January 16 is National Hot and Spicy Food Day! Archaeologists suggest that people have been using spicy seasoning on their food for more than 6,000 years, which tells us there’s a lot of ways to bring the heat. In addition to pulling out that bottle of tried-and-true sriracha or Tabasco, celebrate with a few of these spicy condiments from around the globe – all available at grocery or specialty stores – and share your favorites in the comments below.
Heat meets funky sweet with this spicy Korean sauce, found in many gourmet and Asian grocery stores (and likely to be at your major supermarket, now that it’s been named a 2013 food trend). The thick red sauce gets the heat from chili peppers, the sweet from sugar or honey, and a background note of funkiness, akin to miso paste, from fermented soybeans. It pairs well with meat, is useful in marinades and can even be combined with sour cream for a spicy-cooling condiment for tacos. Different brands of Gochujang from different brands vary in heat, so go light on it the first time you try it.
This condiment, which Israel claims as its own, comes by way of Yemenite Jews who travelled there thousands of years ago. It is comprised of ground red or green chili peppers mixed with salt, garlic and other seasonings. It often includes spices like coriander, cumin and even tomatoes. It ranges in consistency from almost dry to a very soupy, chimichurri-like consistency, and is very bright and spice-forward. Though it is usually dolloped on falafel, branch out by trying it mixed with mayonnaise as a side with baked fish. Here’s a recipe to get you started!
Vietnam and Thailand don’t have all the hot condiment fun in Asia. Shimichi togarashi is a traditional Japanese condiment that combines dried flakes of hot togarashi pepper with different spices and herbs, including Szechuan peppercorns, sesame seeds and orange peel. It means “seven-flavor chili pepper,” and includes at least seven ingredients in the small shaker that can be found at every ramen joint from Tokyo to Okinawa. This delivers a major bang of flavor. Spicy, nutty, a little sour, and a touch of numbing tingles from the Sichuan peppercorns make this one of the most complex options. Try the mixture sprinkled onto French fries or with fried rice.
You probably don’t picture this fiery red pepper as part of the French culinary landscape. However, this pepper is found in the Basque region that breaches France and Spain and is most commonly dried and sprinkled as a seasoning. The pepper has an extremely bright, hot heat that is so fresh that it borders on tart. A little bit of this goes along way, and is fantastic mixed into a mustard-based dressing for warm green beans, or as a background note of heat for pork ragout.
The spicy side of North Africa comes courtesy of this brick-red paste, sold in tubes or jars. It is made from assorted chili peppers native to North Africa, like the piri-piri pepper, as well as oil, garlic and other spices. It can range in spiciness, and has a slow, smoky heat that gradually burns from the back of the throat to the front of the lips. It can include ingredients like coriander and roasted peppers, and tomato sauce is one of the most popular additions. Caned harissa is often mixed with tomatoes and onions to produce a very spicy, smoky, tomato sauce that is ideal with lamb meatballs and couscous. Or slather plain harissa paste on a chicken thigh and take a fragrant trip to North Africa, if only for the duration of the meal.
This Portuguese hot sauce is as fiery as habaneros, as tart as lemon juice and as complex as cassoulet. It is traditionally made with African bird’s eye chiles, citrus juice and assorted spices. The bird’s eye chiles are so spicy that they give the sauce a heat that is almost electric. Though some varieties include sugar to counteract the heat, piri-piri sauce is generally fiery and tart from the citrus juice, making it a great counterpart to proteins. Just a dash on your hamburger will bring it to life, and try it as a marinade for pork.
Jamaican jerk sauce
Could this be the best Jamaican import (besides” Cool Runnings”)? This sauce likely has its roots in Africa, incorporating Caribbean herbs and spices like the incredibly hot, almost evil Scotch bonnet pepper. These days, jerk sauce contains many ingredients and ranges in color from orange to almost black. Its signature notes are the hot scotch bonnet peppers and a rich, deep smokiness. It is best used in a long marinade and as the main flavor component of a dish. Try it on your next turkey or even fish like salmon, which has enough fat to stand up to the strong jerk spices.
For more from Sarah Spigelman, visit her blog, Fritos and Foie Gras