I want the hot sauce that balrogs would make
March 6, 2019 8:07 PM   Subscribe

I love deep, dark, earthy flavors. It's been hard to buy or make a hot sauce that really hits the right note, but they must be out there. Can you help?

Maybe I'm not using the exact right term for what I want, or maybe I just haven't landed on the right pepper yet, but somehow I'm just not finding the hot sauce of my dreams. Mexican restaurants sometimes have a bottle of homemade red sauce that gets it very right - red and earthy, maybe a little raisin-y, not too sweet ... just deep and fiery. What makes them taste like that and how do I replicate it? At home I've tried toasting and grinding up various blends of rehydrated anchos, guajillos, and other dried peppers but there must be something I'm missing because mine tends to end up kind of boring. The chili oil with the ground chilies I get at a local Thai restaurant can also be pretty good sometimes, though I'd prefer something that isn't so oily (and I've tried that fried chili oil stuff in a jar and while it's tasty, it's not what I'm looking for - too oily, and also too onion-y).

I'm fine with any level of heat though I prefer hotter. Not looking for super smokey, though a hint could work - right now I have a jar of smoked ghost pepper powder that's way too campfirey, and I suspect that chipotle-based sauces would have the same problem. I definitely don't want sweet or too garlicky.

My ideal would be a ready-made bottle of dark red, earthy hot sauce of the kind that would make Gandalf rush up and shake his staff at it, though I'm up for making my own if you have a great recipe, and I'd consider dried chili powder if it really brings the shadow and flame. Do you know what it is I'm looking for? Please tell me!!
posted by DingoMutt to Food & Drink (20 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
One of the Co-Op Sauces, maybe. I would recommend the Violet Scorpion, but it looks like it was a limited edition. The Bolt is pretty classic.
posted by crush at 8:33 PM on March 6, 2019

Best answer: I think earthy, I think cumin. Do you by any chance have Amazon Prime? Because Rick Bayless' Authentic Mexican is free on Prime right now, and he has a recipe for salsa picante de chile de arbol that has a bunch of very earthy sounding ingredients including pumpkin seeds, cumin, chiles de arbol, sesame... if that sounds on point and you don't have prime, let me know, I wouldn't mind typing it in for you.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:33 PM on March 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

When you say raisiny, I think of tomato paste or roasted tomatoes.

Maybe caramelize onions, stir in tomato paste and go from there?
posted by bunderful at 8:49 PM on March 6, 2019

You might like the original Dank Sauce? It’s not really spicy but it’s got a lot of earthy/umami stuff going on. Safeway/Kroger carries it in the PNW.
posted by charmedimsure at 9:13 PM on March 6, 2019

Earthy makes me think of mole, which is a topic unto itself.

To up your dried chile game, there are two common types of smoked chiles you can buy, moritas and chipotles. Everyone knows about the latter, but my best earthy salsas all require moritas and/or puyas (which aren't smoked but do a similar job).

Also, toast your comino, cilantro bolita etc. before you grind it, and grind those spices whole. It makes a huge difference.
posted by aspersioncast at 10:11 PM on March 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

I think you want Hank Sauce. In grad school, my department (Earth & Environmental Science) sold them with a custom label because they a) are localish and b) marketed themselves as earthy. Not sure if it's the SAME earthy you're looking for, but they are delicious. If you want a little more kick, I'd start out with the Camouflage.
posted by DoubleLune at 5:42 AM on March 7, 2019

I love the complexity of Pickapeppa, it's Jamaican. Sometimes I want a little more heat and mix it with something very hot but not that complex like Dave's Insanity Sauce. I haven't tried all the other flavors, but they also might have what you want.
posted by advicepig at 6:23 AM on March 7, 2019

I should add, regular Pickappa is not hot at all, you have to get one that says hot on it to get anything like heat.
posted by advicepig at 6:24 AM on March 7, 2019

You might want to try Pepper Plant's California Style Hot Pepper Sauce. It's got good rich flavor and lots of salt. It's available in stores in California, not sure elsewhere.

Is a basic can of chipotle in adobo sauce close to what you're looking for?

But I think I know what you mean. There's a traditional red Mexican hot sauce / salsa that to me looks like it's nothing but ground red chile peppers in water, maybe a little vinegar. And some salt of course. The sauce is incredibly earthy, I'd say "dirty", and quite hot. Little flecks of chile skin and seed still floating in it. I'd say it's made from some roasted or smoked pepper but not a chipotle. But I don't know exactly what it is.
posted by Nelson at 6:39 AM on March 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Look for sauces with Aleppo peppers. This one is a favorite, although it's definitely not a Mexican style sauce.

