A visit to Avery Island and the McIlhenny Company

Oh, Tabasco, how much do I love thee?

The narrow bottle, wedged next to the napkins and salt and pepper, has always been a part of my earliest food memories and proceeds almost anything else on the table. It is a sauced etched in my mind, its hot and tangy flavor surely a part of my DNA by now. I suspect it’s this way for millions of people, too. I’ve just never been able to get enough of the stuff.

I recently spent a few days in Avery Island, Louisiana, home to the McIlhenny Company that makes the Tabasco hot sauce. It’s been made here since its invention in 1868, its recipe unchanged for over 142 years. And if something is good, why change it? To make Tabasco sauce, you only need a few things: peppers, salt, vinegar and time. But Tabasco does indeed have a secret ingredient that makes it so extremely special: the people that have made the sauce for generations.

(and no, there are no people IN the sauce, please don’t get all Sweeny Hot Sauce Todd on me, please)


To visit Avery Island and the McIlhenny Company is like walking into a textbook on regional Louisiana history, followed by a textbook on American history. It’s a family-owned company that was founded by Edmund McIlhenny and is still run by the family today. In fact, many of the employees have been with the company for generations. And Avery Island itself is quite special. Located in Iberia Parish, Avery Island is located on top of a salt dome and has been involved in the salt trade even longer than the production of Tabasco. These two things go hand in hand, we’ll get to that in a few.

The history of this place and the company itself is so rich, so deep, I couldn’t even scratch the surface in a blog post. If you have a chance to visit I encourage you to do so and while you’re at it, take a look at this book. I’ve just finished reading it and my head is spinning.

I spent some time exploring Avery Island and touring the production facilities, but I think this was the best way to explore involved one giant airboat.

Dizzy yet? I sure was and it was fantastic!

Kip White grows the Capsicum frutescens peppers needed to make Tabasco sauce

 

So, back to the making of Tabasco. It’s a very simple process but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Capsicum frutescens are grown on Avery Island, tended and cared for in greenhouses scattered around the island. Because the demand for Tabasco is so big, seeds are then taken from the plants and sent all over the world to be grown into pepper plants. This allows for year-long growing in places like Central and South America because these plants need ample heat and sunlight to grow. Once the plants produce the peppers needed for Tabasco, they’re sent back to Louisiana where the mixing and aging process begins. Here’s where the magic happens!

Took Osborn, Vice President of Agricultural Operations, explains the process of making Tabasco

The peppers are mixed with a tiny bit of Avery Island’s own salt into a mixture called mash. This mash is placed in white oak barrels, covered with salt (it acts as a natural barrier) and then allowed to ferment for up to three years.  Under the direction of Master Cooper Hamilton Polk, a few barrels were opened up for us to taste and see just how much the mash changes over the course of time.

But first, Mr. Hamilton Polk.

What a beautiful man with a beautiful name. He’s been with the McIlhenny Company for over 40 years and has even been the face of several advertisements. He graciously explain how oak barrels, once used for whiskey and bourbon, are retrofitted and reinforced to handle the acidic and spicy conditions of mash fermentation.

I was lucky enough to taste the pepper mash and folks, let me tell you something: IT IS HOT. It’s much hotter than what’s in the bottle, but that’s only because it hasn’t had time to mellow with age nor be balanced with vinegar. It’s freaking hot. I MEAN HOT. Diane, you’d be in heaven :)

Troy Romero explains the very specific process of taking the pepper mash, adding vinegar and salt and mixing it

 

Under close supervision and plenty of time, the mash is then taken out of the oak barrels and mixed with vinegar. It’s stirred constantly for several weeks and then strained of its seeds and skins and then bottled. This is the bright red sauce that you and I know and love but did you know it is sold in more than 160 countries and that the factory produces over 720,000 bottles a day? That’s a lot of peppers. I’m glad to know they are keeping up with my demand for the stuff.

