Hot for Hot Sauce

Craig McCord

Craig McCord › Craig possesses 23 guitars and cannot play any of them. He likes fresh grilled sardines with a ...


Hot Sauce. It’s a perennial argument, or is it a discussion?

Like barbecue, red wine, white wine, olive oil, hell, even salt, everyone has their favorites.

Hot sauce is no exception.

How did your favorite hot sauce become your favorite hot sauce?

I recently read, Hot Sauce Taste Test: A Walk-off for Sriracha?, an entertaining article by The Los Angeles Times food critic, Jonathan Gold,

Mr. Gold joined restaurantuers Roy Choi and Alvin Cailan to judge the relative merits of a cross-section of spicy sauce condiments.

It turns out that all three went into the sauce wars with a winner already in mind, but they were surprised.

A blind tasting with carefully labeled bottles, sample portions in pill cups, and neutral-tasting gelato spoons was officially set up.

Mr. Gold described the hot stuff to be judged:

Tabasco, Sriracha, Cholula, Tapatio, Sambal Olek, Matouk’s Calypso Sauce from Trinidad and Tobago. There was a jar of artisanal gochujang somebody had hand-carried from Gwangju, a bottle of the habanero salsa made by the local Yucatecan restaurant Chichen Itza, the house-fermented hot sauce from the Venice restaurant Gjusta, and Lao Gan Mai Spicy Chili Crisp sauce. (We also had plastic containers of Choi’s own version of Sriracha, both red and green iterations, but they were more for show. And possibly lunch later.)

The author caught this exchange:

“Hot sauce is like olive oil,” Choi says. “The local culture determines the flavor.”

“It’s all about the acid profile,” says Cailan.

“It’s an algorithm,” says Choi.

“It’s about how it tastes on eggs,” Cailan says.

The judging commenced. Small spoons dipped into one sauce and then into another.

Remarking about this ‘fruity heat’ or that ‘delicious funk’, inquisitive tastebuds wanted to know: which one is the best?

This is how Jonathan Gold described what happened next:

We each come back to the Spicy Chile Crisp, which is that oily half-empty jar you’ve been ignoring on the table at dumpling joints. It has texture. It has sweetness, heat, fermented complexity and a deep toasted-onion flavor. It is like a three-course meal in a spoon. The Sriracha had been forgotten for the moment. The dark horse of the tasting had won.

“I’ve been eating this wrong my entire life, Choi says. “It’s too good to stir up with vinegar and soy.”

When he thinks nobody is looking, Choi escapes with the nearly full jar. He can’t hide his grin.

The pre-judging favorite had been the bottle with the rooster on it, but the dark horse had won.

What is your favorite hot sauce? Was it on the list?

Photo credit: Craig McCord