I got the fever

I am one sick sistah, but I’m not alone. Halfway through the 18 hot sauces I tasted as a judge at the N.C. Hot Sauce Contest on Saturday in Oxford, N.C., I was shaking my head and grinning. So was my fellow hot-head, Ross Ragonese, head of the  culinary arts program at Vance-Granville Community College.

IMG_1446The three judges at the other end of the table simply stared at us. They had taken the barbecue sauce judging, either because they were more sensible, or just plain chicken. Those judges were barbecue expert Bob Garner, food writer Al Carson and my friend and News & Observer food writer Andrea Weigl, who confessed that she can’t take the heat. When I said my lips were going numb and grabbed lip balm from my purse, she looked at me as if she wished she’d brought a straitjacket. But, hey, I didn’t need my lips for a few hours.

The trend of the bhut jolokia chile, also called the ghost chile, that started at last year’s contest, grew this year. Two sauces contained this world’s hottest chile (more fiery than habaneros) last year; about five used it this time. A couple of sauces used a chile that was new to me, the fatali. The fatali is an African pepper that is yellow or orange-yellow, and looks like an elongated jalapeno. It’s said to be hotter than habanero and has a mild lemon-peach flavor.

There were some wacky sauce ideas, from one spiked with the green liquor absinthe to another aged in whisky barrels. We selected GMC Bhut Sauce of Holly Springs as the Critic’s Choice for its combination of sweet flavor and heat.  Race City Sauce Works‘ 98 Octane Ghost Pepper Reserve was the selected as the hottest, containing bhut jolokias and fatalis, plus habaneros and red savinas, but it had good flavor as well. The Charlotte company also had the one judged Most Unusual, the Victory Lane Jalapeno-Sour Apple Pepper Sauce.

I can’t wait to crack open my stash. Watch out, Moose Manor party attendees.