"You call this spicy?" said Brad, a broad, bearded New Yorker with a penchant for heat. "I gotta tell you, sister, this ain't hot at all."
Brad, a friend of my parents', was talking about my mother's homemade enchiladas. Since I was a kid, she would make the chicken- and cheese-stuffed corn tortillas the way her Mexican roommate had taught her more than 30 years ago. The secret to her enchiladas -- and the reason I've always craved them -- is the slightly spicy chili sauce she bakes on top. My mother had warned everyone at the table that night -- Brad included -- that she made the sauce spicier than usual. Obviously, that wasn't fazing the heat-happy New Yorker.
"You guys have any hot sauce?" he asked, looking to up the spice quotient.
"I think we've got some Louisiana hot sauce," my mom responded.
That just made Brad laugh.
This is a guy who eats raw, whole jalapeños
for fun, who douses pizza with more red pepper flakes than cheese and
coats virtually everything else he eats in hot sauce. Louisiana hot
sauce wouldn't even tickle him.
Then I remembered something. A few weeks earlier, my father had shown
me a bottle of hot sauce that one of his Mexican business associates
had gifted him. After showing me the bottle, he tucked it away in the
fridge, where it sat, unopened.
I ran over to the fridge and shuffled through the condiment drawer until I found the bottle. The sauce, El Yucateco EXXXtra Picante,
was deep brown and flecked with black bits of spice. It looked serious,
like the homemade hot salsas I'd encountered traveling in Central
America. According to the El Yucateco website, the recipe is fashioned after Mayan tradition. It's also called Kutbil-Ik, which means "crushed chili" in Mayan.
"Here you go, Brad," I said, handing him the bottle. "This should do the trick."
Brad took the bottle in his thick hands and unscrewed the top. He brought his nose to it and took a deep whiff.
"Whoa," he said. "This stuff smells hot."
Without any sort of caution, he upturned the bottle and poured about a
quarter of it on top of his enchiladas. He lifted his fork, dug it in, and took a big, smothered
Immediately, I could tell the habanero-based sauce was hot. Brad's face
twitched slightly, and his tanned complexion reddened. I think
-- think -- I even saw his eyes water a little.
Just when I thought he was going to admit how hot it was, his bravado kicked in.
"That's some good stuff!" he said with a big, broad smile. He poured
another fat glob of the thick, brown salsa on top of his plate and
scooped it up in one bite.
Me? I'm no spice wuss. Not only can I handle spicy food; I relish it.
But I have to say, a dab of this salsa, rich with fruity habanero
flavor, was enough to get me sweating. But the flavor was also so good, it was almost irresistible -- and worth the burn.
The next time I saw Brad, he told me he went online and ordered a case
of El Yucateco. He tried the green and red habanero varieties too, each
not quite as hot as the EXXXtra Picante (which clocks in at more than 11,000
units). He said the latter was his new favorite condiment.
The fact that an inveterate spice nut like Brad went out of his
way to buy some was proof enough to me. When you label your sauce as EXXXtra Picante, it's almost like a challenge. But one thing's for sure: El Yucateco ain't frontin'.