This story starts on our 14th wedding anniversary. For the second year in a row, we opted to have dinner at The Source, a Wolfgang Puck restaurant in DC. I have had the pleasure of working with Scott Drewno, the imaginative and curious chef, and every single morsel of food I’ve had at The Source has made me gasp in sheer delight. Scott is a magician with a dumpling, an artist with duck, and a really nice guy, to boot. Because the cuisine lends itself so seamlessly to a vegetarian diet, it’s the perfect place for our celebration meals.
When we arrived, I looked at the table, the Reserved sign placed, just so, and a mason jar of peppers gracing the center. It was startling, to say the least. This is not a mason jar restaurant, if you know what I mean. But then, I realized there was something unusual about this jar. About the peppers. Gloriously red and conical, with fresh green stems, a new variety? I snuck a look here and there. Ours was the only table with a jar. The charming host, Rika, said “Chef sent this out as an anniversary present. He’ll be out later to tell you about them.”
So, we lingered over drinks. I adore the Aviation style cocktail with creme de violette, for it’s pretty pale purple color and complex flavors. We savored every morsel of the “Early Sweet Corn Velvet Soup, Gulf Shrimp Dumplings, Wok Blistered Corn, Mushrooms”. Beyond fabulous. It was paired with gorgeous heirloom tomatoes in kaffir aioli. There was a little snacking plate of tiny green beans with a sweet, chile glaze and salty peanuts.
Scott came out to say hello and to tell us more about the mysterious Facing Heaven peppers. He has been working with a local farmer. It’s taken three years of disappointing harvests, but this year, it’s an abundant crop. The chef knew that I couldn’t resist making a hot sauce. He was right.
The next dish, a shallow bowl of spicy broth with thumbnail sized plump porky dumplings, was flavored with the Facing Heaven chiles. This was a chili like nothing I’d ever tasted, with a floral sweetness before heat that warms the neck, the earlobes and then turns the top of the head a little numb. I began dreaming of a hot sauce deserving of these peppers.
Dennis had the Hong Kong style salmon, declaring it fantastic. I had the lacquered duck, a signature dish that made me happy all over. We shared an excellent dessert and wandered home content, with dreams of hot sauce recipes dancing in my head.
Feel free to substitute an equal weight of any extremely hot chile pepper. Habanero, Thai bird, cayenne, ghost peppers. Seriously Scoville Heat Index hot. Mixing different peppers will ensure a complex flavor that you will never again be able to replicate. That’s experience talking, not regret.
Facing Heaven Hot Sauce
Wonder why it’s called Facing Heaven? Scott tells me it’s because the peppers grow pointy end UP! But.. it’s also because after the first taste, you pray you’ll recover.
Makes: 4 quarter pint jars
1/2 pound Facing Heaven, or any fresh, hot chiles
1 cup white vinegar with 5% acidity
4 garlic cloves
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1/4 cup clover honey
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup dried papaya, minced
1/4 teaspoon allspice
Wearing gloves, stem and roughly chop the chiles.
Combine the vinegar, garlic and salt in a large half gallon jar. Shake or swirl to dissolve the salt. Add the chopped chiles, cover and leave overnight on the counter to brine.
Put the vinegar chile mixture in a 3 quart heavy, non-reactive pot. Add the honey, brown sugar, papaya, and allspice. Cover and bring to a strong boil for three minutes. Beware the fumes.
Puree the chile slurry in a blender, in batches, being cautious not to overfill the beaker. Run the blender for several minutes (depending on the strength of your mixer’s motor), until the mixture is thoroughly smooth.
Press the mixture through a fine mesh strainer. If you find there are still large pieces of chili or garlic remaining in the strainer, put them back in the blender and continue to puree.
Return the pureed hot sauce to the pot and bring back to a boil for five minutes. Do not lean over the pot and smell this concoction. You will regret that move. Instead, dip the tip of a spoon in and then taste just a drop. It’s mighty powerful, or should be. If you want it to be a little more sweet, add more honey or brown sugar by the teaspoon, stir and taste again.
Ladle the sauce into warm jars and process in a boiling water bath for ten minutes.