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June 27, 2007 / Tony

Make your own hot sauce?

I was reading an article in the Christian Science Monitor this morning about a hot sauce entrepreneur.  It was the normal puff piece about a person with an obscure beginning taking an idea and making something of it.  What interested me about the article, however, was a recipe for homemade hot sauce; i.e. making your own Tabasco or Frank’s.  At first glance, I dismissed it as something I wouldn’t do-after all, I like Frank’s Hot Sauce.  I have it in my fridge and at my desk.  But after finishing the article and moving on with my day, something started to nag at me.  I began to feel as if I had had an unjust feeling.  Did I really just dismiss a recipe because I was satisfied with a commercially available product?  Did I just uncover a culinary blind spot in my mind?  I then started to think about my earlier posts regarding American cooking and how sorry I think that Americans are such poor cooks (here and here).  It then became clear that my reaction was just another incarnation of why I think convenience food is bad for America. 

To me, there are only three reasons a person would eat convenience foods: 1) That is the only possible food a person could eat at the time because of other factors in a life; 2) A person likes convenience food even if he or she can make other food; and 3) A person has to eat it because he or she cannot make other food for themselves.  The third reason, of course, is the one most relevant to my discussion here (although the second reason is almost as troubling for different reasons) because as soon as a person says, “I can’t,” his or her culinary skills (or life) are being self-limited.  Now, this is not a discussion about human potential but it is worth thinking about what are the sensible limits of a home cook.  Or, in this context, what things should a home cook buy and what things should a home cook cook? 

This question, I think, is dependent upon two factors: ability and quality.  Let us take two extreme examples: flour and marinara sauce.  Flour, being ground wheat, is something I would not suggest any home cook make.  Nobody has a mill in the kitchen or the ability to separate the wheat kernel into its various parts or any of the other equipment or abilities (of which I am ignorant) needed to make flour.  Even if one did, I have to question whether or not that flour would be better than the good commercially available brands (like King Arthur’s).  Flour, I think, is definitely off-limits.  On the other hand, marinara sauce is easy to make (see my earlier post) and far tastier than any commercial counterpart.  Plus, it takes no additional equipment to make.  Hence, I think marinara sauce is clearly something that a home cook should cook. 

Hot sauce is a “tweener.”  The recipe, which is found on page 3 of the link, looks fairly easy and can probably be made in a blender as well as a food-processor.  However, is it better than Frank’s Hot Sauce or even the hot sauce that the subject of the article makes?  I don’t know, I haven’t tried it yet.  But I think I will try to make it, just to see what happens and to learn something.  At the end of it all, I might decide it’s not worth the effort but I think I owe it to myself to at least give myself a fighting chance.  And that’s what I think the average American cook should do to: give themselves a chance.  Make homemade gravy and sauces instead of buying canned or dry-mix gravies.  Make homemade cookies.  Make homemade salad dressing.  Make homemade mashed potatoes.  Don’t be afraid to try it.  Even if you fail, you’ve learned something about cooking.  And more likely than not, your product is going to be superior to what you’re used to buying.  Just keep expanding what you can and will cook.  If every home cook would do this, America would be a happier place and one with much better food. 

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3 Comments

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  1. Rochelle / Jun 28 2007 11:41 pm

    I have been thinking about convenience foods alot lately. Your reasons for eating them make alot of sense. Recently on a recipe request site I read a post of someone wanting to know how to make cheese curls (Cheetos). To me that is an example of trying to go too far at home. But I agree most of us could make a lot more things than we do.

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