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TABASCO – One Drop Works Wonders

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I am stuffed; stuffed like a turkey. If you ask me, we have Thanksgiving all wrong. Sure, we remember to be grateful for the people and things we have — that takes little effort. It’s the meal that’s always puzzled me.   If your family boasts 10 or more, a large feast makes sense. Perhaps. I just have trouble appreciating all the days of cooking and all the days of cleaning that a traditional holiday meal entails — just for a fleeting half hour or so of enjoyment followed by longer-lasting gastric discomfort.

For the most part, it’s the heaviness of the food which troubles me. Rich turkey, bready stuffing, buttery mashed potatoes, gravy, candied yams, candied carrots, corn, rolls –all followed by the pumpkin pie, king of the pie density award.   I can feel the tryptophan settling in as I type.  All that food kills me because I love it way too much. At some point each year, I find myself struggling to find a perfect wedge of unoccupied plate onto which I can cram the next item — do the green beans go between the corn and the mashed potatoes or nestled among the carrots and the stuffing? When I was younger, I could handle seconds, even thirds, but today, one reasonably overcrowded helping is more than enough. Long before the pie, I’m wrecked.

I think the problem falls squarely on the way the Thanksgiving meal is served. There are no courses, no pacing. It’s all just a race to get some corn before Uncle Phil commandeers it all, and a shovel of bite after bite.   Enough, I say. Let’s relax a bit, turn off the TV, and bring some civilization back to the family gathering. Today, I propose not a radical reshuffling but rather a momentary pause in the carb overload. A brief respite, if you will.

We all know that the European folk who settled this country were more than anxious to hightail it out of Dover and leave the Old World long behind.   Among the reminders of home they forgot on the dock was the concept of the intermezzo — or mid-meal palate cleanser. If you’re not familiar, a palate cleanser is a small course served to clean and refresh the palate after a relatively strong, fatty, or unique flavor, like fish or even chocolate. Traditionally, palate cleansers are a light, tart sorbet, tea, or salad. Beyond reinvigorating the mouth, they can help promote digestion and stimulate the appetite to continue eating . Most importantly, they are exactly what we Americans need inserted into the big Turkey Day meal — right between the main plate and the pie, I’d say.

We’ve spent the first three posts in our salute to TABASCO diving into each of the famous pepper sauce’s individual ingredients — peppers, salt, and vinegar. In the final two parts, we will look at the practical applications of that little bottle of red sauce.  (Full disclosure: in exchange for the opportunity to visit TABASCO headquarters, we agreed to produce four recipes and were compensated to do so).  The cornerstone of TABASCO is, of course, the red pepper. It’s what immediately comes to mind when the brand is mentioned. There’s a lot of talk today in the natural medicine circles of the benefits of capsicum extract — capsicum being the fancy word for chili peppers, like those in TABASCO. DoctorOz.com tells us that “Capsicum stimulates metabolism by activating a chain of events in the body that help to melt fat and break it down in the body. It activates the sympathetic nervous system that is associated with thermogenesis, which speeds the body’s oxidation of fat.”  Not to be outdone, The Assembly of the Church/University of the Universe — a site we just found, but boy is it all kinds of awesome — has an entire page dedicated to the healing powers of capsicum, including wisdom nuggets such as “The reason Mexican’s [sic] do not get sick from drinking polluted water is because they eat hot red peppers daily.” Who can argue with that? Like Dr. Oz, the good Church/University peddles capsicum remedies. Seeking a more neutral point-of-view, we hit WebMD, which, in short, tells you that capsicum is used to cure pretty much anything and everything.  Even our friends at TABASCO espouse the curative powers of the pepper and their particular expression of it.

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To be fair, that ad is from 1894 (many thanks to the good Shane Bernard, McIlhenny Co. archivist), and the company makes no such claims today. Still, even if you don’t believe in natural/alternative medicines, you’ll probably support the idea that a little heat or sourness really gets the old saliva going.   Our recipe today does not allege to cure all which ails you, but it will help you regain your taste buds and settle your grumbling tummy a bit. The package is simple — a cool, refreshing sorbet with just enough heat to let you know you’re still alive. It’s easy to throw together and good for any meal at any time of year.  And, if you’re feeling more adventurous, mixing a scoop of the sorbet into a glass of sparkling wine for a delicious, tangy spritz.

 

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This is the first recipe in this series in which we’ve used Original Red, as the traditional TABASCO is known. For 125 years, it was the only TABASCO pepper sauce variety produce by the company, but today the line has expanded to 7 core flavors (not counting specialty or trial bottlings).  In a previous installment, we looked at the pepper plants that go into TABASCO and how they are grown. After the plants have matured for two years, the fruit is ready to harvest , which is done by hand. The peppers are mashed, mixed with Avery Island salt, and sent home to Louisiana.

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When the mash arrives, every barrel is personally inspected by CEO Tony Simmons or Senior Vice President Harold “Took” Osborn. They are looking for pH, pungency, dryness, and viscosity. Barrels which pass inspection are transferred to white oak ex-whiskey barrels (which have been de-charred) and put up for as long as three years (and much longer for the exclusive Family Reserve). Due to the high acidity of the mash and the natural fermentation which occurs, all barrels are re-banded and topped with a layer of salt prior to storage.

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One of my favorite moments during our visit to McIlhenny headquarters was being inducted into the “Not So Ancient Order of the Not So Silver Spoon”.   Joining the Order consists of a single rite of passage: dipping a not-so-silver-spoon into a barrel of unprocessed pepper mash (many degrees hotter than the end product) and enjoying a big bite of the mash. You only live once.

After aging, the mash is combined with vinegar and blended in single 2,000 gallon batches. Approximately four weeks of stirring later, the sauce is strained and bottled. 750,000 bottles are produced each day and distributed to more than 180 countries worldwide.

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From a tiny pepper plant to the final product, it’s hard for me to see a bottle of TABASCO today without thinking of where it came from — of the simple, honest work which goes into each batch.  One particular image of Avery Island comes to mind — an image which, had I not been fortunate enough to visit McIlhenny HQ, would be impossible to conjure. I think of this image as the true soul of TABASCO, a soul which a 5oz glass bottle can’t truly capture. A soul more akin to a great bourbon or cognac.  See, when you enjoy a dash of Original Red or another variety, this is where it came from —

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A Perfect Garnish: We garnished today’s recipe with a dried lime wheel we received from Simple & Crisp. The line of products include citrus, apple, and pear crisps, which are truly nothing more than dried fruit wheels, some sweetened with cane juice. The price of $4.99 for 15 wheels may seem a bit high at first, but when you consider the time and energy cost to dehydrate your own, it’s a decent bargain. In the sorbet, the crisp makes a perfect garnish.  Aside from being beautiful, one bite perfectly complements idea of the palate cleanser.

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