Hot sauce and Rochester go together like wings and Buffalo, spiedies and Binghamton, and Cornell chicken and Syracuse. As they say in the trade, you can take the hot sauce out of Rochester, but you can’t take the Rochester out of hot sauce. It’s in our DNA.
So what’s the deal with our passion for this delectable condiment? And why should you base an entire party on it?
Let’s start with the deal. Rochester-style hot sauce is a unique meat mixture that’s thinner than chili, thicker than Tabasco and crucial to the success of a posh delicacy that was created over 50 years ago at Nick Tahou Hots: the garbage plate. When generously slopped over the plate’s mash-up of meats, macaroni, fries and beans, this legendary sauce will kick your taste buds into high gear like nobody’s business.
Although my efforts to find the recipe for Tahou’s hot sauce proved fruitless, I did happen upon other noteworthy tidbits that could make for lively party banter — the sauce recipe came from a Mexican man who original owner Alex Tahou had befriended in the early 1900s, son Nick invented the plate late one night when some college students came in and requested a plate with “all the garbage on it,” there are roughly 2,500-3,000 calories in one garbage plate, and from a health standpoint it may stave off a hangover.
Oh, and the garbage plate was even featured on Food Network’s TV show “The Best Thing I Ever Ate.” Celebrity chef Johnny Iuzzini said Tahou’s white-hot garbage plate was, ta-dah, the best thing he ever ate.
The popularity of Nick Tahou’s garbage plate has spawned a slew of copycats. My faves are Red Fern’s compost plate and Dogtown’s junkyard plates. Likewise, its distinctive sauce is no stranger to competition, with similar-style sauces accompanying many burgers and hots in our area.
Late one night, I once ate part of a garbage plate and while I never saw the need to repeat the experience, I did feel the need to attempt to recreate the spicy sauce. There was just something about the complexity of the sauce’s flavor that lit up my inner food chemist. Was there cinnamon in there? Cocoa powder? Cumin? What on earth was making it so delicious? I had to give it a go.
Many sauces later, I finally hit a home run, but it was my home run. Not as sweet as Nick Tahou’s and emboldened with Sriracha sauce, it has become a family favorite.
Which brings me full circle — why you should throw a hot sauce party.
Now that the weather’s nicer and everyone’s anxious to get grilling, hosting a hot sauce cook-off is a great way to kick off the summer season. How fun, really, to ask everyone to bring along a homemade hot sauce! The only criteria, of course, is that they have fun making it, whether it’s something as simple as mixing together Tabasco, relish and mustard or something as complicated as simmering ground beef in a melange of exotic spices.
As the host, you’ll supply the meats, some sides and an appropriate award for the best hot sauce. Personally, I’ve always found the coveted Dump Dish — a charitable pile of party leftovers smothered with a slew of hot sauces — to be an excellent award choice.
Anne’s Original Hot Sauce
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound lean ground beef
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon coarse black pepper
1-1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon Sriracha sauce (or less)
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 cup water
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1. Heat oil in large frying pan or pot over medium heat. Add onion and saute until soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and saute one minute more. Add meat and spices (through to cider vinegar), stirring constantly with a spatula and breaking up any clumps.
2. Once the meat browns, stir in water, tomato paste and brown sugar. Simmer covered for 10 minutes. Use a hand immersion blender (just a couple quick whirls) to give the beef a finer texture. Simmer covered, for one hour, adding water if needed to keep it moist but not soupy. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Anne Palumbo writes this column for Messenger Post newspapers. Her email is avpalumbo@aol.com.