I’ve tried them all, those bottled incendiaries. I’ve slathered ribs with Satan’s Blood, marinated chicken wings in Marie Sharp’s Habanero, dotted my roast vegetables with Mike’s Hot Honey and dipped chips in Professor Phardtpounders Colon Cleaner.
But I always return to Tabasco Pepper Sauce. To me, it’s best because its heat is clean. Just a neat sear. The Tabasco people don’t pump it full of puréed mango, say, or too many habaneros. It doesn’t sport an infernal name.
Above all, I find it more versatile than other hot sauces.
Here are my 10 excellent adventures with Tabasco Pepper Sauce.
10. The ultimate Tabasco no-brainer: on scrambled eggs or an omelet.
9. All over pizza.
8. All over French fries.
7. Three drops in a can of regular Coke. (Try it.)
6. Of a dozen oysters, six with two drops each. (This has been tried even in France. Even in Seattle.)
5. Does not miss with things Cajun.
4. On shrimp and grits, some in the base, some on the serving.
3. Five or six splurts in any large pot of soup or chowder. The heat won’t much show, but the Tabasco’s vinegar “lifts” all the flavors.
2. Ditto for tomato-based pasta sauces.
1. And this is the best: one wee drop on a small chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
The history of shrimp and grits (sometimes called “breakfast grits”) lays a line through the received history of our country. Originally an African dish of ground maize and shellfish, shrimp and grits migrated with slaves into the plantation kitchens of the Lowcountry of the American South.
In the mid-1980s, Craig Claiborne, at the time food editor of The New York Times, convinced a North Carolinian cook named Bill Neal that Neal’s preparation of shrimp and grits was an authentic link back to the nation’s origins and ought to be popularized. The two men did just that.
Cooks and chefs throughout the South, indeed all over the country, spin their takes on shrimp and grits. This is mine.
White Corn Grits with Shrimp
Soaking the grits overnight makes for a creamier finish, with little need to add butter (although a nice knob tastes delicious). Cook the shrimp in the finished sauce. It’s convenient and it makes them even pinker, plus adds a whiff of sea breeze to the sauce. The entire recipe serves two nicely, with grits to spare if desired.
- 1 cup uncooked stone-ground white corn grits (see note)
- 4 cups filtered water, in two 2-cup portions
- Salt and pepper
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons fruity extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 medium yellow or white onion, diced
- 1 small carrot, peeled and diced
- 1 rib celery, diced
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
- 2 pinches herbes de Provence, crushed in fingertips
- 1/2 teaspoon chile powder, heat level your choice
- 6 squirts Tabasco Pepper Sauce (or more, to taste)
- Few grinds black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
- 1 14-ounce can good-quality whole peeled tomatoes
- 8 shrimp, raw, 16-20 size or larger, rinsed
- Finished cooked grits, warm
- Fresh chives, chopped both into both small sticks and “confetti”
- Tabasco Pepper Sauce, for serving
Start the grits the night before: Put the grits into a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed saucepan and add one portion of the water (2 cups). Stir them and let them settle for a minute; then skim off any chaff that floats, using the edge of a spoon or a fine-meshed strainer. Cover the pot and let the grits soak overnight on the counter.
Cook the grits by setting the pot over medium heat. Bring the mix to a simmer, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the first starch takes hold, about 6-7 minutes in. Turn the heat down to its lowest possible setting.
Meanwhile, heat the other portion of the water (2 cups) in a small saucepan and keep it hot but not boiling.
As the grits cook, keep an eye on them and ladle in 1/2 cup of the hot water each time they thicken enough to resist stirring, for a total of about 3 additions of water and 20-25 minutes total cooking, stirring occasionally. (You may or may not use up all the water.)
The grits should be creamy and tender but not broken down and mushy. Add 1 teaspoon salt and a few grindings of pepper halfway through the cooking, and swirl in the butter at the end.
Meanwhile, prepare the shrimps: In a medium-large saucepan, over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil and add the onions, carrot and celery and begin sweating them, 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic, lower the heat slightly and cook 7 minutes more. Add all the seasonings (herbs, chile powder, Tabasco, black pepper and salt), mix them in well, then add the tomatoes, crushing them with a potato masher (or forcefully in your hands as you add them).
Bring the mixture to a steady simmer and cook it, stirring once in a while, for 15 minutes, the pot lid ajar. Remove from heat and set aside to cool a bit. Blend into a sauce with an immersion or other blender, minding splashes if the mixture is still hot.
In a small saucepan, heat the sauce to a slow boil, add the shrimps and, when the sauce returns to a simmer, cook the shrimps for 5 minutes, stirring a bit. Remove the shrimps with tongs, knocking off extra sauce, and place them on a warmed plate.
To serve, place 1/2 of the grits, patted flat, in the center of a large plate with high sides. Ring the grits with 1/2 of the sauce, then top the grits with 4 of the shrimps and garnish with the 2 forms of chopped chives. Serve Tabasco Pepper Sauce alongside.
Note: You’ll want to start with true stone-ground white corn grits. Locally available brands include Anson Mills Coarse White or Pencil Cob Grits or Bob’s Red Mill Southern-Style White Corn Grits. This recipe isn’t fit for “quick grits” or “instant grits,” not as written.