Everything is done on Avery Island, including the bottling. Yes, I sang the theme to Laverne & Shirley but luckily the whizzing of equipment prevented me from making too much of a fool of myself. Schlemiel, schlimazel, hassenpheffer incorporated, I am so gonna do it.

Oh, did I mention lunch? Because many workers also live on Avery Island there’s a Tabasco Deli where we stopped for lunch. Can you imagine all the Tabasco condiments you could ever want, in every variety, on the tables for you to use? I had to sprinkle a little bit on my Boudin Po’Boy, of course. I was in heaven.

I think this sums up the kind of place this is, a company where people love what they do and it shows:

Allen Duhon and his Tabasco tattoo

 

And how about more of the wonderful people I met at McIlhenny Company?

Heath Romero drove the airboat and was kind enough to let me snap his photo. I'm surprised I didn't fall over after the ride!

 

Clockwise: Wendy Benoit, Lashaver Ledet, David Guy, Beverly Rhoades. Such lovely folks, thank you!

Thank you to the gracious people of Avery Island, Paul McIlhenny, and the team at Hunter for allowing me to share this wonderful experience. You made this Tabasco lover mighty happy! In accordance with the FTC guides on full disclosure concerning endorsements and testimonials, travel expenses were covered for this post.


 



Hey Food Friends! Want a review copy of my new book?

Well it seems just like yesterday that I was sticking stuff on sticks and making photos of them! It sure does! But now that it’s here — well, almost here — I’d like to extend a very special offer to you, my food blogging friends. Would you like a review copy of On A Stick!, my new cookbook? What? Stuff on a stick? Yes, you say? Please say yes. Because I would really love you to have a copy,  it’d make me really really really really really happy.

So, this book. Well, it makes me smile. It’s all about food on a stick and I had the best time working with Adam, Jenny and an assorted cast of characters in bringing you a book filled with some of my favorite things as well as state fair staples, some deep-fried goodies as well as some quick and easy things for everyone. It’s not all fried stuff (even though I would have been happy making a book called Fried Stuff On A Stick a/k/a Watch Matt Work Suspenders Like Nobody’s Business a/k/a The Ever Expanding Matt or just plain Hi, My Name Is Fat).

The day my advance copy of the book arrived made me muy muy muy happy.

While I’m on the subject of words, remind me to hug the copywriter at my publisher Quirk for saying “gleefully lowbrow treats”.  No, really, you make it sound respectable and I love you for that. I really do.

So, what’s inside On A Stick!? 80 recipes for party food, street-cart food, some real personal favorites of mine like Vietnamese Bo La Lot as well as moments where I really tested the limits of what could be put on sticks. And you know what I discovered? Things seem to taste better on a stick, and like I say in my book, you’ve got a built-in fun factor. You gotta love that.

And of course there’s the photography, something I hold quite dear. I wasn’t going to create a book unless it offered a visual bang and I hope that’s what I accomplished. Of course I can’t take credit for the photos, I had two amazing food stylists making beautiful food, all the while yelling “QUIT TWEETING, THERE IS FOOD ON SET” and “WE ARE NOT GOING TO REMAKE IT IF YOU MISS YOUR SHOT. TURN OFF STACEY Q AND QUIT DANCING AROUND THE STUDIO AND PAY ATTENTION.”

Anyway, I’d love you to be one of the first to have your own copy of On A Stick! My mother hasn’t even seen the book yet. That’s heavy.

Of course I have one copy at home sent to me hot off the presses (see exclusive pre-TMZ photo above) , but you wouldn’t believe who decided to have their own reading just last week.

 

That’s Moxie, Cho and Bindi, our dogs. I totally missed their Tuesday Yoga For Beginners Class followed by an On A Stick! book reading, I do hope they forgive me. And return my yoga mat free of Chihuahua hair.

So to get your own review copy, here’s what you can do:

  1. Email Eric Smith at: eric AT quirkbooks DOT COM. Send him your blog name, the URL and your name. He’s nice. Very nice. You’ll like him, I promise.
  2. Post a review of the book on your blog anytime during the months of April and May.
  3. Please link to the On A Stick! Amazon page, to Quirk Book’s website and to me, yours truly at mattbites.com.

