Monday, June 27, 2011

Panama Red Hot Sauce Review -- 2011 Scovie Award 1st Place and Triple Category Winner

Today I am going to review the Panama Red Hot Sauce from Pan Cali Foods. Do you remember the song?

"Panama Red, Panama Red
He'll steal your woman, then he'll rob your head
Panama Red, Panama Red
On his white horse, Mescalito
He come breezin' through town
I'll bet your woman's up in bed with
Panama Red" -- from Panama Red by Peter Rowan 

Luckily, this stuff is Orange. Otherwise I might be worried. Still, I couldn't hear the name, Panama Red, without thinking of the old Jerry Garcia/Pete Rowan song as played and recorded by both The New Riders of the Purple Sage and Old and in the Way so long ago. Also note there is an implied analogy to a particularly potent cannabis cultivar that had a rep for #$!!$@ing you up! But in a good way ... LOL.

Anyway, I've been waiting while this stuff for quite a while, and anticipation has been building -- I am glad to say, not in vain. This stuff is very, very good. Locally distributed in California in the San Francisco area, it is also available directly from Pan Cali Foods and is a good value at 8 bucks for 8 oz.

Winner of the 2011 Scovie Awards in 3 categories, 1st Place Authentic Caribbean, 2nd Place Habanero, and 2nd Place Specialty Chile (Aji Chombo -- I guess), the Panama Red certainly has the credentials to pique my interest. Due to shipment delays from, dare I say it, Panama, it took me over 3 months to get my hands on the stuff. When the package came in the door, I didn't even wait for a moment to do an objective review, just ripped open the box, yanked off the plastic cap, and poured a teaspoonful into my mouth. It has a big, intense, bright and complex flavor and I was happy to have my long anticipation satisfied.

So, I recapped the bottle and allowed myself the luxury of waiting 'til the next day for a proper review.

Panama Red Hot Sauce Ingredients:
Vinegar, Habanero, (Panamanian Aji Chombo), Onion, Mustard, Water, Garlic, Celery, Culantro, Salt, Black Pepper, Raw Cane Sugar

There seems to be some ambiguity over the actual peppers included -- variously on the website linked to above, the names Habanero, Scotch Bonnet, and Aji Chombo appear, and it isn't clear if all 3 are present or if, since Aji Chombo is a Habanero cultivar, only Habanero is present or maybe Habanero and Scotch Bonnet. Whatever. The point is also made by Pan Cali that the heat of the Aji Chombo does not persist as long or as brutally as that of the Habanero. OK.

I do have a bit of a prejudice against hot sauces for which the principal ingredient is Vinegar, since, in many cases, that means the principal flavor is vinegar, and to the exclusion of most of the other flavors. Happily, that is not the case here. There is still a strong vinegar flavor, however.

OK, to tasting.

The nose is of bright acid and spicy pepper, and that is the first note on the tongue as well, along with some salty sweetness, earthy mustard, and sweet spicy onion. As the taste fades, some sweetness remains along with a substantial and classic needle-like Habanero heat. The texture is chunky with discrete bits of the ingredients adding to the intensity of the flavor. Very pleasant overall and interesting from beginning to end with a robust and complex flavor -- great intensity.

Because of the amount of vinegar in the sauce, it might not be the best choice for foods already bright with acids such as lemon or vinegar, so certain soups might not benefit, nor perhaps would some delicate foods go well, for instance, scrambled eggs. That's not to say you won't like the combination -- I know plenty of people who slather Tabasco all over their eggs. Oh, well.

But for fried foods and hearty foods, this sauce is great. I tried it in Braised Short Ribs, on a Bacon Cheese Burger, on Deep-Fried Catfish in an Aioli made with Hellman's Mayo and this sauce, and loved it.

Very Highly Recommended. In spite of the fact, I think there is too much vinegar. IMO.

Yours in Heat and Flavor,


PS Try the Panama Red  mixed with Hellman's Mayo, say, 4 TBS to 1 cup mayo, or to taste.

Photo Credit: Pan Cali Foods

Sunday, June 26, 2011

2 Homemade Srirachas -- One Fresh, and One Fermented

Three 10 oz bottles of Sriracha

I know I promised these recipes a few months ago, but I have an excuse -- I wanted to post pictures of the fermented Sriracha, actually, well, fermenting, and it refused. Now that is weird, because, normally you put out organic liquid or wet material with sugars in it (covered) at room temperature, and within a week or so, it starts to bubble. PDQ. Sigh. Not this time. Makes you wonder how they get that coleslaw at the deli to go off so quick ... Anyway, I've got some photos now.

So, here are pictures of the Sriracha mash in a mixing bowl, with its plastic wrap cover removed, bubbling away. You can see the little bubble craters on the surface of the mash.

Fermenting Sriracha Mash

Cool, huh?

The only thing left to do is bottle it and adjust the flavor. What's that?? What do I mean, adjust the flavor?? Well, after the fermentation process, the relative sweet/salty/sour/hot balance may have changed, and it is perfectly legitimate to add rice wine vinegar, salt or sugar in small amounts until the flavor pleases you. Go ahead. Or ... if the Sriracha doesn't need it, don't.

So what is the basic recipe, you ask? I will give you the following list and amounts which are by no means written in stone, and you can begin your own fermentation experiment.

Fresh and Fermented Farang Sriracha
  • 2 to 3 lbs ripe, red Fresno peppers, or other full flavored ripe, hot pepper, stems removed
  • 1 to 2 pints peeled garlic cloves
  • 4 to 8 TBS fine sea salt
  • 10 to 16 oz, or to taste, rice wine vinegar
  • 1 to 2 cups, to taste white or light brown sugar, about 1/2 to 1 cup for the fresh recipe; I like the brown
  • 1 or 2 large peeled and rough-chopped sweet onions, optional -- not traditional, but good
Note that I am not using ripe jalapeno peppers as Huy Fong does, since the essential bitterness of the jalapeno, though diminished by ripening, remains even when nice and red. The Fresno pepper is a nice compromise. Other possibilities are the cherry pepper, a mixture of red peppers, including some jalapeno.

Chop it all up in a food processor or a powerful blender or a food mill, until the consistency is that of the Huy Fong Sriracha you may be familiar with or for that matter, Heinz Ketchup. If it's a little looser and wetter than that, it's OK.

Once it's all chopped up, you are nearly done for the fresh version of the Sriracha, but just beginning a 3 month or so journey for the fermented version.

For the fresh version, just bottle it in mason jars or in a carafe and let it sit in the refrigerator for 2 or 3 days so the flavors can meld, and use it as you like.

For the fermented version, keep it in a container of some kind that you can cover and observe for 5 to 6 days in a cool dry place, under 60 degrees F. Even if it still hasn't begun to ferment by that time, remove it to the refrigerator for 3 or 4 weeks or even longer until the telltale bubble of fermentation begin to pock the surface of the Sriracha, and let the bubbling run its course, which may take a several weeks or a month or more. At that point you can taste and adjust the flavor. I leave mine in the fridge after that point until I am sure fermentation is absolutely done, up to 3 or 4 months.

You may also find that after a couple of months of sitting in the fridge, the sauce has separated into 2 layers, a clear liquid on top, and an opaque layer underneath. I keep the clear layer on hand as a fermentation starter for new batches of Sriracha, but I pour it off the actual Sriracha I intend to bottle.

As much as I like the HF Sriracha, and I do, I prefer the fresher, less sweet, less bitter, less salty and more complex flavor of this Sriracha, and I like it on everything from scrambled eggs to chicken sandwiches. And there are times I prefer the fresh, non-fermented Sriracha, too.

By the way, for those of you interested in the fermentation process, which radically enhances and intensifies the flavor of the Sriracha, and other fresh hot sauces for that matter, check out Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods, by Sandor Ellix Katz, which will hook you up with everything from kimchi to kombucha.

Bon appetit!

Yours in Heat and Flavor,


Photo credits: me
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...