Monday, February 28, 2011

Insane Chicken Hot Sauces -- 3 of 'Em -- Insane Chicken Fire Roasted Habanero, Cluckin' Hot, and Choke Your Chicken

Insane Chicken Fire Roasted Habanero -- 9 Wide
I have wanted to try the "Chicken" Sauces for a while, but haven't stirred myself to do it, so it was just as well that Chris McCarthy at Insane Chicken sent me 3 of these sauces recently. Got no more excuses! Requisite silly graphics aside, these are 3 fairly hot sauces representing 3 distinct flavor categories, Fire Roasted Habanero, Ghost Pepper, and Peri Peri Pepper, with some additional flavors and ingredients that set them apart. This review is especially fun since the FRH is the Scovie 1st place award winner in the Extreme Sauce with Pepper Extract Category, which is also a little intimidating considering what happened to a judge at one competition recently when he came off 2nd best in an encounter with another extract including sauce. Never fear, the FRH is hot but accessible, and it's also really, really ... well, you'll just have to read on!

You ought to check out their website -- they sell not only their own sauces but those of others as well and there are reviews and other interesting bits of info.

These 3 sauces are all hot enough so my usual straight-up, 1/8 or 1/4 TSP to the tongue method allows for a distracting kick that masks whichever sauce comes after in the tasting rotation, as you might expect of sauces that include pepper extracts, which these do. OK, they won't hurt you, much, or me anyway, but they will let you know you put something pretty hot in your mouth. But I did the straight-up, in-the-mouth with the sauce test anyway, because, hey, we're all real hot sauce guys, and, well, because I could.

Insane Chicken Choke Your Chicken -- How To Label
Regular Insane Chicken Fire Roasted Habanero has a great nose, vinegary/spicy/citrus sweet with an almost smoky roasted overlay that is very pleasant, interesting, and inviting. On the tongue, the first impression is of lime and pepper with a little oniony sweetness, fading to a classic habanero needle-like heat with just a touch of sweet and that background roasted smokiness. The texture is just a little thick with some suspended bits. Directly on the tongue, the heat overpowers the flavor, but that isn't true with food, since I am able to use more than enough for good flavor, as I did with a chicken sandwich, a big juicy pork burger with lots of stuff on it, chicken wings, deep-fried catfish and salsa. It was good with all of them. I missed having more habanero flavor, but the roasted pepper quality came through, and habanero, aside from the heat, is a very subtle and mild flavor that won't survive a lot of other strongly flavored ingredients. I like this stuff a lot and intend to keep some aroundHighly Recommended.

Choke Your Chicken ... Go Ahead! Sorry, couldn't resist! Anyway, CYC Peri Peri Sauce has a recipe similar to that of the others with vinegar being a principal ingredient, but distinguishes itself with molasses, herbs, spices, and tomato, as well as red wine, as opposed to a white or distilled vinegar.It also has a strong oregano/red wine vinegar nose that makes me think of Italian Salad Vinaigrette, and it is at first bright and a little Jalapeno-bitter to the tongue with a tomato thickness to the texture, some heat, and fading to a milder heat with some acidity. I tried it on a number of the foods I used for the Fire Roasted Habanero, and while it was OK and added some heat and flavor, it didn't work as well for me, probably because of the jalapeno bitterness and lack of assertiveness, except for the Oregano herbiness, in the other ingredients. I'm not sure I like the red wine vinegar which seems overpowering.  Can't recommend it.

Insane Chicken Cluckin' Hot
Insane Chicken's Cluckin' Hot I like better -- it's very similar in ingredients to the CYC, no Jalapeno, but Ghost Pepper instead, which gives the sauce a Habanero-like heat, no overt Oregano flavor, but still with the aroma of  the red wine vinegar. It's not gonna kill you, Ghost Pepper or not, and while it is hotter than the Peri Peri CYC, it can still be tasted out of a spoon. OK, the nose is a smoky(?)/red wine vinegary pleasant one, and the tongue confirms that with the addition of the Hab-like heat of the Ghost Pepper and pepper extract with an herby acid finish and some lingering pepper heat. Very nice. Good sweet/sour/salty/hot balance. I again tried this sauce on all of the foods mentioned above, and it did very well. Especially good on the chicken! You should be glad I just spared you a chicken joke. The ingredients for this sauce are quite similar to those for the CYC above, but the result is very different. Funny how that works. Recommended.

So my preference is in order, Fire Roasted Habanero, Cluckin' Hot, and Choke Your Chicken. I would consider them all in the greater Louisiana-style hot sauce family, with the bright acid vinegar predominance, but still more useful, complex and interesting than many such. And for me, although they are not too far apart in heat, the hottest is the Fire Roasted Habanero, after that the Ghost Pepper (Cluckin' Hot), and then the Peri Peri (Choke Your Chicken) -- odd -- you would think the Ghost Pepper would be hotter...

Did I say that I do like that Fire Roasted Habanero?

