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Monday, April 30, 2012

Learning about Tabasco

Tabasco sauce isn't just for dousing on eggs or doctoring your bloody mary. In fact it takes on a completely different character when used in cooking rather than as a finishing sauce. It's a surprisingly versatile condiment that can be used in a wide variety of dishes and drinks. There are seven different varieties of Tabasco sauce (actually there are a couple more as well that are not widely available). I learned all of this and more on a recent visit to Avery Island, home and birthplace of Tabasco sauce. The trip to Louisiana was with the inaugural group of Tabasco tastemakers. As one of the "tastemakers," I will be creating several recipes using Tabasco (for which I am being compensated).

During my visit I saw the pepper fields, the barrel room (where I tasted chili pepper mash), the factory (where I breathed in vinegar fumes), the lab, the bottling rooms and learned just how Tabasco is made. While almost 99% of the Tabasco chile peppers come from places like Latin America and Africa, all varieties of Tabasco sauce are made on Avery Island. The peppers are processed, made into a mash with salt, aged and fermented in bourbon barrels, then transformed into sauces.

At a dinner for the Tabasco tastemakers I was blown away by how chef Alon Shaya of Domenica restaurant in New Orleans used Tabasco in his cooking. Twice nominated for a regional James Beard award, Shaya cooks his unique version of Italian food using the best local ingredients he can find, and a good deal of restraint in a town where excess is generally taken to an extreme. He used Tabasco in everything from a simple yet intensely flavored handmade pasta with shrimp to a chocolate dessert.

Finally bartender Neal Bodenheimer of Cure used Tabasco in cocktails with spirits like Pimm's and rum and creme de banane. One of the drinks he made was a "cobbler" which traditionally is a drink made with wine or sherry, sugar and fresh fruit. His cocktails were both unexpected and amazing. Stay tuned for my first recipe...

Read more blog posts about the Tastemaker trip:

Comic strip of Camper English tasting pepper mash from Alcademics

Of Mash, Marsh and Memorable Meals from Food Orleans

Avery Island, part deux: boils, bottles, bloodies & boudin from Food Orleans

Tabasco taste test from Fritos and Foie Gras

Chef Alon Shaya goes Tabasco crazy from Fritos and Foie Gras

A Visit to Avery Island Louisiana Home of Tabasco Sauce from Recipe Girl

A Trip to Avery Island Louisiana from Eat, Live, Run

Top 10 Avery Island Louisiana from What's Gaby Cooking

Disclaimer: I visited Avery Island as a guest of Tabasco