Americans sure do love their hot sauce. It’s a rare restaurant that doesn’t have a rack of little red bottles just behind the cashier. A tourist could spend hundreds of dollars on the stuff and be hard-pressed to discern much difference between brands: most hot sauces are an unimaginative combo of Habanero peppers and vinegar, with salt and occasionally a little (choke) powdered garlic thrown in.
There are, however, some geographic characteristics to consider and enjoy. It’s been my experience (a host of exceptions allowed for, of course) that if you begin your southward journey in the eastern states, the hot sauces pretty much begin where you expect (think: Tobasco), but increase their heat as you descend further into the south. By the time you hit New Orleans or Dallas, there’s little point in crossing the border to Mexico, because American Can-Do Attitude has been applied to the science of hot sauces with great effect, producing a plethora of sauces that are entirely unfit for human consumption. I see little point in indulging such an extreme, but will admit that the endorphin rush I get from adding a little Dave’s Insanity to my chili collaborates very nicely with the buzz produced by the beer I guzzle for relief. Beyond Dave’s exists a wasteland of criminally hot sauces: if you seek such novelty, Da Bomb somehow manages to impart a modicum of flavor with its torment, and comes in a charming medicinal bottle that will attract attention in any fridge. No doubt hotter sauces exist, but hotter than that I will not go.
There are probably Californian outlets that cater to this sort of craziness as well; I just haven’t encountered any. The Californian attitude toward spice of any stripe is to explore its breadth, not its deepest impact. Thus, while dealers of “Tex-Mex” might sneer without irony at the affectations of fusion cuisine, “Mexi-Cal” practitioners proceed with unshakeable hippie bliss to experiment without end.
This is the environment in which I discovered Pain Is Good Batch #37.
Spaghettini Aglio E Olio, add a little parmesan, and dig in.
“Very nice,” you say, “but is it Californian?” Well ... no. Pain is manufactured in Kansas City, of all places. But I was introduced to it in California, and so it remains in my experience a delight I will always associate with the State.
Canadians can get their supply here.
California Delight #9