 

That’s it! I do hope you like the book and I do hope you don’t blame me for eating too many Page 142’s*. Lord knows I sure did.

Please note that there are a limited number of books available for review so make sure you email Mr. Eric as soon as you can!

* Well you’ll just have to get a copy of the book now, won’t you?



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Piquant Pulled Pork from The Sriracha Cookbook

Photo by Yours Truly. And yes, feel free to add extra sauce!

 

I would love to take a moment to review The Sriracha Cookbook that arrived last January. I would also like to take a moment to tell you how much I love the book. But I can’t. I won’t. Why? Because I’m too busy stuffing my face with this recipe.

Let’s say this will be the shortest book review in Mattbites’ history. I’m going to be lazy and point you to what others have said about Randy Clemons’ book appropriately titled The Sriracha Cookbook from Ten Speed Press.

(It’s a fantastic cookbook, and if you’re crazy for the flavors of that certain chili sauce then you really need the book. Really. It’s wonderful.)

But about this pork. Oh damn, this pork. Forget calling this  “slow-cooked”: you’ll need an overnight brine plus an additional 12 hours of cooking time. Let’s try “half-a-day-cooked-but-well-worth-the-time-invested”, ok?  But Randy lets us know there are no shortcuts to these types of flavors and he’s right–it’s worth it.

You’ll need pork shoulder, spices, Sriracha and plenty of time. Then you’ll need an appetite, your mouth, some sauce and that’s about it. Marvel at how quickly the pork disappears, drizzle more Sriracha on top if you need it. And that’s it folks. Because there’s really not much more to say about this perfect recipe for Piquant Pulled Pork.

Piquant Pulled Pork from The Sriracha Cookbook by Randy Clemons

Spice Rub
6 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons smoked paprika

Brine
¼ cup kosher salt
4 cups cold water
¼ cup freshly packed light brown sugar
1 medium red onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 bay leaves

6- to 8-pound bone-in pork shoulder (Boston butt) roast
3 tablespoons yellow mustard
1/3 cup Sriracha
½ cup cold water

To make the spice rub, in a small bowl, mix together the brown sugar, garlic powder, salt, pepper, cumin, and paprika. Reserve.

To make the brine, in a small bowl, dissolve the salt in the cold water. Add 2 tablespoons of the spice rub, the brown sugar, onion, garlic, and bay leaves, stirring to combine. Put the meat in a large bowl or ziplock bag and pour the brine over, making sure that the meat is completely submerged in liquid. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

The following morning, drain the brine, reserving the pork and onion. Pat the roast dry with paper towels. In a small bowl, mix together the mustard and Sriracha. Using your hands, rub an even coating of the mustard mixture all over the pork. Sprinkle the remaining spice rub evenly over the entire roast, pressing it into the meat, making sure it adheres.

Put the reserved onion in a crock pot. Pour in the cold water. Place the pork on top of the bed of onions, with the fattier side of the roast facing up. Cover and cook on low for 12 hours. At  this point, the meat should simply flake away with the slightest touch. Remove the roast from the crock pot, and let rest for 45 to 60 minutes. This will allow the meat to cool slightly, which will in turn make it easier to shred. Pull the meat apart using two forks, discarding extra fat and other less-than-palatable bites. Serve hot.



A little sumthin’ from Adam on the CB2 Blog!

Well if this doesn’t make me smile from ear to ear then nothing will! Today my extraordinary husband and food stylist Adam Pearson makes an appearance on the CB2 Blog and it’s a fantastic interview!

When Adam mentioned that he’d be working with CB2 in January I was thrilled. As a fan of their stores and decor (that’s me on top of a few of their tables at home which I got in trouble for, thanks Adam), I knew the Adam + CB2 pairing would be a match made in heaven. Modern and affordable furniture, beautiful photography, brighty happy stores…I do love all things CB2. His contribution as food stylist was an outdoor Mexican fiesta for 12 guests and his recipes will be featured on their blog over the next few weeks.

