Food, Lifestyle

Hot sauce: The secret ingredient to a familial bond

I can remember it so vividly. I’m in my school uniform — a navy and red plaid jumper, red sweater and navy socks pulled all the way up to my knees. I’m sitting at the circular dinner table at my seat.

Annika Morris | Senior Graphic Artist

My mother had made chicken cutlets with mashed potatoes that night, and sitting across from me was my father with his feet planted firmly on the ground. His legs were a far cry from my tiny legs which dangled in the air, still too short to reach the ground. 

In between my father and I was a bowl of salad, and most importantly, a bottle of bright red sriracha with a green cap. 

My father is a hot sauce enthusiast, and his favorite was a large bottle of sriracha. However, you’d be hard-pressed to find a bottle of hot sauce that he would decline. My dad would drench his food with the glowing red sauce before even taking a bite. He would then compliment my mother’s cooking emphatically and rightfully so, as she truly is an amazing cook. In fact, these long stretches of college without her cooking makes me appreciate her efforts even more. 

After taking his first initial bites, he would begin to encourage the rest of us to add hot sauce on our plates. He would turn and urge me to try some. I, of course, would relent just for him and put some on my plate. 

I was raised with this principle that if you don’t like someone’s food, it’s okay, but at least try it once. This principle would be reiterated anytime I was presented with an unfamiliar food, whether it be venison, escargot, cow intestine and a specific jellied meat from Italy. Thanks to that principle, I have proudly added escargot and Italian jellied meat to my palate — but I might pass on the other two. 

Once I followed this principle by trying hot sauce with my dinner, it was difficult for me to go without it. 

There are various hot sauces that began to hold a special place in my heart as hot sauce became ubiquitous for me and my family. A frequent staple is “Bee Sting” that I first tried at a restaurant in Long Beach Island, New Jersey. 

My family and I have spent a week or two in Long Beach Island ever since I was little. Since then, the divine liquid in a bottle that is the “Bee Sting” hot sauce has become more anticipated than the beach itself. I can still hear the echoes of my little brother reminding my mother to order some Bee Sting on the side. 

Since then, I don’t think I’ve eaten a Long Beach Island breakfast without hot sauce all over my plate. What was under the hot sauce, you may ask? Anybody’s guess is as good as mine. I put it with practically everything.

Moving into the classic — red Tabasco, I can admit that it’s not my favorite, but, it has its place where it needs one. I can remember one morning in particular when I was 17 years old, standing in my kitchen and making avocado toast with my neighbor Emilie. 

A snow day had fallen into our laps, and naturally, we had a sleepover that resulted in the creation of a breakfast for the ages. We creatively assembled avocado toast with fried eggs and arugula—with an extremely generous amount of Tabasco. 

Like I said, Tabasco has its place, especially when you’re snowed in and the ability to go purchase sriracha is out of the question. 

Frank’s Red Hot is something I tend to favor during the rough days spent tolerating flavorless college meals. To be candid with you, the sauce came into my life like a divinity arriving to save me from my condiment sins — and college isn’t the first time Frank’s has come to save me. 

Frank’s Red Hot was my greatest ally when it came to my junior year COVID-19 diagnosis. Among the other fairly mild symptoms, COVID-19 totally stripped away my sense of taste. Luckily, Frank’s Red Hot was there to offer comfort. I still couldn’t taste it, but I could feel it.  

I’m someone who tends to stray away from verbal affection. I show it through cooking for myself and others. I’m enthusiastic about trying new recipes, tasting ingredients and collecting specific tastes and preferences of those who I’m cooking for. 

If I’m cooking for my older cousin, I dial back the intensity of spice. If my brother is involved, I don’t reach for any basil or herbs. If I’m cooking for my mother, I’mactually cooking for myself with the understanding that I can take the leftovers if she declines at first. 

Cooking for my father is the easiest. I can use whatever ingredient I want with the exception of cilantro, though I would never cook with cilantro anyway.  I never even have to ask since it’s always an immediate yes. 

As I cook, my father has the tendency to walk by and announce, “WOW,” and ask what I’m making.” I then proceed to deter him from taking a bite right from the stove, and promise him a dish when I am finished. Still, I always take pride in his excitement from just the smell.

It always feels good to be able to create something that my family can enjoy. Food is my avenue to channel my appreciation for them in a way that doesn’t involve me needing to verbalize it. 

When I’m finally finished with the chopping, sauteing and boiling, I bring my father a dish and a plate. No matter what is on that plate, he still never fails to ask, “Can you pass me the hot sauce?”

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