Hot Sauce

If I may be accused of food snobbery, it is specifically in regards to one item: hot wings.  And really, there’s no good reason for it.  I am not one to shy away from butter-laden sauces, such as the hot sauce-infused one integral to the hot wing experience; and if you’ve ever seen me around a bottle of Tabasco or Sriracha, you know that’s not part of the issue either.  The wing is even my favorite part of the chicken; the invariably crisp skin, the middle joint with its silken flesh that always slides seductively from the bones (no matter how dry the rest of the bird), the miniature drumstick with its pleasingly small portion of meat.  Add the three together – butter, hot sauce, crisp chicken wing – and the result should be enough to win my heart for life.

But alas, for me there are simply old prejudices associated with that particular food.  I went to college in Alabama, you see, and have firmly connected the stuff with noisy hordes of young men and women, dressed in too-large T-shirts emblazoned with Greek letters, each indistinguishable from the next, all drunk on whatever was cheapest, shouting, “Oh my gawd, y’all, let’s go get hot wings!”

It would be enough even to turn me off Côtes du Rhône.

Understanding, however, that though they may be anathema to me, hot wings are nevertheless widely beloved and often served at Super Bowl parties nationwide.  So in the interest of bringing a little dignity to this food, I offer you a recipe for homemade hot sauce.  The chicken and the butter, I figure you can manage on your own, and there’s really not much else to it.

This hot sauce starts with dried piquin chilies, tiny little things that pack a surprising amount of heat.  This is about 1/2 ounce, or approximately enough to make your head explode.

I used half of this in the actual hot sauce, but found myself wishing that I had used the entire amount; the end result had a pleasant and slight burn on the finish, but the overall sauce was more condiment than powerful accessory to be used with utmost caution.  I typically prefer the latter; if you like the former, this is right up your alley.

Having said that, though, the mild nature of this hot sauce makes it ideal for hot wings.  You don’t exactly want to melt your face off with an entrée, so a milder sauce is perfect here.  For a more fresh and vibrant tone, I’ve added fresh peppers, three serranos, one jalapeño, and one Cubanelle.  The base of the sauce is a can of crushed tomatoes, while Worcestershire sauce and Asian fish sauce provide a robust depth that mimics the rich flavor of a long-fermented batch of chili peppers (as is often used in commercial hot sauces).

It might seem like there are too many chilies used, but I can assure you that the result is rather mild.  And besides, it’s called “hot sauce”, not “spicy tomato sauce”.  I’m sure you’re asking yourself if it’s really worth it, when there are about 10 million different hot sauces on the market.  Why bother?

Well, darlin’, if you’re anything like me, making your own hot sauce is just about the only way to elevate the basic hot wing, from its base reputation as 2 am post-keg-party fodder, to sophisticated and refined hors d’oeuvre.  Call me a snob, but that’s reason enough for me.

Hot Sauce
Adapted from White On Rice Couple
Makes about 3 cups

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 ounce dried piquin chilies, stems removed
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 4 to 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 medium shallots, minced
  • 1 can (15 ounces) crushed tomatoes
  • 1 fresh cubanelle pepper, seeded and chopped finely
  • 1 fresh jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped finely
  • 3 fresh serrano peppers, seeded and chopped finely
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons fish sauce, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 three-fingered pinch salt


Directions:

  1. 1.  Soak the dried piquin chilies in the boiling water for 20 to 30 minutes to soften.  Meanwhile, prepare the remaining ingredients.  When softened, drain and chop finely (wearing rubber gloves).
  2. 2.  Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat.  Add the garlic and shallots.  Cook until just fragrant, stirring constantly, about 1 minute.  Do not let them brown.  Add the tomatoes, fresh peppers, bay leaf, and about 1/2 cup water.  Simmer over low heat until the peppers soften, about 30 minutes.  Add more water as needed to keep the mixture from thickening or drying out.
  3. 3.  Remove the pan from the heat.  Stir in the rice vinegar, fish sauce, Worcestershire sauce, sugar, and salt.  Let stand until cooled to room temperature, about 30 minutes.  Remove the bay leaf.
  4. 4.  Blend mixture in a blender or food processor until smooth, adding extra water as needed to thin to desired consistency.  Strain if needed.  Store in refrigerator.

 

Notes:
1.  Always wear rubber gloves when dealing with very hot chilies, such as piquin.  Thoroughly wash hands and all items that have come into contact with them.  Even with all this, avoid touching eyes for the rest of the day.

2.  If you like, you can add the stems of the fresh peppers to the mixture as it simmers (in step 2), to bring a slightly floral quality.  Remove with the bay leaf before puréeing.

Kimchi

One of my favorite parts of eating Korean food (and I do love me some Korean food) is the kimchi that invariably comes with the bowl of bi bim bap, or plate of bulgogi.  Korean cuisine is noted for the number of banchan (loosely translated as “side dishes”) that are served, but kimchi is undoubtedly the most common, and is served at every meal.

Kimchi is most often made from Napa cabbage, and usually fermented, though there are a staggering number of variations that may or may not involve cabbage at all.  There’s even a variation called white kimchi that uses no chili at all, though kimchi is typically renowned for its tear-inducing level of heat.

There are different kimchis for the different seasons, and major differences between North Korean and South Korean kimchi, as well as town-specific varieties.  This version comes from Lillian Chou, former Food Editor of our dearly departed Gourmet Magazine, and is a fast and easy version that can be finished with minimal effort.  Rather than being fermented for days, this version is more of a pickle, needing only a few hours rest.  Though some might frown on the non-traditional method, the result is fresh and vibrant, tasting young and crisp.