Make sure to visit their blog and read the interview with Adam! Thank you, CB2!

Follow CB2 and Adam on twitter if you’d like!

Judging The Cherry Contest

A few weeks ago I headed down to sunny and beautiful San Diego (which I am loving more than humanly possible these days but more about that later!) to judge the Powered By Red recipe contest from Choose Cherries. Stop right there, I know what you’re thinking: “you have to head down to one of the most beautiful cities in America, hang out with lovely people, taste plate after plate of delicious recipes, pick a winner and come home and my god that has got to be the most difficult thing ever! Poor you!” And you’re right, but I hope you know the lengths I’ll go through for you. Why? Because I love you. And I love tart cherries.

Yours truly with the wonderful Dr. Wendy Bazilian

My affinity for these little beauties began last year when I visited Traverse City, Michigan with the Cherry Marketing Institute. It opened a whole new world to me and I haven’t been able to kick my tart cherry fixation ever since. When the opportunity came to judge the recipe contest alongside Dr. Wendy Bazilian I immediately said yes. And I’m glad I did because spending the afternoon with the lovely Dr. B. eating cherries was just what the doctor ordered! Ok, not really, she didn’t order anything but had she, well, I would have done it. Because she rocks. And so does Dr. Jason Bazilian.  And while she’ll tell you all about the health benefits of tart cherries, I shall tell you about their flavor: tart, tasty, perfect. Now you can see why I was excited about the recipes.

So many cherry recipes to taste!

I arrived in San Diego while the recipe finalists were being plated. There were 3 plates of everything, in three categories: Novice, Student, and Professional.  I skipped breakfast and opted for an apple on the way down so you better believe I was ready to eat. And eat we did. We tasted ice cream, panini, ribs, bread pudding, and many other dishes featuring cherries, but there were three clear winners that emerged from the pack. In fact, it was almost unanimous! Let’s check out the winners, shall we?

Food photos provided by Choose Cherries

Sweet & Spicy Tuna with Cherry Cabbage by Jaime Brown-Miller of Napa, California. This recipe entry won in the novice category but you wouldn’t know it. It was by far one of the more interesting uses of dried tart cherries and really provided a nice balance to a bevy of entries that sometimes focused on all things sweet. Plus cherries and red cabbage together? No, really, amazing. It works. I fully plan on making the slaw come summertime. And the sriracha on the tuna? Love love love.

Food photos provided by Choose Cherries

Cherry and Lamb Tagine by Paige Adams of Chicago, Illinois. From the Student category, this winner was just lovely. It managed to feature cherries in a recipe that was heavy (but not heavy-handed) on spices but still let the cherries compliment the entire dish. It was delicious, lovely, and nice to see lamb make an appearance. And according to the recipe tester it was simple to prepare.

Food photos provided by Choose Cherries

Cherry Basil Orzo Pasta from Chris Bugher of Huntington, West Virginia. This recipe won the Professional category and it literally only took one bite for Dr. Wendy and I to glance at each other and smile. You know, sometimes the simplest ideas work and stand high above the rest – this was a perfect example. Just look at that little ingredient list, there’s really nothing too it but the fresh flavors of dates, feta, basil and tart cherries. A very happy combination. This pasta dish will certainly become an outdoor summer favorite and I can see it pairing well with barbeques of all sorts. Thank you, Chris!

To get the recipes for these winning entries please visit Choose Cherries. I’d love to know what you think if you decide to make any of them. And thanks to the folks at Choose Cherries!





Giveaways, Updates, Fun Stuff!

I went to Avery Island, Louisiana. More on that shortly!

Well it just feels as if I haven’t blogged a darn thing lately! Please excuse my tardiness. There have been many things to do, places to go, and photos to snap that have all kept me away. But with things like Twitter and Facebook I suppose I’m never really away, am I? At any rate, this is one of those posts that lump a bunch of stuff together and I guarantee by the end of it you’ll be sick of me.

