Original Juan Specialty Foods, Inc.
Normally, when in a down-home, whimsical, quaint food store I do pick up some hot sauce. At Simmons' Farm, just south of Pittsburgh, they had a small variety of jalapeno concoctions, including farm-fresh hot peppers. But one bottle in particular caught my eye: a flask-shaped glass bottle with a picture of a disembodied head, screaming, or having a super-big orgasm, maybe, or both. Right above the picture was a simple phrase: pain is good.
Habanero sauces are usually tempting to my "Thai Green Curry is for Pussies" palate, but ultimately end up unused in the fridge because it's just hard work, breaking into a sweat with capsicum singeing your upper lip. But the ingredients in this #37 sauce were interesting: although Habanero peppers were second on the list, they were preceded by undrained carrots, and followed by minced garlic, mustard seed (yes!) and lemon and lime juice. Clearly Original Juan is going for some real flavor here.
For my taste test I put about a dime-sized dollop on a three-chip stack of overpriced Xochitl white corn tortilla chips from Whole Foods. Viscosity was normal for a thick salsa, without a watery layer (even though I didn't shake the bottle). The color was a burnt orange with flecks of red. Several large minced bits of garlic were visible.
The flavor was impeccable. It was my first time tasting a Habanero sauce in which the heat was secondary to the other flavors. The garlic and vinegar bite were foremost, and the carrot and lime base smoothed the palate into a almost cool zotch. That's right: it was a cool Habanero sauce. After I finished my chip sandwich, and then another plain chip to calm my senses, I had another three-chip stack with more sauce. And then I did it again and again, eventually moving up to a nickel-sized portion of #37 on my chips. I couldn't stop. I couldn't get over how superior carrots are to tomatoes in creating a base for a hot sauce, and how well the spices and other ingredients were proportioned to create the perfect Habanero salsa. This stuff isn't about needing a big pair of balls to choke down ultra-hot Habanero peppers, but about using one of the world's spiciest plants to create a symphony of exciting flavors.
I've always liked back-of-the-bottle product propaganda, and Bath #37's didn't disappoint:
There is a point where pleasure and pain intersect. A doorway to a new dimension of sensual euphoria. Where fire both burns and soothes. Where heat engulfs every neuron within you. Once the line is crossed, once the bottle is opened, once it touches your lips, there is no going back.