My first taste of hot sauce was a revelation. The ordeal leading up to it may have played a part in why it blew my mind, though I can’t be sure. The year was 2011 and I was a young foolish foodie in search of cheap kicks. Having heard whisperings of a hip new burger joint in town, suffering from FOMO before the phrase had been coined, three friends and I headed down to a disused carpark behind Selfridges (the glamour) and took our place in the queue snaking down the street.
On a sunny day this would have been fine, but we’d rocked up on the coldest night of the year. Mother nature was in a particularly spiteful mood. An icy wind stung our cheeks as we huddled together like penguins protecting their young. After an hour we were no longer able to feel our feet and were so cold we’d lost the ability to speak. The queue had barely moved. As the minutes ticked by and the snow began to fall we wondered whether to give up and go home. But the longer we stood there and the hungrier we got, the more determined we became to stick it out.
Two hours later we were finally inside the graffiti filled meat Mecca and took our places around a small circular table, still shivering and unable to remove our coats. I don’t think I’ve ever been so hungry or desirous of food. Giant silver trays piled high with Dead Hippie burgers and chilli cheese fries paraded passed us tauntingly. I toyed with the idea of ordering the entire menu but kept it simple, settling on a buffalo chicken burger. The wait was excruciating and talk seemed futile.
And then it arrived. A gargantuan deep fried chicken breast drenched in hot sauce cascading audaciously from its brioche bun, finished with a generous dollop of mayo and a few token wisps of lettuce. There was no way of eating it elegantly, but I was too ravenous to care. Opening my jaws as wide as I could, the first peppery bite of that burger is one of the most satisfying mouthfuls of food I have ever had, and one I return to in dreams. The warming tang of the buffalo sauce was an entirely new experience for me, and a flavour I instantly adored.
Hot but not aggressively spicy, it cut through the the fattiness of the fried chicken with its vinegary kick. I’ve been a Frank’s fanatic ever since. Made from a mixture of cayenne peppers, vinegar, salt and garlic powder, Frank’s RedHot is over 100 years old, first hitting the shelves back in 1920. The original recipe used Louisiana peppers, which have since been replaced with Mexican-grown chillies. I was recently introduced to a decadent dip that makes a hero of the hot sauce by an American friend who likes to whip out a bubbling platter of it at dinner parties.
There are various riffs on the recipe, but all combine cooked chicken breasts, a tub of Philadelphia, a bottle of Frank’s, a cup of soured cream or ranch dressing (or a mixture of both) and a generous sprinkling of cheese – I used Cheddar. Making the magnificent melting mess couldn’t be easier – all you have to do is shred the chicken, pour over the hot sauce and soured cream, spoon in the Philly and stir until it turns peachy pink. Once the flavours have had a minute to marinate, transfer it to a dish, blanket it in grated cheese and bake at 200° for half an hour.
Avoid using mozzarella as it turns to rubber when it cools. Hard cheeses like Cheddar and Monterey Jack work a treat. Those who like it really hot can ramp up the spice by using the Frank’s more liberally – I found a bottle the ideal amount for an assertive tang without it overpowering the rest of the flavours, which mingle so seamlessly with one another it’s hard to tell when one ingredient ends and another begins. The dip is best enjoyed with a huge bowl of nachos, and tastes equally delicious cold the next day. I look forward to making it for friends when we’re allowed to break bread again.