Some Like it Hot

00:00 March 05, 2012
By: Kim Ranjbar
[Where Y'At Staff/Provided Photo]
Megan Sherman - Squeal BBX

It?s a staple found everywhere in Louisiana, from Maw-Maws' pantry to the condiment corner on every restaurant table, taking it's rightful place next to the ketchup and salt, it's the ubiquitous bottle of hot sauce or two. There has to be a choice you see, because everyone around here has their own distinct favorites. Ask locals what brand they prefer and the most common response seems to be "What would I be using it on"? Some shake Tabasco on raw oysters, but Crystal is their choice for a fried catfish po-boy and Louisiana is the only natural option for eggs over-easy.

The variety of hot sauces to be found certainly isn't limited to those three options, as any tourist will tell you. Take a stroll through the French Market or one of the larger souvenir shops on Bourbon or Decatur Streets only to find heavily-laden shelves filled with row upon row of sauces, all guaranteed to singe your taste buds and make you sweat...among other things. Names like "Sudden Death," "Brain Damage" and "Butt Blaster" all tantalize with their ferocity, soaring SHUs (Scoville Heat Units) and dare you, nay even double-dog dare you to put your precious tongue to the test, but why risk it?

If it wasn't readily apparent, the chefs of this great city pride themselves on using fresh, local ingredients and phrases like "farm-to table" have almost become passé, so it should be no surprise that these guys are bottling their very own heat to pleasure our collective palates.

When Stephen Stryjewski isn't off winning James Beard Awards or creating the next delicious dish at his Warehouse District restaurant Cochon, you might just find him right around the corner, just off Tchoupitoulas Street and less than half a block away down Andrew Higgins at Cochon Butcher. Modeled after a classic meat market, this little eatery offers house-cured meats and sausages like chorizo, tasso, boudin and sopressata that you can purchase by the pound, just like your neighborhood deli? They also offer tasty lunch-like options from Duck Pastrami Sliders to Pork Belly Sandwiches and Pancetta Mac-n-Cheese. But getting back to the hot topic, the Butcher has their own house-made hot sauces the one of choice right now is the Sweet Potato Habanero. With a Cajun-style restaurant like Cochon, it was Stephen's natural conclusion to bre that are sure to please even the fieriest of palatesw his own sauce. Harvesting chiles and peppers locally in the late summer and early fall, Stephen combines piquant habeneros and sweet potatoes with salt and white distilled vinegar for a delightfully sweet heat that seems to be flying off the shelves!

Cruise all the way Uptown to the well-revitalized Oak Street and right across the way from the Pepto-pink Castellon's Pharmacy lies a porch-wrapped restaurant named Squeal Bar-B-Q. Three "Young" brothers opened the pork-centered eatery a little less than seven years ago and have been wooing the neighborhood (as well as folks from afar) with the aroma of smoky goodness wafting several blocks away from its' source, the ever-present smoker out front.? Not only do the brothers pride themselves on house made sides and house smoked meats, they also make their own BBQ sauces...including a tasty Habenero-Ginger. Chef Brenden Young explained that they use peppers grown in their own garden, that is actually on the restaurant property. He lets the habeneros marinate with fresh ginger, a touch of salt and brown sugar and some apple cider vinegar. The sauce is most often used on BBQ Duck and other specials they've featured in the past, but I bet if you ask nicely, you could have some dashed onto a plate of their Boudin Balls or BBQ Brisket Tacos.

Only a few blocks away you'll find more local heat at the quaint house-turned-restaurant, Dante's Kitchen. Sous chef Mario Reyes can not only whip up a heavenly spoon bread, he takes pride in the restaurant's selection of house made preserves, pickles and, of course, hot sauce. The chef gets his peppers from Accardo Gourmet Produce, a local farm in Paulina, Louisiana located about an hour's drive from the city. The Accardos can often be found at the Crescent City Farmers market selling vegetables including heirloom tomatoes, turnips, cabbage, cauliflower and a choice array of peppers. Reyes has used all kinds of chiles from habeneros to mirasols. Dante's has been known for incorporating Portuguese hot peppers combined with white vinegar and salt that is then 'aged' in oak barrels for about a month before being strained and bottled. When you visit Dante's Kitchen, you will discover this flavor sprinkled atop Debris & Poached Eggs or dashed into their incredible Bloody Mary's and, if you simply can't get enough, you can take a bottle home with you to pass around to friends and family while you gloat about an unforgettable meal.

It seems the pepper doesn't fall too far from the vine, because Micheal Doyle, who was formerly the sous chef at Dante's, also has a passion for what's spicy that he is successfully showcasing at his restaurant in the Bywater. Diners of Maurepas Foods have continuously been clamoring for his creativity since the doors opened a couple of years ago. Since before the restaurant opened, the chef has been working hard, designing a new menu, creating a new atmosphere, pickling, jarring and bottling his talents that are now being enjoyed by anyone who can make it to a table between 11am and midnight. Taking a cue from his former employer, Doyle also sources his chiles from Accardo farms, acquiring an array of peppers in the late summertime and creating a spicy, flavor amalgam by combining whatever is available; be it tobasco, ghost peppers, Caribbean red, paprika or yellow cayenne. He barrels the peppers with plenty of salt and distilled vinegar and lets the mixture sit for five to eight weeks before bottling. Right now Chef Doyle employs his fabulous hot sauce exclusively for his restaurant, but he hinted that the sauce may be for sale to the general public sometime in the future. We can only hope...

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