Too Hot to Handle

Add a little zest to your favorite foods

By John Addyman

muy calient“You have no taste.”

It was my wife speaking, talking to me.

“I do have taste,” I argued.

Ticking off my proof on my fingers, I reminded her that I had picked out our daughter Amy’s prom dress 22 years ago, that almost every room in our five houses over the years bore a color of paint that I chose, that many of the paintings we have in those houses I chose, and that I still have a drawer full of really colorful socks.

“And I married you,” I told her, finishing the argument with a little married-a-long-time finesse.

“That’s not what I’m talking about,” she said.

“It doesn’t prove that I have taste because I married you?” I asked.

“No — that was the epitome of taste,” she said. “I’m talking about something else.”

“What?”

“All that hot sauce you use on your food,” she said.

Hmmm. I do like hot sauce.

Yes, I know that as you get to the age where reading this magazine is a good idea, some of your taste buds may have followed some of your hair into the Twilight Zone. I also hear that your taste may change, in that you may have difficulty distinguishing when something is sour or bitter.

I still know when something is sweet or salty.

But I also know when something could be improved by adding a little hot sauce.

This got started with me about 15 years ago. My friend Kevin and I would eat breakfast sandwiches at the General Store in Newtown, Conn., every morning. They were quick, hot, juicy and cheap. And we could sit down and enjoy them and talk, like retired guys like to do. Kevin would have The New York Times obituary pages open when I got there, but that’s another story.

I noticed Kevin put the contents of one of those little black pepper packets on his breakfast sandwich. Pretty soon, I was doing the same thing.

Then Kevin, noticing what I was doing, would put two packets of black pepper on his breakfast sandwich.

I started putting three packets of pepper on my sandwich.

This is what old retired guys do for fun.

After we got to the four-packets-of-pepper stage, I completely changed the landscape of our breakfast: I pulled a small bottle of hot sauce out of my pocket the next time we met for breakfast.

Bring on the sauce

Kevin was shocked. I’d gone thermonuclear on him.

He reached over, read the label on my hot sauce bottle — I have no idea why — and doused his sandwich with some of the red stuff. You can figure out what Kevin showed up with the next morning.

That was years ago.

Most mornings these days, I’m eating breakfast by myself. My wife is off doing things, getting her day started. I like to make some eggs with sausage in the morning, melt some cheese over it, and then, so I can enjoy all the flavors — the hot sauce carefully tops everything off.

Since Connecticut, I’ve tried a variety of hot sauces, finding that I’m most partial to Louisiana Hot Sauce, which, luckily, is carried in Dollar Tree stores for a buck. But that’s my “base” hot sauce, kind of the minimum warmer-upper for my mornings and a handy add-on to things like jambalaya, almost any stew, store-bought gravy, and occasionally a piece of chicken — anything that calls for pepper.

On top of the Louisiana Hot Sauce, I’ve gotten into the habit of adding other hot sauces from very little bottles (like the old Tabasco bottles). Some of these sauces are pretty hot, and I use them carefully. They add an extra little tingle of taste — just a dash — to breakfast.

I stay away from anything green, but after that, I’m game. I tried Horned Lizard Spicy Herb and Arizona Savory Western Style Hot Sauce. When I go into stores with a big selection, I can spend a long time deciding what next to buy. So far, I’ve stayed away from anything with Habanera peppers in it. I don’t want my tongue to ignite.

But as a result of the testing I do, sometimes the tingle isn’t little. In mid-September, I picked up a bottle of Dos Amigos Caliente and put a little bit too much on my breakfast. I knew I’d overdone it at the second bite — my wife found out when she kissed me good-bye that morning.

“What was that?” she asked, puckering and touching her lip. I guess some of the sauce was still on my lips.

“Hot stuff, huh?” I asked.

You have the hottest lips in the neighborhood,” she told me, and walked out the door.

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