Chefs’ Picks tracks down what the pros are eating and cooking from coast to coast.
In the ever-evolving space of restaurant kitchens, chefs are pushing the spice boundaries by finding creative ways to bring on the heat. It’s no longer just about a simple hot sauce or shake of the crushed red to enhance flavor and add excitement to a dish. These chefs across the country share their favorite spicy condiments, such as Korean gochujang, French Espelette and other tongue-tingling ingredients.
Chef-Made Hot Sauce
One look at the wall of hot sauces at Chicago’s Oyster Bah and there’s no doubting that hot sauce is serious business at this New England-inspired seafood joint. In addition to keeping a wide array of popular selections on hand, Chef Donny Farrell has taken to creating his own. The restaurant currently offers five hot sauces made in-house, all fully fermented using the same base recipe but with different peppers like Fresno, Finger Red Hot, Banana, Jalapeño and Manzano. “Each pepper has a different water content and spice level, so they ferment differently, giving each sauce a unique flavor specific to the pepper used,” Farrell explains.
For Chef Michael Barrera of Townhouse in Detroit, a creative take on a spicy condiment came as part of his search to create the ideal ranch dressing. Before landing on the Gochujang ranch, Barrera and his team tried out several variations — Sriracha, roasted chile peppers, blackened spices — but none worked quite like the Korean spice. “So the gochujang intrigued me,” Barrera says. “Would mixing fermented soybeans, rice and chiles work with ranch flavors? The answer is yes! It’s a pretty harmonious combination, actually.” The result is a distinctive ranch dressing with an unexpected zing to balance its creamy texture. The upscale bar serves the ranch with their fried Korean chicken wings with some scallions on the side.
Spicy Emmental Sauce
Chef Nico Romo of Fish Restaurant in Charleston, S.C., adds spice to many of the condiments that top the dishes at his French-Asian inspired restaurant. For brunch he jazzes up his cabbage pancake with a spicy Emmental sauce. To form the base of the sauce, Romo uses bacon fat instead of butter, to add a rich, smoky taste. He also incorporates Emmental cheese plus a generous squirt of Sriracha and a dusting of Espelette pepper for a one-two punch of heat. The resulting sauce brings serious spice to this savory dish.
Red pepper flakes may be the usual pizza spice, but at Balena in Chicago it’s Calabrian chile oil that kicks up the pie. “Condiments for pizza usually revolve around dried chile flakes, which are inconsistent in flavor and spice level, so we wanted to bring a superior pepper to the condiment game,” says Chef Chris Pandel. “The Calabrian chile is sweet, spicy and just a little bit smoky, which adds a much more exciting kick to our pizzas.”
Calabrian Chile Oil
4 ounces Calabrian chiles, packed in oil
2 cups olive oil
1 teaspoon toasted Arbol chile flakes
Drain the oil from the chiles and pick off stems.
Add remaining ingredients to a food processor and process for 2 minutes. Serve drizzled over pizza.
Photos courtesy of Anjali Pinto, Andrew Cebulka, Fish and Balena