Also, when you say that you like certain Mexican sauces that are deep and fiery, that flavor may be coming from fried tomato sauce. Many recipes actually fry crushed tomatoes and their juices to a deep red and build from there.
posted by youknowwhatpart at 6:40 AM on March 7, 2019

I'll recommend Inner Beauty hot sauce. It is hot enough to summon a Balrog but has an earthy Caribbean depth to it rounded out with mustard and just the right top note of sweetness.
posted by the matching mole at 7:28 AM on March 7, 2019

Also, in general roasting all your ingredients will make for an earthier sauce. One of my main salsas *requires* roasting and peeling the chiles and garlic, and roasting (but not peeling) the tomatoes and tomatillos.
posted by aspersioncast at 7:33 AM on March 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

You might try adding mulato chilies to your mix if you haven't already done so.
posted by Rufous-headed Towhee heehee at 8:30 AM on March 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Reading your description, I would want gochujang.
posted by koucha at 10:21 AM on March 7, 2019

Slightly different (it's thicker than a typical hot sauce) but "earthy" and "deep" made me think of Sosu's Barrel-Aged Sriracha (currently sold out, but you can sign up to be notified when it's back). It's amazing and delicious. (It's a maybe a bit smokey but not overly so.)
posted by darksong at 11:21 AM on March 7, 2019

And if you can get your hands on Chimayo chiles, they are all about a combination of earthiness and heat.

Potrero Trading Post is a source for Chimayo chiles and chile powder by mail order.
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:02 PM on March 7, 2019

Response by poster: Thank you all for your wonderful answers! I'm excited to have so many new sauces and recipes to try. I marked as best answer the ones I will be trying first - I've downloaded Rick Bayless' book and will be trying that recipe soon, and in the meantime I'm excited to hear that aleppo pepper sauces exist - I almost mentioned in my original post that I really like Aleppo peppers from Penzeys but the earthiness wasn't quite concentrated enough, so I'm looking forward to giving that a try. I'm definitely going to keep an eye out for Dank Sauce the next time I'm at Safeway and will be trying others from this list as I can. I'll update with the results if the balrogs don't get me first - thank you again!
posted by DingoMutt at 1:26 PM on March 8, 2019

Response by poster: (and Nelson, yes, you're describing the exact kind of sauce I really like, with the chili skin and seed flecks in it - like you say, the flavor isn't quite chipotle, and just canned chipotles tend to taste more smokey and tangy than "earthy" to me - but I'm glad other people know what sauce I'm talking about! Keeping my fingers crossed with those recipes I'll be trying ...)
posted by DingoMutt at 3:26 PM on March 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Okay it's been about a month and I've been trying sauces! Still haven't found that holy grail I'm looking for, though I've bought and made some perfectly tasty sauces in the meantime. In case anybody is curious:

- I made Rick Bayless' recipe, and it's yummy! Dried peppers do provide an earthy note and I suspect that they do play a role in the kind of sauce I want, but I still haven't found a balance that really tastes like it does at the Mexican restaurants I've had it at. I tried youknowwhatpart and bunderful's suggestion of adding fried/roasted tomatoes to half the batch and again - tasty, but still missing something I can't quite figure out. Will continue experimenting, maybe adding tomatillos or cilantro or something.

- Dank Sauce: definitely umami, but has a certain chutney-ish or steak saucy flavor that wasn't what I had in mind this time. I've been enjoying it on breakfast foods, though, and am looking forward to making some dank waffles sometime soon.

- Volcanic Peppers Aleppo Pepper sauce: a little sweet, and the aleppo flavor isn't quite coming through the way it does with just dried aleppo peppers. Great for subs and pizza, though!

- I've also acquired some other sauces that are tasty but not really earthy enough: Tia Lupita (tastes a lot like taco seasoning, in a good way), Salsa Huichol (kind of like Tapatio), and Nando's XX Hot Peri-Peri sauce (nice lemoniness, and a hint of earthiness that I wish could be dialed up). The DingoWife is starting to side-eye all the sauces I've accumulated so I probably need to eat up some of them before buying more, but next on my list is going to be the Pepper Plant hot sauce recommended by Nelson, the Bolt sauce crush suggested, and some more of the recipes snuffleupagus provided. I'll get through them all at some point!

- Weirdly, the closest I've found so far to what I'm looking for has been a fairly nondescript looking sauce at a Firehouse Sub shop called Deathwish Cayenne. Not as hot as I usually like but the earthiness was there. The workers didn't know where it had been bought but I'm looking for it locally so I don't have to pay more in shipping than the sauce costs ... but it just may come to that.

Anyway, thank you again, everyone! My balrog summoning project continues ...
posted by DingoMutt at 6:05 PM on April 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

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