Wednesday, January 05, 2005

California Delight #10: Pain Is Good Hot Sauce, Batch #37

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.
Pain isn’t nearly as excruciating as it makes itself out to be, but it does have an unmistakable heat. More than that, however, it has incredible flavor. Batch #37 is a garlic sauce, but the first ingredient is carrots. The list continues: minced garlic … mustard seed … olive oil, lime juice, lemon juice, etc. The combination is a thrill – I dump the stuff on dishes like 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


DarkoV said...

Welcome back from your sabbatical. It's good to see (read) that lying about was not part of your daily routine. Cadging material for a new list was. Great for us, your readers. Re. the hot sauces, what is it with the naming process? Saw one in the local hoitty toitty food salon called "Uncle Chester's Goiter and Ruminative Sauce". Little subtitle noted "Good for what ails you, Brother. Amen".
The label was almost too big for the 1.5 oz. bottle. Well, guess if the English grads aren't working for Gap, they may as well be christening Hot Sauce.
Welcome Back.

Whisky Prajer said...

English grads and rock stars (who probably have a great deal in common, once you subtract the groupies and money). I believe Sammy Hagar has a hot sauce out there, as does one of the Aerosmith guys. Exactly what is it about hot sauce that inspires these bright boys to think there's another fortune just waiting to be made with it?