Friday, July 24, 2009

Hot Sauce thoughts in New Orleans

Po-boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
If You Can’t Stand The Heat
Scoville’s Horse
Okay, Tabasco sauce is hot, and when it comes to food, the word means hot. In fact since the first two ounce bottle was sold by Edmund McIlhenny in 1869, Tabasco brand pepper sauce has been the benchmark in hot sauces and is exported to over 110 countries. Talk about a success story. It is rated at about 3-5,000 SU (Scoville Units). Consider it a classic.
Recently though, hot sauces have taken a different turn with a ‘burn K-Doe burn’ emphasis, with criterias of higher Scovilles and catchier labels. The labels that have flooded the market are the likes of ‘Pleasure and Pain, Plastering Phiery Pneumatic Perambulators On Unsophisticated Pharynxes ’, ‘Ass On Fire In A Bucket Of Blazing Briquettes’ and ‘Bubba’s Butt Rectal Revenge/Satan Sphincter Shrinker Venom Masochistic Napalm’.
Scoville ratings have now gone out of the roof and into outer space. And next you’re gonna ask, “Phil, what the deuce is a Scoville?”
Ahem…in 1912 a man named Scoville heard his horse ask: “Wilburrrrr, how hot is hot?” And, viola, he set about investigating, formulating and recording the different heat levels of different peppers. Assembling a posse of gangsta tastas and using a normal bell pepper as a zero Scoville Unit (SU), he set about seeing exactly how much sugar water it would take to neutralize the heat of any given pepper. For example, he found that it would take 2,500-5,000 drops of sugar water to neutralize one ounce of a Jalapeño pepper’s heat, so he gave it a rating of 2,500-5,000 Scoville Units, based on the Scoville Organdeptic Test. What he was measuring was the levels of capsiacinoids, the element that we call heat. Incidentally, nowadays the test is done using a microscope. By the way, that little orange pepper called a Habanera that you see in stores and in hot sauces? It’s 200,000-300,000 SU. There are sauces available that go up to 1,000,000 SU if you’d care to blow your brains and your bottom out. Compare classic Tabasco sauce at 3-5,000 SU to pure capaicin at 16,000,000 SU.
Where are we going with this? Just a little background information while we whet your appetite for real hot sauces with simple names from the New Orleans area that are used in our homes and restaurants to flavor our local foods with a minimum of fooling around.
But first, did you know that until very recently, most New Orleans restaurants made their own hot pepper sauce? It was usually kept in a big glass bottle in the dining room and vinegar and peppers were added as necessary to keep it going. Many residents still make their own (myself included). I recently met a man that is keeping up and using his grandfather’s sauce. His grandfather died over thirty years ago!
I contacted some local companies and did taste tests and here’s what I found. Hot sauces are either water distilled or vinegar distilled, naturally the type of pepper used and it’s proportion to the liquid effects the strength of the brew. Vinegar is added to most pepper sauces for bite, sugar or fruits will be added to tone the mixture down. Water distilled sauces will be milder, with less bite and more emphasis on flavor. Aging is also a factor, and like fine wine, aging develops complexity of taste, a balance of acidity and the heat and smoothness of flavor profile. But you already knew that.
Okay, this is the part where I ‘Goggled’ local hot sauces and only one answered out of a half a dozen. If I had been writing this about Tabasco, I’m so damn sure that they would have jumped on this wagon and sent me samples, some Tabasco bling, banners and maybe even a brass band, that I could spit. But nooooo… I’ve got to write about the little guys.
Anyway, rule numero uno: read the ingredients and if there is something other than stuff found in nature and your kitchen, put that puppy back on the shelf! I’m thinking “peppers, vinegar, salt”. You with me?
Here’s some local names: Cajun Chef, Panola, Crystal, Louisiana, Chachere’s, Ashanti and Bayou Red.
Rule two: choose your camp. Are you gonna be a Louisiana fan, a world fan or are you, like some hard core Pepperheads, gonna swear allegiance to one brand and go so far as to even carry a bottle with you? Or do you give a rat’s whisker at all? Personally I love Sriracha and will use it on everything wherever I find it served, but I don’t tote it with me. It’s got a lot of stuff in it and is contradictory to any Pepperhead rules; but, like love, I am blind to it’s faults and prey to it’s flavors. Other sauces I can take or leave; however, some of the chipotle (smoked jalapeño) sauces are rather appealing.
Rule three: snub your nose at gimmicky pepper sauce. If you’re going to be a serious Pepperhead use them for flavor and heat, not just for heat and a cartoon of a woman dressed in low cut leather, sporting a whip and black thigh-high boots.
Number four: check out Latin American, Caribbean, Asian, Indonesian and American regional sauces. Go to tastings (Austin has a great one) and talk it up with fellow Pepperheads.
Five: as the man said, “If you don’t like the news, make some of your own!” The same goes for hot sauces. You can and should make your own hot sauce. There are books out there like ‘Hot Licks’ by Jennifer Trainer Thompson and more; check ‘em out! To further exploit quotations, as an ex-con acquaintance once said to me “read a book, get a clue.
And Six: Use your computer to Further educate yourself. When last I checked there were 1629 books answering the key words ‘recipe hot sauces’. Rounding third and heading for home, heeeeeere’s Seven: go down to the Decatur Street Newsstand, 1133 Decatur, and pick up a chili lover’s magazine, or two. Call Bruce, 566-3000, to see which ones are in.
Until next month, here's this: In India they grow a pepper, Bhut Joloka or Ghost Pepper, 1,001,304 SU. It is said to be the equivalent of a sensory mugging or as one quote assured "like swigging a cocktail of battery acid and glass shards." Woof! Let me in on your thoughts.

