I grew up with Tabasco sauce on the table, right next to the salt and pepper. Sometimes the salt even has Tabasco in it.
Avery Island in South Lousiana, where Tabasco began, is just a few miles away from my hometown of Lafayette. It's the perfect place to take out of town guests and no matter how many times I visit, I always learn something new each time.
According to family tradition, Tabasco was created in the mid-to-late 1860s by Edmund McIlhenny, who was a food lover and avid gardner. McIlhenny was gifted seeds of Capsicum frutescens pepper from either Mexico or Central America and started to grow them on Avery Island.
Avery Island is one of five salt dome islands rising above the flat Louisiana Gulf Coast. So, it's natural that McIlhenny used the abundant salt when making a concoction with his peppers. To this day, the recipe for Tabasco sauce only contains 3 ingredients: peppers, salt and vinegar. McIlhenny selected and crushed his reddest peppers, mixed them with salt and aged the mash for 30 days in jars and barrels. He then blended vinegar and aged the mixture for at least another 30 days. The sauce was then strained and bottled.
The pepper sauce was a welcome addition to the bland diets of the Reconstruction South. It proved so popular with family and friends that McIlhenny decided to embark on a new business venture by marketing his pepper sauce. He grew his first commercial pepper crop in 1868. He named it "Tabasco" a word of Mexican Indian origin believed to mean "place where the soil is humid" and sold his first 658 bottles of sauce for $1 each.
Over 140 years later, Tabasco sauce is still made on Avery Island much the same way as McIlhenny did, except the aging process for the pepper mash is up to three years in white oak barrels. Tabasco sauce is now sold in over 180 countries and is the most famous pepper sauce in the world.
Here are some barrels currently aging and topped with salt at Avery Island:
On my most recent trip to Avery Island a few weeks ago, I tasted a flavor of sauce I hadn't heard of: Family Reserve. This sauce is aged for 8 years instead of the typical 3 and includes white wine vinegar rather than the white distilled vinegar in the traditional sauce. It's flavor is more complex and is a welcome addition to my collection.
We are big fans of Tabasco sauce here at The Chopping Block and you'll find it in many of our recipes we use in our cooking classes and private cooking events. It adds a kick, but also a level of brightness due to the acid. There are over 1000 recipes using Tabasco sauce on the company's website, including a section on how chefs use the sauce, but one of my all-time favorites is a Tabasco Beurre Blanc sauce. This is a different twist on a traditional French Mother sauce. It's great on chicken, fish and shellfish. I especially love it on this classic recipe that we've been teaching at The Chopping Block for years and stemmed from a birthday celebration for me by chef friends: Crab Stuffed Shrimp with Tabasco Beurre Blanc.
Crab Stuffed Shrimp
1 tablespoon butter
3 scallions, finely chopped
1/2 cup green papper, small dice
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound crab meat, picked over
1 tablespoon Dijob mustard
Dash cayenne pepper
A few trops of Tabasco sauce
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons parsley, rough chopped
1/2 lemon, juied
1 pound large tail on shrimp, peeled and deveined
Preheat oven to 350F.
Heat a saute pan over medium heat and add the butter. Gently saute the scallions and peppers until softened. Add the garlic and cook an additional minute. Transfer to a mixing bowl and fold in the crab meat, mustard, cayenne, Tabasco sauce, breadcrumbs, mayonnaise, egg, parsley and lemon juice. Mix well and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Form the crab meat mixture around the shrimp but be sure to leave the tail poking out. Place the bundles on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake until the crab meat is golden brown and crisp, about 25-30 minutes. Serve with Tabasco Beurre Blanc (recipe below).
Tabasco Beurre Blanc
1 small shallot, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 pound cold butter, diced in 1" cubes
Salt to taste
Combine shallot, wine and vinegar in a heavy saucepan. Heat over a medium flame and reduce until all the liquid has evaporated. Add heavy cream, reduce heat to low, and reduce the cream until thickened.
Add butter to the sauce base, one piece at a time, whisking constantly over low heat. Watch consistency: it should remain at a coating sauce consistency. Two thin (or begins separating)? Remove pan from heat and add butter to cool. Too thick? Slow down the addition of butter or turn up the heat slightly. Continue in this fashion until all butter has been incorporated. Add the Tabasco sauce to your liking and season to taste with salt. Keep sauce in a warm, but not hot, space until needed.
Want to join us for a hands-on cooking class where there's sure to be plenty of Tabasco sauce flowing? Our Bayou Bash features a Cajun menu that makes me homesick for Louisiana: Muffaletta Salad, New Orleans BBQ Shrimp, Chicken and Andouille Jambalaya and Bananas Foster with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream.
Sign up now for this Big Easy party: