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Hot sauce: A Love Affair

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Hot sauce: A Love Affair
Text by Chef Mark Steuer / Photo by Jamco Creative

At Carriage House in Chicago, Chef Mark Steuer makes hot sauce in house to complement a variety of his Lowcountry dishes. Growing up in the South, Mark was surrounded by people who swore loyalty to Texas Pete, Tabasco, Krystal or other varieties of favorite hot sauces. As a budding chef, he experimented with Sriracha, salsa, and other varieties of heat for the palate. These inspirations led him to create his own unique hot sauce flavors.

Photo Courtesy of Carriage House
Chef Mark Steuer / Photo Courtesy of Carriage House

I love hot sauce. I love it on chicken, eggs, seafood, fries, pretty much anything for that matter. Growing up in Charleston, South Carolina, it seemed that the traditional Tabasco was the hot sauce of choice. It wasn’t until I left Charleston for college that I really got “into” hot sauce. As a poor college kid, I ate whatever was cheap and drenched it with whatever hot sauce I could find to make it taste good. I still love Tabasco, and I use it all the time in my restaurant, but we have widened the arsenal. Texas Pete, Crystal, Sriracha and Frank’s are always in my fridge, both at home and at work. I use it to make vinaigrettes, to finish soups and sauces and I even use it in our Bloody Mary mix.

I first started playing around with making my own hot sauces while I was running the kitchen at Hot Chocolate. We were always trying to find new ways to use all the produce from the farmers market, and since we were pickling ramp bulbs, we had tons of the green tops lying around. I thought that the sweet oniony flavor of the ramp would be great in a hot sauce, and our ramp hot sauce was born. I think it’s a very Southern thing to want to stockpile and preserve beautiful seasonal produce. I’m kind of expanding on that tradition by incorporating it into hot sauce, which is one of the South’s favorite condiments. Now I go to the market specifically to find new flavorings for my hot sauces.

We make a sweet potato hot sauce that is served with our fried chicken, a peach hot sauce to go with a pork belly and octopus dish, and I still use the ramp hot sauce on a pork shoulder dish. I’ve found that if you use a simple base recipe of onion, garlic, vinegar, sugar, salt and chiles, you can add a sugary or starchy ingredient to balance out the heat.

Some of my favorite chilies to use are jalapeno for anything green, a mix of fresh Fresnos, along with dried tabasco chilies on our more red sauces. Since we serve Lowcountry fare at Carriage House, making our own hot sauce is an important way that we show the versatility of Southern food and ingredients.

Sweet Potato Hot Sauce

Ramp Hot Sauce

Peach Hot Sauce