Next week I've got 2 2011 Scovie Award winning sauces from Sizzlin Sauces out of Conway, NH, the #1 finisher in the Habanero category, Spittin Fire Sauce, and the number 1 finisher in the Louisiana Style category, Papa Jack's Buffalo Hot Sauce. I can tell you that I've tried them, and ...

Stay Tuned!

Yours in Heat and Flavor,


Photo Credits: Insane Chicken,, reverse order.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Sriracha Roundup and Surprise Winner -- For Now! Including UIF Uncle Chen's Sriracha ...

Union International Food Co. Sriracha Chili Sauce

Just after I had published Sriracha Redux, I finally received another cult favorite Sriracha that I had been waiting for, and for a while, too. The Union International Food Co Sriracha that goes under the name Uncle Chen's, and this product, which has exactly the same bottle style and label, including the little Pepper Face (of Uncle Chen, I guess, with mustache and stem), but without the actual Uncle Chen name on the bottle, I believe to be the same. So I call it UIF Sriracha, or Uncle Chen's. Any of you out there who know better, let me know.

I like this stuff. It has good balance, a big flavor and it's not too sweet, although it does have some sweetness. It has a lot of the great bright fresh pepper flavor of the Huy Fong Sriracha, but without the flaw of bitterness I had noted in my first review. I have tried it on burgers, eggs, in mayonnaise, made an Aioli with it, eaten it straight out of the bottle. It's really good. A little less sweet, a little saltier at first, maybe a little less hot. The finish is garlicky, sweet, and has some heat.

It's got a little thermometer right on the side showing medium heat, and I have to confess I wouldn't mind it being a little hotter, but maybe such a hotter UIF Sriracha is available, some place, somewhere. Meantime I can like this one.

OK, I got mine from Amazon! Had to buy a 6-pack of 6 oz squeeze bottles -- I'm not sorry to have them now -- and when I went back to the Amazon page for the UIF Sriracha, I got the dreaded message.

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So the good news is that I do have 6 bottles; the bad news is -- where am I going to get my next 6? Still, I have time ... and, yes, I did do some pretty thorough web searches for the stuff.

I do apologize for recommending this stuff just as it seems to disappear from the market. Still, think of it as my way of soliciting help locating it.

I also have a confession to make regarding Huy Fong Sriracha -- I picked up a new bottle to compare it head-to-head with these other brands, and I like it much more than the older stuff I had reviewed back in March of last year. I dug the older bottle out from the back of my fridge and discovered, lo and behold, that the old HF Sriracha is indeed considerably more bitter than the stuff in the new bottle I just bought. In fact, with the still remaining Jalapeno bitterness much more in the background, the wonderful bright ripe red pepper fruit flavor is fantastic and makes it my favorite Sriracha, at least for the squeeze bottle I just bought!

I feel badly about possibly having rated the HF Sriracha on the basis of an extreme and unusual sample of the sauce, but, hey, I did it on the basis of 2 bottles I had purchased at different times (a week apart from the same store), and I can only rate what I taste!

What this means long term, I have no idea -- do I have to worry about consistency, and will the HF Sriracha I buy be bitter again next time around? Don't know. Never ran into this issue before. Still, I am going to do a Sriracha ranking based on my current sample.

So, my ranking of Srirachas I have tried places them in this order:

1.   Huy Fong -- Highly Recommended 
2.  UIF (Uncle Chen's) -- Highly Recommended
3.  Shark Brand -- Recommended
4.  Bells and Flower Brand -- Not recommended

Note that both of my favorites are domestically produced -- the UIF Uncle Chen's Sriracha at their Hayward, CA plant, and the HF Sriracha at the Rosemead, CA plant, and the flavor is much more pronounced, much bigger and fresher than that of the Thai "originals".

Next time, I'm going to post my recipes for 2 Srirachas, 2 US Farang Brand Srirachas, one PDQ recipe, and one let's-take-our-time fermented pepper recipe.

Yours in Heat and Flavor, 


Photo Credits: UIF Sriracha c/o and my screen capture

Monday, February 7, 2011

Sriracha Redux and More Thai Hot Sauces

Some time back I did a review of Huy Fong Sriracha, which is an American Sriracha that a lot of people are in love with, not including me, although I did like some things about it -- the upshot was I found it to have a bitter finish and aftertaste. So I tried another bottle from another source -- same result. But I did like the Thai brand I tried, the Shark Brand Sriracha, which is labeled on the bottle as Sriracha Chili Sauce. So I became curious to try some other actual Thai products to see what I would think.

I purchased online a number of products, including Bells and Flower Brand Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce made in China, Lingham's Hot Sauce, which says Thai right on the label and is made in Maylasia, Pantai Norasingh Sweetened Chili Sauce for Spring Roll which is made in Thailand, ABC Tropical Chili Sauce, which is labeled Product of Indonesia, and Gold Label Brand Red Chili Sauce, made in Thailand, Eastern Thailand to be exact, Amphur Muang, Chonburi province. Says so right on the label. I have included links below.

First, let me say that while there is an overall similarity to the products -- they are, after all, sweetened chili sauces with vinegar and salt and sometimes a few other things, too -- but  there are differences as well, and enough differences to make me prefer some quite a bit to the others. Also, I have to acknowledge that these products are not intended all to be used the same way, so to compare them directly may not be entirely fair.

