How I Choose Hot Sauce at My Local Brooklyn Supermarket
When I moved to New York last year, I had to make some adjustments, among them, figuring out how to utilize the neighborhood bodega. While New York has many outposts of Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, for me, shopping in those stores involves a trip on the much-maligned G train—a cross between the thinking face and snail emojis. As such, Compare Foods, the round-the-corner mini mart, has become my de facto destination when I run out of essentials and don’t have half a day to spare for a shopping trip. The particular item that I visit Compare Foods on the regular for, though, is hot sauce.
While Compare Foods will not meet all your normal grocery expectations (things like selling boxes of cereal for less than five dollars), it will more than make up for that in hot sauce. Picture if you will, a store with only four aisles, three of which contain hot sauce: 20 different brands, 50 different varieties. This probably made sense to someone at some time. Probably.
What to do when confronted with a wall of hot sauce and nothing else you want to buy? It all depends what you want to do with it. Here’s what goes through my mind during my bodega hot sauce perusal.
Frank’s Red Hot (Extra Hot)
Frank’s Red Hot is a fantastic utility hot sauce. It’s flavorful without being too spicy, even the extra hot variety. While it goes with just about everything, Frank’s pairs especially well with a big bowl of chili. The vinegar compliments the savory nature of the chili while adding a touch of heat in the process.
Maybe it’s because every diner always seems to have Tabasco on hand, but the first dish I associate with America’s most famous hot sauce is an omelet. Tabasco is a very light hot sauce, but still packs a tart punch from its vinegar content. This goes deliciously well with the combination of eggs, cheese and meat found in most mega-sized diner omelets.
While Compare Foods doesn’t keep Huy Fong Foods' famous rooster sauce stocked, they always have a few off-brand versions of sriracha available. Regardless of who is making it, sriracha is an awesome compliment to pizza especially. The combination of fresh chilies and garlic goes great on pizza and the smooth consistency, in comparison to actual chili paste, makes the flavors a little more balanced.
Crystal is the unofficial hot sauce of the American south and pares well with everything from greens to cornbread to gumbo. However, its bright, tangy flavor is an especially good compliment to oysters. While most of us aren’t eating oysters at home too often, if the occasion strikes, make sure you have some crystal on hand, along with a lemon or two.
Scotch bonnet hot sauce is truly unique. It’s both a hot sauce and a near-substitute for mustard. It’s hot, tangy and savory all at the same time and I personally like to pour it over sweet potatoes, in fry, roasted and hash forms. The sweetness of the potatoes goes really nicely with the spicy mustard and almost fruity flavor of the sauce.
Red Hot Peppers in Vinegar
Pepper-infused vinegar is great in a number of different preparations, but it’s especially good in salads or when making vinegar-based slaws. While using just the vinegar from this Caribbean condiment might be a little over powering, adding some to whatever type of bright, cabbage slaw you’re making can add just enough heat to the slaw to make it a little special.
Sambal oelek is a popular chili paste found throughout Southeast Asia and Huy Fong Foods' take on it is great for meat and vegetable marinades. The pure heat of the chili paste is great for packing a punch, but when mixed with the holy trinity of sugar, soy sauce and fish sauce, the heat balances out and leaves your marinade with a strong chili flavor without being overpowered by spice.
Much like Frank’s, Cholula is an all-purpose sauce and will make just about anything you eat better. While its versatility can’t be understated, I personally like to bring a bottle to the table especially when I’m enjoying a burrito or tacos. Cholula is more savory and a little less sharp than Valentina or Tapatío, which is exactly what I’m looking for from a utility hot sauce.