Friday, August 6, 2010

My Special Bottle

I think I have a problem. I think I'm addicted to Tabasco sauce. I've tried all the others, but it's always Tabasco that calls me back.

I was poking around in my refrigerator last night and realized I have THREE bottles of Tabasco. And two of them are the jumbo kind. First, I have my day-to-day bottle. Then I have a back-up bottle. And then I have the Special Bottle.

When I go to people's houses, I often find a reason to poke around their spice cabinet. "Do you have, um, any, ah, Mrs. Dash?" I might ask. "I love that stuff." (I hate it.) What I'm really looking for, of course, is their old bottle of Tabasco. The forgotten one, the one they bought when they first got a place of their own and figured they'd need a bottle of Tabasco, but personally they can't stand the stuff. So they opened it once, used it, then stuffed it in the back of a cabinet and forgot about it.

Tabasco is a deceptively simple little liquid. It's made from a mash of the Tabasco hot peppers, which used to be grown on Avery Island in Louisiana and are now mostly grown in South America. The mash is combined with vinegar and salt, then aged for 12 months in a white oak barrel. The juice that's strained out of this concoction is Tabasco.

And as good as this is, it's only the beginning of the heights Tabasco can really achieve. See, like many wines, Tabasco improves with age. It improves in the bottle for years. Prize bottles of Tabasco have turned a suspicious, vinergary-red and have gunk caked around the bottle opening. By this time, the Tabasco has acquired layers of flavor, depths of heat and complexity, that simply can't be faked.

If I find this bottle in your cabinet, I will ask you for it. If you say no, I will steal it. If I like you, I'll buy you a new bottle.

So this is my Special Bottle ... the one I bought a year ago, opened, and have let sit unmolested while other bottles rotate through my life, sprinkling their lives out over pizza, spaghetti, eggs, stews, Chinese food, pretty much everything.

I don't know when I'll finally use the Special Bottle (an anniversary? after finding out I have a terminal illness? during a night of weakness?). But when I do, I expect it will taste like victory, like spicy delayed gratification. In a way, that bottle is a measure of my adulthood—my younger self would have broken down by now.

And I hope there's a plate of lasagna involved.



13 comments:

Kath Calarco said...

I didn't know that Tabasco got better with age. A bottle doesn't live that long in this house. If husband had his way, he'd drink it straight.

I must check the fridge's nooks and crannies. Who knows what greatness lurks there.

Jon VanZile said...

Your husband sounds like my kind of guy. And yeah, lots of people don't know it improves with age. Which works to my advantage.

Stephen Parrish said...

You should pitch this piece to a food magazine. It's top notch.

Jude Hardin said...

I love it on French fries, steamed veggies, scrambled eggs...

I lived in New Orleans for a while, and it was on every table right beside the salt and pepper.

Jon VanZile said...

Stephen,

Thanks!

Jon VanZile said...

Jude,

We lived in NO for a while, too. We had an apartment in the Garden District and I worked waiting tables in the French Quarter. I took the St. Charles streetcar to work every day and home every late night. The whole time, I was in pure food heaven—although I was a little surprised by how many restaurants stocked alternative brands, especially Cholula.

Kath Calarco said...

Jon, my husband is probably the best person on this planet, imho. He fishes, plays poker, screams at the t.v. and keeps all the animals of the realm happy (which includes me). :-)

P.S. I concur with Stevie's idea.

Natasha Fondren said...

Okay, pretending I didn't read the bit about Tabasco on lasagna...

I've never gotten into Tabasco. (For one thing, the bottles are too small!) I do love their green sauce, though. YUM! For red, I use Louisiana Hot Sauce, and I go through a big bottle about once a month. I didn't know that about aging!

Jon VanZile said...

Nathasha,

LOL about Tabasco on lasagna. Seriously, though, I love lasagna with the fierce devotion of a pagan idol worshiper, but it's still improved by a few shakes of the ol' Tabasco bottle.

I ate lots of Louisiana Hot Sauce in New Orleans. It's good stuff. My totally uninformed opinion is that aging would probably only work with hot sauces that are not tomato based. Once you get tomato in there, it's a different ballgame.

Natasha Fondren said...

There's no tomato in Louisiana Hot Sauce! But to be honest, I only found out a year ago. I always sort of assumed there was. :-)

Melanie Avila said...

I'm eating hot sauce (Valentina) mixed with Ranch and dipping pretzels into it. Very appropriate for this post. :)

Sarah Laurenson said...

I took the Avery Island tour. Out of season for alligators unforunately, but it's beautiful there. And they have the gift shop featuring... Tabasco sauce (of course). I think you'd want to dive into the barrel people can sniff churning. No telling how long that stuff's been in there.

Jon VanZile said...

Sarah,

I'm so jealous. I used to live in Louisiana and still kick myself that I never made it for the Avery Island tour.