What's best in New Orleans

Best of Big Easy by Phil LaMancusa #1
Take our local free press (please)! ‘Ya gotta love ‘em’, as they say. No matter what your bent is, there’s a publication, free for the taking, to be had. That is unless you are a person of a sixth world ethnicity, political weirdly oriented, sexual persuasion/perversion performer, restricted diet militant, fugue music loving goon from Nowhere’s-ville. And would I be worth my brown-nosing salt if I didn’t mention Where Y’at? Not on your tintype. The only thing that we lack is an advice column and a horoscope section (okay, maybe a soduku or whatever that is) and we’d be up there with, oh, I don’t know, The New York Times!
Well seriously, now that I’ve got my tongue out of my cheek, don’t you ritualistically pick up Gambit, Ambush, The Levee, Spiritual Awakenings, Saint Charles, Off Beat and/or Where Y’at every frigging time that you see one laying around? Of course you do! “Why, Madge, you’re soaking in it now!”
I don’t know if you’ve noticed it, but, this is not that big of a town. And, If I were a betting man, I’d give you eight to five that we’ve got more free rags than Timbuktu!
Best of Big Easy by Phil LaMancusa #2
Okay, you’ve got to hand it to us. As an American microcosm, The Big Easy has all the respect for it’s elected officials as a Mexican street urchin has for a piñata at Christmas time. In fact government bashing has been brought to a new level by much of my constituents and fellow residents. Especially us veterans of the “Thing”. Stand in any line, sit in any waiting room, ride any public conveyance and start a conversation with “how about that City Hall?”
No, it’s not our sports teams, our bi-polar weather systems, our food culture or even our fashion challenged news reporters; if you want to start a group discussion with strangers, just ask “anyone heard from the mayor?” or “what’s up with the city council, school board, water or traffic departments”.
There is no antidote for the poisons that we’ve been carrying in our hearts and our minds as to how every day one form of government or another has let us down with absolutely no shame whatsoever.
New New Orleanean’s have zero faith in our leaders and for good reason. Obviously, no one in our local so called organized government (don’t get us started on State or Federal) gives a flip about us. We might have to suck it up, but we sure as hell can and do complain bitterly. Good for us!
Best of #3
What I really love, for sure, is our levees. Unless you live on a major American waterway you probably believe that a levee is something in a blues song used as a form of the word leverage. Growing up in the north, I didn’t know what one was and never had the word in my vocabulary until I moved here and now the word ‘levee’ is much more than a physical barrier that keeps us all from breathing our oxygen mixed with two parts hydrogen.
NOW the word levee is no longer just this mound of dirt/flimsy jut of steel; it’s part of a sentence. A walk, a kiss or taking the dog for a run on; for starters. A sunrise, a sit-down or just simply ‘going up to…’. I don’t usually picnic, nap or try to hail a taxi from up there; but, muse, play or play music for that matter cogitates real fine.
Contrawise, a trip to the levee is always a good way to observe and meditate on the vagaries of human existence and life in general. To be aware that the river rises and falls with regularity influenced by it’s travels, travails and inflections as before time immemorial at hundreds of thousands of gallons per second, or the speed of thought.
#4 if you please:
How about this for a candidate on the subject of the Best of The Big Easy: Uncle Louie. I feel sorry for you folks that don’t live or work in the French Quarter. You’re missing one of God’s own displays of children that refuse to grow up. You’re missing the spectacle of Peter’s lost boys, of the coming to town by the gypsies, troubadours, fortune tellers, mimes, magicians, charlatans and tricksters that we as residents enjoy every day in some form/degree or another.
Of course, then again you don’t get to contend with the hustles, muggings, public displays of body fluids, drug deals and drunks in doorways like we do. Your chained bicycle is not up for grabs like ours are. I consider it a wash.
However, in the realm of the Master Thespian is the artist known as Uncle Louie. In the comings and goings of life; ‘he stands like a statue, becomes part of the machine’. Impeccably and completely in white (except for an American flag hat) he is frozen, mid stride, in too many locations to map unless you know his routine. His faithful cigar smoking pup (leashed of course) attends and he’s poetry in loco-non-motion. And “if you don’t know what I’m talkin’ ‘bout… you better ass somebody!”

