LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
But about six years ago, I came upon this article in a food magazine that identified all of the chile peppers you would find in an average grocery store. The article, which I saved, didn’t just describe the appearance of about 20 of these peppers, it also described their flavor. In my world, spicy was spicy was spicy. But this article showed me that, like wine, there are also subtle flavor nuances — chocolate, fruit, smoke— in chile peppers. Finally, it also described the kind of heat you could expect from each of them. Some came on strong and then mellowed almost immediately. Some lingered. Some smoldered like coals and made your eyes water.
The article stuck with me and I decided right then and there I was tired of being left out of the Spicy Hot Club. So I started slowly by putting pickled jalapeno slices on my hamburgers. I started having more wasabi with my sushi. I started making increasingly hot salsa.
Then I started exploring hot sauce. I started with Tabasco and then tried Frank’s, which I realized I far preferred. Cholula is fun with tacos and fajitas. Sriracha was an immediate hit. Sambal olek I had to hunt down in an Asian food store in Lexington. Piri piri I found by chance while on vacation.
I knew when I was bringing home hot sauce in my suitcase that I had graduated to a new level. Now I’m eyeing those habaneros they sometimes have at the grocery and wondering if I have the guts.
The fun thing about being a spice queen is getting to discover a whole new world of food that you’ve spent your life carefully avoiding. It’s like finding a new aisle in the grocery store you never knew existed. And it really does jazz up stuff like eggs, pasta and burgers.