This story begins almost 5 years ago. Back then I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder when it came to eating spicy things. At times I would eat something so ridiculously spicy, not because I enjoyed it, but just to prove that I could. I took pride in those accomplishments and that lifestyle. I also happened to be working near the St. Lawrence Market at the time, a place I would frequent for lunch. One particular day, a co-worker and I were walking through the market, looking for a place to eat, when we came across a small corner store on the bottom floor. The store, although tiny, was covered wall to wall with a variety of hot sauces that I’ve never even heard of. It was exciting and intimidating at the same time. I looked at my co-worker and we both instantly knew what the other was thinking – we need to buy some…
We spent the next few minutes looking around only to become overwhelmed by not only the selection but also our lack of hot sauce knowledge. It was at this moment that we decided that we would postpone our purchase to tomorrow’s lunch so that we could come prepared for a fully informed decision. That night I did some research to learn about the different types of hot sauces. In terms of measurement, heat is measured in Scoville units, and the entire spectrum ranges from 0 (a sweet bell pepper) to 16,000,000 (pure capsaicin crystals). Here are a few reference points to put some context to those numbers.
The next day, we came back to the store and I decided to purchase Vicious Viper, a sauce that’s ranked at 2,000,000 Scoville units, while my co-worker picked up one that ranked at 4,000,000 units. Now if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll realize just as we did, that both of these sauces are on the same level as weaponized pepper sprays. The labels and the shop owner both warned us to use the sauces only one drop at a time. So after a few moments of contemplating, we still purchased the sauces, but also decided to pick up 2 cartons of 2% milk, a small carton of chocolate milk, and 4 ice cream sandwiches.
We should have bought more ice cream…
I don’t remember ever being in that much pain. It was a good laugh for the rest of the office but at least I got to prove to myself that I could dance with the devil when it came to spicy foods. And with that, I thought that the use of the hot sauce had run its course. A mere novelty item to bring out whenever someone boasted that they could eat spicy food. Something to play pranks with, and never to be used for any practical meal purpose.
Then came one summer where I was marinating some ribs for a barbecue. I wasn’t really happy with my sauce. It felt a little too bland and heavy on the tomatoes. I didn’t want to go overboard on the spices but I wanted to add something that would give it a bit of a kick. Light-bulb moment. I grabbed the hot sauce and threw in a few drops into the marinade sauce. Not to exaggerate the effect at all, but it really tasted different. Sure it had a bit of heat, but now there was a whole bunch of flavours coming from the marinade.
Just look at the ingredients (minus the heat inducing content) of the Vicious Viper. Papayas, guavas, pineapples, bananas, passion fruit juice, tomatoes, and mustard. It doesn’t get any more tropical than that. Now while it’s still only a few drops, it still gave off a great accent of tropical flavours. Nothing overpowering, but a subtle after taste with a slight bite of heat. It became my secret ingredient. A mint lamb dish that’s missing something? Add a couple of drops. Crave something different from cannellonis? Add a couple of drops. It was perfect. I have to admit, there was a bit of a trial and error phase in terms of how much to add, especially depending on the guests, so I definitely played it on the cautious side. However, I couldn’t have been happier with finding a go to ingredient for whenever I didn’t know what to do with a dish.
It may sound crazy for you to go out and get a sauce that’s stupidly hot, but I highly recommend you do and make it your secret ingredient. You’ll be glad you did. PS: I once tried making my own hot sauce and it was a really fun and interesting experiment. I like the idea of making a custom hot sauce for a dish. Given that you can pick and choose the heat level and ingredients, it’s something I will definitely be trying again.
PPS: As a side note, I once cooked for a pot-luck dinner at a friends place and brought the Vicious Viper sauce with me to show him but left it there.
I cried that night.
Later I found out he tried the sauce on its own. He cried that night too…