I first tried this recipe last March, when I made a batch of steamed pork buns, and wanted a little crunchy spice in the filling.  I was so impressed with the ease and excellent results that I immediately made a second batch as soon as the first was gone.  For a couple of months, I artfully (and sometimes not so artfully) worked handfuls of kimchi into nearly every dinner, scrambled eggs were dotted liberally with the stuff, snacks consisted mainly of a small plate of kimchi, and I lunched more often than I should have on bowls of rice, shelled edamame, and kimchi.

And then, I suppose, I grew weary of it; like a record you listen to exclusively for weeks on end and then suddenly can’t stand even the thought of it.  My kimchi jar stayed empty, and I was forced to pack peanut butter sandwiches for lunch again.

But then, in the midst of a recent spate of single-digit-degree days, the hunger came upon me, and kimchi was the only cure.  One key ingredient to authentic kimchi is Korean chili pepper flakes; but unfortunately, I didn’t have any, and it was far too cold to venture out in search.  In substitution, I used a mixture of the more widely available crushed red pepper flakes and an Asian-style chili garlic sauce, which brought an appropriate heat with a greater depth of flavor than would be possible with only the red pepper flakes.

Mixed together with fresh ginger, garlic, and scallions, the chili pepper mixture tastes reasonably authentic.  I would describe the level of heat as “moderately burning”; enough to make your eyes water if you eat a handful, potent enough to announce its presence when used in small doses in cooking, but not so overwhelming as to obscure the flavor of the other ingredients.  Feel free to adjust the amounts used, based on the heat level of your chilies and personal preference.  You can always add more, but you can’t take it out.

The characteristically robust and slightly funky flavor of kimchi, usually achieved through fermentation, is here mimicked with fish sauce, giving a slight nod to the South Korean style which often uses anchovies.  An Asian pear grated into the mixture provides a light sweetness, rounding out the overall flavor without being insistent.

A batch of this kimchi will last about 1 month in the refrigerator, giving you ample time to use what may seem like a staggering amount, especially as a little goes a long way.  If you need inspiration for ways to use it up, a quick search online will turn up recipes for kimchi soup, kimchi stir fry, kimchi pancakes, or any number of entrées to serve with kimchi.

The process is extremely simple.  The cabbage is cut down to size.

It then gets tossed with salt, and is left to rest for 2 hours.

The salting process draws excess water out of the cabbage, meaning that your kimchi will stay crisp in the refrigerator for weeks.  Otherwise, the cabbage would quickly wilt and go mushy.

While the cabbage sits, the other ingredients are prepared.  Ginger and garlic get minced together.

Sesame seeds get toasted in a pan over medium heat until fragrant, only a minute or three.

I like to just mix everything together, though you can also purée the garlic and ginger with the other liquids to make a smooth paste if you like.  Me, I don’t like to do so many dishes.

Rinse and drain the cabbage, and give your hands a little workout by squeezing all the liquid out of it.  You can’t hurt it; it will still stay crunchy, though it looks wilted now.  Add to the other ingredients, and mix.  If you use your hands, you might want to wear rubber gloves so you don’t accidentally burn your eyes later when you rub them.  Tongs work just as well, though.

Taste it to make sure it’s spicy enough for you.  Be sure to store it in glass, or some other non-reactive container, that has a tight-fitting lid.  I use a tall 1 1/2 liter canning jar with a swing-top lid.  As the kimchi sits in the refrigerator, it will begin to ferment, and will start to smell a little more pungent; unless you like kimchi-flavored milk and butter, you might want to invest the seven dollars in a proper storage container.

Quick Kimchi
Adapted from Lillian Chou

Ingredients:

  • 3 pounds Napa cabbage (about 1 large head)
  • 3 tablespoons salt
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely minced (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and finely minced
  • 3 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds, crushed slightly with side of heavy knife or in mortar
  • 2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons Asian-style chili garlic sauce (or to taste)
  • 2 tablespoons crushed red pepper flakes (or to taste)
  • 1 bunch scallions, halved lengthwise and cut into 1 inch lengths (about 1 cup)
  • 1 Asian pear (about 8 ounces), peeled

Directions: 

  1. Quarter the cabbage lengthwise.  Cut crosswise into 1 to 2 inch pieces.  Toss with the salt in a large bowl and let stand for 2 hours, tossing occasionally.
  2. Rinse the cabbage very well with cold water, being sure to wash off as much of the salt as possible.  Let drain in a colander.
  3. While the cabbage drains, mince the garlic and ginger as finely as possible.  Toast the sesame seeds in a pan over medium heat for about 2 minutes, or until fragrant.  Chop the scallions, and peel the Asian pear.
  4. In a large non-reactive bowl, combine the garlic, ginger, sesame seeds, fish sauce, vinegar, chili garlic sauce, red pepper flakes, and scallions.  Using a coarse grater, grate the peeled Asian pear into the mixture, avoiding the core and seeds.
  5. Using your hands, squeeze out as much liquid as possible from the cabbage, and add to the other ingredients.  Toss the mixture well, and let marinate about 1 hour at room temperature.  The kimchi is now ready to serve, but will keep about 1 month in the refrigerator, and will increase in pungency as it sits.