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I had just gotten off the phone with chef Bill Phillips, associate professor of culinary arts at the CIA, who was describing in detail his favorite chile for hot sauce use—the lantern-like habanero. He often whips up a quick and easy hot sauce by throwing habaneros, olive oil, salt, and garlic through the food processor, then blending it all up. "The number one complaint of the habanero is that it's all heat and not enough flavor but the use of garlic and salt lends to a nice balance of flavors," says Phillips, who adds that it's best to let fresh chiles fully ripen before transforming them into hot sauce. A more ripened chile, you see, leads to a fruitier flavor.
But what had really grabbed my attention from the conversation was Phillips's glowing reference of hot sauces made by pairing habaneros with fruits like pineapple, mango and orange to heighten the tropical component of the chile.
Mango plus habanero for hot sauce? Delicious, I bet.
When making hot sauces, there are a couple of routes to go.
Some pile the chiles and ingredients in the food processor, purée away and then let it boil away on the stovetop. Because I wanted to add the sweetness of carrots to mine, I cooked the chiles, garlic and carrots beforehand for an easier purée.
Everything was bubbling on the stovetop just briefly when it began with one sneeze. And then another. Soon, I was sneezing uncontrollably. There were strange tingles of a prickly heat in the back of my throat, and watery eyes. Next, my roommate and her boyfriend came home (bad timing on their part). Within a few short minutes, there were shouts from the two like, "There's burning in my throat!" and "My mouth is on fire" and finally, "Grab the cat and shut the bedroom door!" Why it didn't occur to any of us to just leave the apartment as the chile fumes devoured us, I don't know.
I opened more windows and placed a cover on the pot of simmering chiles as I heard their coughs through my own bouts of sneezes. For the next round in my hot sauce adventure, I'll be sure to armor up with goggles, gloves and a fully ventilated kitchen. I was unprepared to wage war with the habanero.
And what about the hot sauce, you may wonder? The sweetness of the mango quickly dissolves into an assault on the tongue by the habanero. All in all, a fabulous tropical hot sauce when used sparingly and made with caution.
Any homemade hot sauce combinations you've found you like? Or, any chile disasters you've had along the way?
About the author: Andrea Lynn is senior editor for Chile Pepper magazine, where she not only creates a wide range of zesty recipes for readers, but also participates in numerous tastings for hot sauce, salsa, and other spice-laden products (even chocolate!). Her favorite chile? A tie between the mild yet flavorful poblano and the mighty, reliable fire of the serrano.