I don't care.

I just wanted to see what they tasted like and which ones were worth keeping around. The odd sauce out is the Sweetened Chili Sauce For Spring Roll, it's thick and orange-clear, with carrot bits, and other suspended bits, just what you would expect to see in your dipping sauce bowl at a Thai restaurant. But the others are roughly comparable.

Let's get the orphan out of the way, the dipping sauce. The Pantai Norasingh Sweetened Chili Sauce. I like saying that. Pantai Norasingh! As I mentioned, it isn't intended as a general purpose hot-sweet flavoring, and it is very sweet, and not very hot, but it has a nice overall flavor, and I managed to make some really good Hot Wing Sauce with it, by adding salted butter and a little (a lot) more hot sauce. Because it is so sweet and has just a little heat, it will not be too useful without modification. Hey, it really is a spring roll dipping sauce! If you can think of something else to do with it, let me know! Recommended in a very narrow application. This company makes Sriracha, too, but not for export to the US, I guess, since I cannot find it for sale here -- if I liked it I could buy it in 5 liter jugs in a 4 pack, 20 liters and about 45 lbs -- it's listed right on the web site.

I was disappointed in the Bells and Flower Brand Sriracha -- it has just a tiny bit of sweetness, a little sour and salt, some pepper and heat, with a mild peppery finish, but no real big ripe pepper flavor like Huy Fong, or even a nice sweet-sour-salt balance like the Shark Brand Sriracha, which among Srirachas I have tried remains my favorite. Saltiness is the predominant flavor with Bells and Flower Brand. followed by some heat and sour flavor. Not recommended. Sigh.

Now Lingham's I do like. Actually, there are a lot of Lingham's hot sauces, those for SE Asian consumption -- I'd like to get my hands on those -- some for the UK, and those for us in the US of A.

The one I tried is #5 on the list above in the picture. It is sweet and fruity, with a thick pepper flake texture, and just a touch of salt, not much, with a good chili heat, not too strong, and a finish that combines some sweetness with a lingering mild heat. I do like it. It's too sweet for a lot of the foods I eat -- can't put it on eggs -- and the fruitiness may not be what you want a lot of the time, but once again it makes a good Hot Wing Sauce with more Hot Sauce and some butter. Certainly it's good with many Asian Foods. It is sweeter than Huy Fong Sriracha, for instance. It's good on a burger in place of ketchup. Recommended.

I like the look of the Gold Label Brand Red Chili Sauce bottle. The yellow chili sauce I didn't try is on the right above. And I like the Ingredient List:  Red Chili 70%, Garlic 10%, Sugar 8%, Vinegar 7%, Salt 5%. What I like most is the 70% Chili part. I wish it tasted more like 70% Chilis though, and it's a little too sweet. There is some heat. It's like a simple ketchup without the more complex ketchup flavors but just a little hot and salty. I'll pass on recommending it, though.

ABC Tropical Chili Sauce is the thickest and hottest of this bunch and in an ironically classically ketchup-like bottle, since the ABC Brand is owned by Heinz, even though it is an Indonesian brand. That said, the initial flavor is hot, sweet and a tiny bit salty and the finish is sweet, fading to a steady heat. I like it. It made a good mix with Hellman's mayo for a nice Aioli which I spiced up even further with garlic, lemon, and dare I say it, more Hot Sauce. It's the most like the Huy Fong Sriracha, but a little sweeter, maybe a little hotter, and, sadly without the bold bright ripe jalapeno flavor. Still good chili taste, though. You could make a good wing sauce with it. Also good on a burger in a place of, or in addition to, ketchup. Recommended

All right, let's sum this up, by the Western standards of this writer and most of the readers, these are interesting, but peculiar sauces with limited application in non-asian cuisine. There, I've said it. Oh, there are some good uses for the better sauces here, but I do not think we'll have Norte-Americanos slathering them on everything they eat, as some claim to do with Huy Fong "Rooster" Brand Sriracha.

I do wonder how people get by the bitter finish of that stuff.

And after having tried 3 different brands of Sriracha, is it now clear what it is? Well, all 3 are fairly different from each other, What they have in common is thickness, a little saltiness, some heat, a little garlic, and listing a principal ingredient of pepper. 2 are sweet, 1 has a bright ripe pepper flavor, 2 are much more muted. The other "Chili" sauces reviewed here follow a similar pattern. I know there are other brands as well of Sriracha, and I will try them as time and discovery permit.

Meantime, this farang (Thai word for foreigner) has a recipe for home made Sriracha that combines the best things I like about Sriracha -- with no bitterness -- and that sweet and bright, ripe pepper flavor in a sauce you can make, too. It's not that hard. There will even be a Sriracha Quick version for those who do not want to spend a lot of time at it, and a Sriracha Aged VS for those who are willing to commit a little refrigerator space and and a few weeks of aging for ... the Bomb Sriracha! How hard can it be, really?

Yours in Heat and Flavor,

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