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The State of New Orleans

Po-boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
Not a begonia
The column that ‘twern’t
I had decided that it was high time that someone did an article about the abundance of bellies in New Orleans. From the petite and pretty pooches of the barely post pubescent to Ponderosa paunches approaching personal postal zones, like the cone heads in Harry Nilsson’s ‘The Point’, “everybody’s got one” here. Including me. Then I thought: how does a future friendless sound after I’ve made light of that subject?
Then I thought that a complete page devoted to George Carlin would be the ticket; you know, the guy that thought that six six seven was the neighbor of the beast and reportedly was disappointed that when he put a dollar in the change machine… nothing changed. Too deadpan?
What about a trip up Saint Louis Street, from the cradle of the Mississippi to the grave of Saint Louis cemetery? We could go up past Johnny’s Po boys to the Napoleon House, the old Royal Orleans Hotel, Antoine’s, Herman Grima and crack alley etc. Maybe a little too real.
Then I remembered a trip to Walgreens where a young black kid swiped a bag of potato chips, compounded by a trip to Whole Foods where thirty something white guys snitched chocolates from the bulk section while their twenty something white girlfriends looked on smiling. Kids these days.
What about the carpenter/musician that had three fingers cut off in a construction accident? Bad visual.
Well, what shall I write about? My twelve favorite places to kiss in New Orleans? I can only think of three… the mouth, the ear… make that four.
The weather here could inspire tomes. We don’t have room for that subject, stick around fifteen minutes, it’ll change.
How about my upcoming trip to Paris as I teach myself to speak Italian? How weird is that? “dove posso trovare” and fill in the blanks? Present, past present, future subjunctive imperative? Want to watch some paint dry? What the Dickens is a ‘past present’? Lingerie?
Murder, mayhem, crime, corruption and the jerking off of the hopes and wishes of New Orleans optimists? Old news and we’re down to losing only a quarter of our population as rents rise and locals in need of pharmaceuticals go haywire watching dreams dashed.
Good news! You can recycle cans and paper at the Green Project, give them some kind of donation (cash) to help on the cost, they’re still fighting the good fight. AND, I’m a grandpa! A baby girl, eight pounds eleven ounces, twenty-one inches long. I told my daughter that she did not have a baby…she gave birth to an anaconda! Woof!
Alright, I’ll tell you a story. I was a kid that ran away from home a lot, so it stands to reason that as an adult not much changed. You know, they say that in any situation there’s love, then work and then love comes back, Well, I’m not the person that ever stuck around for the work part. When things get tough… this tough guy gets going.
Anyway, to make a long story longer, one time I decided to get a mule and wagon and start traveling (at five miles an hour) for the rest of my life. No kidding, I’ve got pictures to prove it. It’s really not such a long story. We had a wheel break in Homer, La. back then it was the home of the KKK. They didn’t like the idea of some longhaired guy, even if he was with woman and child, passing through their turf and in a very short space of time, the mule was poisoned and the wagon was burned. That’s not such a good story. Let’s try again.
A limerick? An excuse, an alibi, an amusing anecdote? Sorry, nothing comes to mind. Does the word ‘embarrassed’ really come from being bare assed? Do catfish have kitten fish? How much sawdust does a chicken have to eat to lay a two by four twelve inches long? Can you picture those motorcycle dudes on tractors instead? Talk about penis envy.
Still here? When was the last time you saw a quarter with red fingernail polish on it? How old am I?
I’m old enough to remember penny candy, rotary phones and correspondence in long hand. I remember Grand Funk Railroad on vinyl. I remember when Keith Richards didn’t look like Frankenstein and Etta James didn’t resemble Jabba da Hutt. Hell, I’ve forgotten how much I remember!!!
Okay. Now it’s your turn, what do you want to talk about? The war? Crime, poverty, education, where to have dinner or how to stop drinking? Politics? A statue of a baby with a clock in it’s stomach? Bob Dylan’s unlisted phone number?
Enough about you, let’s talk about me. Me? I have Opus envy. I want to be that pintsize penguin. Oh, I know, I could have Martha Stewart envy or Kermit Ruffins, Doctor John, Bill Gates or even Jenna Bush envy. Noooooo, I wanna be Opus and hang out with Bill D. Kat and that whole gang. Do you think it strange to want to be a cartoon character? C’mon; Wonder woman, Garfield Batman, Snoopy, Sylvester, Mickey…they all have charm. Get Fuzzy, Pearls Before Swine and Doonsesbury are all cool; but Opus…he’s da bomb! Who do you want to be? Brad Pitt or Jennifer Anniston?
Chatter, chatter, cosmic debris. I read about California wildfires, Democratic leaders, car bombings and civil unions gaining ground. I must be on overload; now it’s American Indians selling drugs, anti Cuban exiles getting released on bail, an ex judge is guilty of bribery and a woman in New York that had her gall bladder removed through her vagina!
I sometimes think that the world cannot get any more strange and then it does. I kinda wish that the government would re-institute the draft just to see what would happen.
Rounding third and heading for home. By this time next month, I’d had gone in for a procedure involving my colon that they tell me is common for guys my age. Tune in and I’ll tell you how much a pain in the ass doctors can be. Good night Irene, I’ll see you in my dreams.