To be frank, I much prefer a hot sauce that offers flavor as an element equal to that of the heat; a composition that enhances and adds complexity to the dish rather than devouring all in is path. It sounds like a simple formula, but failing to execute that recipe of balance is exactly where so many sauces fall short in my book.
Last week, however, I was lucky enough to receive samples of three hot sauces from Timothy Kavarnos, founder of the Salamander Sauce Company. As the new kid on the block, Tim approaches the pepper game in a manner that exudes a passion for his product and consequentially, brings an unexpected freshness to the stale glut of same old, same old in the hot sauce aisle.
The three samples I received were as refreshingly bright as is their creator's approach to the business of making hot sauce.
Let's face it, Tim Kavarnos founded his company to make a superior hot sauce. He wanted to devise a sauce which relies on flavor as much as heat. In fact, the very name of the company alludes to that mindset and came about as a result of the mythical Salamander dancing through the fire without getting burned. But his principles and methodology on how just he would go about doing so is what I really found impressive.
To be concise, in creating his sauces, Tim has clung to the tenet that only an all-natural, locally-sourced, locally-produced sauce would do. That ideology begins with produce that is sourced from family-owned farms in the Hudson Valley and picked at the peak of freshness. With the freshest ingredients possible, his spicy blends are hand crafted in small batches and hand-bottled.
Salamander offers three flavors at the moment - Original Hot Sauce, Tropical Hot Sauce and Strawberry Hot Sauce. And as I said, I was lucky enough to try all three.
In constructed this review, I felt compelled to give all three sauces a whirl on a complete meal. I did so within the framework of utilizing them on dishes I felt they would absolutely compliment.
For the Original Hot Sauce I'd chosen to make Oyster Fritters as an appetizer and use it as a dipping sauce.
For the Tropical Hot Sauce, my entree would be Lamb and Mango Kabobs with Mint Marinade.
And lastly, I just needed to taste the Strawberry Hot Sauce as dessert.
So here's how it went:
Ironically, the sauce I decided to start off with was actually the hottest of the three. But that didn't matter much in the case of the Original Hot Sauce. You see, I'll equate your typical above average hot sauce with going to a rock concert - you walk in, lights go down, you're hit with a wall of sound. You think, "Wow, that was awesome!" but usually forget about it by the following week.
With a full-bodied orange color, there's a depth of flavor and complexity to this sauce that climaxes in one long, smooth, spicy finish. It's hot, no doubt, but the habaneros and jalapenos dance amongst the recipe, instead of encompassing and completely devouring the other ingredients. This sauce is a winner in my book.
The Lamb & Mango Kabobs I'd chosen as my entree was the perfect foil for Tim's Tropical Hot Sauce.
I sought a recipe that was bold, bright and screamed exotic. And there was no dipping here as with the appetizer. Nope. I poured it on as an actual component of the dish. And I'm glad i did.
Ultimately, this was my favorite sauce of the three I reviewed. Ironically, it also packs the least punch heat-wise. But that doesn't mean it's weak by any means. After all this is a hot sauce.
Dessert was something I could not wait to get to. If for no other reason than I couldn't imagine what this Strawberry Hot Sauce would taste like.
Surprisingly, I immediately found it to be hotter than the Tropical Hot Sauce. Not surprisingly, it excelled on every level.
I first tried it on Vanilla Ice Cream with a fresh mint leaf. Wow! It actually changed the entire delivery of the dessert for the better. It gave a perky, spicy element to the ice cream, yet the coldness of the vanilla dessert magically took the edge off the heat. Amazing flavor combination.
My second dessert was simply a bowl of ripe watermelon, upon which I squeezed fresh lemon and a dot of sauce on each cube. With a fresh mint leaf, this simple presentation displayed an air of elegance and I could absolutely see this being served in Martini glasses at a cocktail party.
So in retrospect, these are perhaps three of the finest hot sauces I've ever tasted. Salamander Sauce Company may be the new kid on the block, but they're going to be around a long time. Kudos.