an extra bit of pep without overpowering 'native' tastes in the dish.  When trialling new sauces I tend to use either cheese and cracker or baked beans as a kind of substrate to the taste, so last night I gave this Holkum Hot Pepper Sauce it's first proper taste on baked beans with jacket potato.

I gave the bottle a good shake and gently tipped some over my beans, and this is where I got a bit annoyed, about a quarter of the bottle sluiced out!  Arg!  I've had to put entire meals in the bin when I've accidentally over-sauced them a few times in the past, and this meal was happening at the end of a very busy day -  I needed this dinner!  Unless I'm putting a hot sauce in as an ingredient in food I do not want it thin!  The application of hot sauce is an art, we choose exactly where we want the sauce and usually expect it to stay where told until consumed.  Having a bottle try and empty itself like a spilled pint does not get us off on the right mood.  Fortunately this Holkum Hot Pepper is bang on the money in terms of giving dishes an inoffensive pep, so the meal was not lost!

This is a good store cupboard sauce, and certainly has a unique twang that I can't quite put my finger on, but it doesn't throughly thrill me, partially because it's just too thin for my tastes.

Holkum Hot Sauces - Conclusion

Good stuff on the whole, if it was a little thicker!  Half the joy of small-scale hot sauce production is that it isn't homegenised, and it does have tons of personality (sometimes from bottle to bottle), so maybe these sauces were just made on a day when things came up thin.  That being said I LOVE what Holkum and Norfolk Heatwave are doing with these sauces, and applaud them loudly.  We need more crossovers like this in the world of hot sauce.

Oh, and both of these sauces have 'Norwich Mustard' in them, which we assume is Colemans!  There are plenty of posts on this blog littered with me saying that I don't tend to like sauces that use mustard to boost the blast factor, but I think I might have to change my mind!

P.S here's the side-by-side ingredients comparison between Certain death (right) and Holkum Mango and Scotch Bonnet Sweet Chilli Sauce (left):