Thursday, October 12, 2017

Some Like It Hot

By Carl Weiss
Image courtesy of Pixabay

When it comes to kicking your recipes up a notch or two, many chefs bring out the hot stuff.  By hot stuff I am referring to hot sauce, hot peppers, cayenne pepper, Cajun seasoning or some other form of enhanced seasoning or sauce.  Heck, some signature dishes have made a name for themselves strictly because of adding heat.  Buffalo wings is a prime example of this.

While everyone has an opinion about the hot stuff, bear in mind that it isn't all that difficult to make a recipe too hot to handle.  Case in point: Years ago, my friends and I would get together from time to time to strut our culinary stuff.  A friend of mine who happens to have been borne in Mexico, made these fabulous empanadas that everyone would scarf down by the half dozen.  At least we did until the time he made them a little too Mexican by amping up the amount of jalapeno peppers.  Suddenly, he found himself being the only person at the party who could eat more than one of these delicacies.

My point is that when it comes to adding heat, you need to cater the burn to your audience.  There are a number of recipes that I have shared with my Man Cave Munchies fans over the years, some of which require some heat to make them authentic.  My Jambeerlaya dish would just be another risotto without the addition of Creole spice.  That being said, what I traditionally do is add a little zing, then invite my guests to add hot sauce to taste.  This means having several different brands of hot sauce, including one made with Datil peppers that I tell my friends to use at their own peril.

While hot sauce works with some recipes, it shouldn't be used in every recipe you cook.  The trick is to match the correct hot ingredient with the correct recipe.  Hot peppers work well in Mexican and Chinese recipes, while cayenne pepper goes great on corn, crab, potatoes, tomatoes, Rice dishes and lobster.  Did you know that cayenne can also help you lose weight, relieve aches and pains, clear your sinuses and even reduce blood sugar levels?  That's because the active ingredient in cayenne pepper is Capsaicin, which is found in many over-the-counter pain relievers.

Below is my Tamale Pie recipe that will show you the right way and the wrong way to add spicy ingredients.

Cajun Cooking

Having lived in the New Orleans area for more than 5-years, I learned a thing or two about Cajun cooking.  The first thing I learned is there is a distinct difference between Cajun and Creole cuisine.  As a Big Easy native explained to me, Creole cuisine uses tomatoes while Cajun cooking does not.  New Orleans locals refer to Creole cuisine as city food and Creole cuisine as country food.  As a result, Creole cooks use butter in their roux, while their Cajun cousins prefer to use lard.  On the other hand, both schools of  Big Easy cooking use a hot spice blend that is nearly identical.  Relying on a blend of black, white and red pepper, and Hungarian paprika (that has a kick of its own), the only real difference is the addition of ground cumin and chili powder to the Cajun blend as you will note below.

Cajun Spice Blend
1/3 cup kosher salt (not table salt)
1/4 cup chili powder
1/4 cup Hungarian paprika
1 tbl ground black pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp white pepper
1/2 tsp ground cumin
2 tbls garlic powder
1 tbl ground coriander
1 tbl onion powder
1 tbl dried oregano
1 tbl basil
1 tbl thyme

Creole Spice Blend
3 tbls salt
5 tbls Hungarian paprika
1 tbl cayenne pepper
1 tbl white pepper
1 tbl black pepper
1 tbl thyme
2 tbls basil
2 tbls oregano
2 tbls onion powder
2 tbls garlic powder

Bodacious Barbecue

There are really only 4 secrets to great barbecue:
1. If you aren't using charcoal it isn't real barbecue
2. Dry rub sets the stage
3. Slow cooking makes for mouth-watering, fall off the bone meat
4. Sauce seals the deal

Now don't send me hate mail if you like to cook outdoors on a gas grill.  I have been known to use gas from time to time, but I didn't call it barbecue (even if I threw a handful or 2 of wood chips on the grill).  Real barbecue requires the use of charcoal topped with an occasional handful of soaked hardwood chips.  It also requires the chef to take his time.  The first secret to great barbecue is to determine how close to the coals to put the meat and how long to cook it.  Smoking means keeping the coals in practically another zip code from the meat.  Barbecue means knowing whether to cook the meat directly over the coals or off to one side.  Get this factor right and you have moist, tender meat.  Get it wrong and you just made rawhide.

The second secret is to use a dry rub beforehand.  While there are many different dry rub recipes out there, they all have a great many similarities.  The reason to coat chicken, pork and beef with a dry rub has more to do with waking up your taste buds than it does to tenderizing the meat.  A dry rub is characterized by rubbing a blend of herbs, salt and pepper onto the meat before cooking begins.  While there are many varieties, all dry rubs use the four S's: Salt, sweet, savory and spicy.  Below is my video for my signature Gold Dust Rub.  For the spicy portion I recommend a combination that includes some of the following: red or black pepper, chili powder, and/or Hungarian paprika.

A Sauce is a Sauce

Finally, here is my take on barbecue sauce.  While not every meat needs to have barbecue sauce slathered on it, sometimes a good sauce can add that final element to great BBQ.  The trick is to make your own and use it only at the last possible minute. That means either after the fact, when the meat has been removed from the coals, or during the last 10-minutes of cooking time to glaze the meat.  Just as with dry rubs, there are hundreds of different barbecue sauce recipes.  Some are fiery and some are sweet.  It all comes down to your imagination and how you want to wake up your taste buds.  Aside from adding heat to the sauce, it is also a snap to add booze.  Below you will find my Beer BBQ Sauce & Beer Balls video.

That's my take on smoking hot recipes.  Feel free to share yours with me and the Man Cave Munchies audience by emailing  

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