Spice up your life: Six dishes that bring the heat

Austin Morning taco with El Jefe sauce from Brazos Tacos. Photo: Brianna LaRocco Austin Morning taco with El Jefe sauce from Brazos Tacos. Photo: Brianna LaRocco

Now that temperatures have dropped, warm up by adding some spice to your plate. Here are just a few local options to put a little hair on your chest.

5. El Jefe sauce (above)

Brazos Tacos 

The spiciest item at the newest taco joint in town is the El Jefe, a thick green hot sauce found at the condiment table. Made from emulsified jalapeños, it commands attention. Owner Peter Griesar recommends pairing it with any of the breakfast tacos, particularly the Austin Morning—braised brisket, scrambled eggs, mashed potatoes, pickled onion and queso fresco.

Photo: Brianna LaRocco
Photo: Brianna LaRocco

Peri-peri chicken

Shebeen Pub & Braai

The peri-peri chicken is a Sub-Saharan African staple. Made with crushed peri-peri chili pepper, the sauce “gets really hot, but never so hot that it’s miserable,” according to owner Walter Slawski. It’s served with a side of mango chutney to cool you off a bit, but if you can’t get enough spice, order it with extra crushed peri-peri chili on the side.

Photo: Brianna LaRocco
Photo: Brianna LaRocco

The Shocker

Jack Brown’s Beer & Burger Joint

When it comes to chili peppers, you could remove the seeds, soak them in some pickle juice or switch them out for a bell pepper to reduce the heat, but Jack Brown’s embraces the spice. The Shocker has both jalapeños and habaneros—raw, with the seeds still in—and pepper jack cheese and shocker sauce, a tears-inducing con-
diment made in-house with habaneros.

Photo: Brianna LaRocco
Photo: Brianna LaRocco

Pepper vinegar

Maya

While Maya chef Christian Kelly says there’s “no one dish that sets anyone’s mouth on fire” on the menu, there is one condiment that may give your taste buds a run for their money: the pepper vinegar, served with the collard greens.

“Dried chili is so complex in its flavor profile that you almost forget about the heat because there’s so much other stuff going on,” Kelly says. “Our pepper vinegar is like that.”

Photo: Brianna LaRocco
Photo: Brianna LaRocco

Pad Thai

Downtown Thai

The servers at Downtown Thai will ask how spicy you want your meal on a scale of one to five, but you can request a spice level of up to 50. Restaurant manager Mahila Mehtab recommends the pad Thai, which “tastes better when it’s really spicy.”

CHILI PEPPER JELLY TIME

A City Market vendor who refers to his backyard garden as Park Street Farm, Paul Carlson grows seven or eight different chili pepper varieties—including the Carolina reaper, which hits 2,200,000 on the Scoville scale and is known as the hottest chili pepper in the world—and turns them into jelly. Carlson recommends putting the scorching-hot jellies on a grilled cheese sandwich or mixing them with some vinegar for a homemade barbecue sauce. They’re only available during the fall, though, so get ’em before they’re gone.—L.I.

TO EVERYTHING THERE IS A SEASON(ING)

Inside The Spice Diva’s glass jars

The floor-to-ceiling shelves in The Spice Diva are lined with dozens of jars containing spices of every color, texture, scent and flavor imaginable. Luckily shop owner Phyllis Hunter knows the contents of each container like the back of her hand and can give you cooking tips for everything from saffron to black truffle salt to the 12 types of chili pepper she carries, making the experience of shopping in the little Main Street Market spot a lot less intimidating.

Hunter says she often doesn’t know how to answer the question “What are you supposed to use this for?” because there’s no right or wrong way to cook with spices, but she gave us a few pointers anyway.—L.I.

Bee pollen

Known as a “superfood,” this healthy stuff contains protein and amino acids.

Best uses: Mix it into a smoothie or use it to rim a cocktail glass.

Asafetida powder

Don’t follow your nose on this one—the raw powder has a pungent, bitter smell, but can be a flavorful substitute for onion and garlic.

Best uses: Indian dishes, beans and soups

Szechuan peppercorns 

Also known as Chinese coriander, these little pods create a numbing sensation, oftentimes to prepare the palate for a particularly hot dish.

Best uses: Asian-inspired dishes

Asian smoked tea rub

Striking a balance between sweet and smoky, this seasoning features lapsang souchong tea, brown sugar, Saigon cinnamon, star anise, white pepper, orange peel and ginger,

Best uses: Pork and duck breast (can be a substitute for a smoker)

Cinchona bark

Native to South America, this bitter-tasting powder should be used sparingly.

Best uses: Homemade tonic, bitters and cocktails

Piment d’espelette 

Cultivated in the French Basque Country, this spicy, smoky chili powder smells warm and comforting.

Best uses: Garlic aioli, fish and eggs

Too much spice? Try a little sugar.

Maple flakes

These crispy flakes of pure maple are simple and sweet.

Best uses: Granola, oatmeal and doughy cookies

Lavender sugar

Exactly what it sounds like, this delicate sweetener is simply organic cane sugar and lavendar.

Best uses: Baked sweets, tea and crème brûlée