America loves the cock. The big red bottle with the outline of the rooster on it has climbed to bacon-esque levels of zeitgeist, and to be quite frank, I’m over Sriracha. As a heat-hound, I crave spiciness in every meal, and as an educated eater, I also want flavor. In the world of over blown excitement over it, I think that the Oatmeal nailed the Sriracha problem much better than Bon Appetit’s 25 ways to use Sriracha. Oatmeal understands that the powerful yet unexciting flavors of Sriracha are best used to cover for poor quality and bad technique, while Bon Appetit encourages readers to use it to create 25 dishes that likely all taste the same.
If you’re interested in making your food both spicy AND delicious, I recommend you trash the fashionable red bottle, and find a sauce that matches your meal. The sauces below are the five sauces I like best that are also widely available throughout the U.S. (and on Amazon–follow the affiliate links to purchase and you’re supporting your local food blogger!)
Matouks Hot Pepper Sauce: Caribbean sauces use the powerful scotch bonnet pepper, and this one wields it dangerously. By aging and pickling the peppers, the sauce has a lot of depth and a slight sweetness, tricking you into thinking you can handle more of the heat. Wake yourself up with a dollop on your eggs in the morning or test the taste buds of guests at your next barbecue–it goes great on ribs.
Lao Gan Ma Chili Oil: Or as it’s called more informally at our house, “The Lady.” While it is titled as an oil, it is in fact an oil chock-full of flakes that I assume are chili, giving it the hint of sweetness. If you get the right version (see the green stripe? you want the green stripe) there are also peanuts floating about. The heat is only mild, but the sweetness pulled from caramelized chili with the crunch of peanuts makes for a full-flavored sauce. For a punch of savory heat, a spoonful mixed into a bowl of rice will do, but you can also layer in flavors by adding it as the final ingredient in a stir-fry. I know people are big on Sriracha in their pho, but I’d take this in there over it any day.
Lee Kum Kee Peppercorn Chili Oil: Continuing down the Chinese path for a moment, this Sichuan peppercorn-infused spicy oil offers what is called ma la heat. That means it offers both the chili type of spice and the tingling-numbness from Sichuan peppercorns. Because it’s in true oil form, it can be used both to cook a dish (turn on the fan/vent!) and to finish it. A few drops in your chicken soup will clear those sinuses right out (and maybe cure your cold too), or for a bit of excitement in your greens, cook a few cloves of garlic in it and toss in some kale. This is also another one that is damn fine in a bowl of pho.
Valentina Salsa Picante: The extra hot (look for the black label, generally) version is not, as promised ‘extra hot,’ really, in the grand scheme of things. It won’t blow out your tongue, though it might punch it in the face a few times. Lightly vinegar-y, this sauce avoids the all too common vinegar-heavy mistake of other hot sauces, letting the vinegar preserve while the peppers give off the flavor. As it is a Mexican sauce, it does best on Mexican food, but is also darn good on almost any American food: chicken wings, burgers, bloody mary, what have you.
Crystal Hot Sauce: A finishing sauce, if you will. Tabasco-lovers can have their thin vinegar (wait, but leave me a little of the chipotle flavor), Frank’s fans can keep their garlic. To me, Crystal is what belongs on the table. Perhaps it’s the time I’ve spent in New Orleans, but at some point in the last couple years, I’ve become convinced that Crystal is the sauce to beat. Pour it on grits, eggs, greens, creamy pasta sauces, it will give a lift to just about anything. If I were allowed only one (commercial, widely available) sauce, this just might be it.
So there it is. Of the 30 or so varieties of hot sauce currently in my house, these are the ones I recommend to help cut yourself off from Sriracha cold turkey. I have another few I would love to tell you more about–but you can’t buy them. Sauces brought by friends, purchased in tiny restaurants, or from faraway lands. More on those later. In the meantime, what is your go to spicy sauce?