But please pay attention. Please. There are some nifty things happening in this here post and you might be able to win stuff. Keep reading.

So long, farewell…

Folks, can I just tell you how wonderful it’s been being a Spice Islands Flavor Explorer? My stint is almost up (rumor has it that a pretty fantastic guy is taking over the reins) but I just wanted to take a moment to say how I’ve had so much fun in the kitchen with Spice Islands over the past 3 months. It’s been a pleasure dreaming up recipes using their high quality spices but perhaps my favorite moments have been using their all natural Vanilla Extract. While many other brands add corn syrup, Spice Islands vanilla beans from Madagascar are carefully processed, resulting in an extract that doesn’t need anything but vanilla. Seriously though, try it and taste it for yourself.

But just as important as the flavor are the people at Spice Islands. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it and it’s been an honor to meet such dedicated people behind the brand. Sometimes I wish everyone could get to know them!

As a quick farewell, I’ll be giving away five Spice Islands samplers, filled with a few of my favorite spices in a beautiful lil Trunk. Check out all this spicy goodness:

Spice Islands pure vanilla extract
Spice Islands ground cardamom
Spice Islands Chinese five spice
Spice Islands smoked paprika
Spice Islands Telicherry black peppercorn
Spice Islands sea salt

From the Martha Stewart show. How cute is that?

 

I really want you to get in your kitchen and try these spices (if you haven’t already!) so leave a comment below to win. I’ll randomly select 5 folks from the comments section and while you’re always free to leave comments please note that a) I’ll be picking a winner on Friday, March 11th and b) you must live in the United States. There you have it!

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I’m on Food(ography) with Mo Rocca, March 20th on the Cooking Channel at 9pm EST.

You might remember a post I wrote about taping a segment for an upcoming show. I can now tell you the show was Cooking Channel’s own Food(ography) and it will air Sunday, March 20th at 9pm EST. Some of you may now that I’m a regular contributor to Cooking Channel’s Devour The Blog but this segment was all about blogging, photographing and styling food. I’ve been told it’s a good segment but I have no idea how fat my head and giant cheeks will look on camera or how I’ll sound like Minnie Mouse when I speak. I’m a bit scared to see it.

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Speaking at SXSW

Will you be in Austin next week for South By Southwest? I hope so. I’ll be speaking on a panel this Monday, March 14th titled “The Moguls Of Food Porn”. I’ll be joining a few others discussing food and photos and it promises to be thrilling. The darling Addie Broyles has written a great round-up of food things happening during SXSW and if you want to read more about my panel please check it out here. I hope by the time you click this my photo will have been added. I’ve been a very very very bad panelist and only uploaded my photo recently, shame on me.

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Appetites for the Ipad

I wanted to update this section about the app that I worked on called Appetites because I wanted to share with you all that it was named App of the Week by Apple! How’s that? I happen to think it’s pretty damn phenomenal.

Let me tell you a little bit more about Appetites. Some of my favorite food bloggers, myself included, are in this app, Gaby (What’s Gaby Cooking), Nick & Blake (The Paupered Chef), Stephanie Hau (Like My Spoon), Adrianna and Caroline (A Cozy Kitchen) and Gabi (BrokeAss Gourmet). We all shared some of our favorite recipes with you!

What’s great about this app is that I believe that Appetites is about learning to cook and taking away the intimidation from getting in the kitchen. What also got me excited about the project was that I would get to teach some of my most loved dishes in a brand new format. And trust me, you can make them too.

In January, Appetites was the only app to win a Best of Show award at Macworld.

Appetites is filmed from the chef’s perspective so you can cook right along with us in the kitchen! Each recipe is broken down step-by-step which makes it easy to follow.

Here’s my video:

And here are some of my recipes you’ll find in Appetites:

Spicy Black Bean Chipotle Dip – http://vimeo.com/20313985

Tortilla Soup – http://vimeo.com/20313911

Vegetable Crumble – http://vimeo.com/20313814

Fromage Fort – http://vimeo.com/20313697

Agua Fresca – http://vimeo.com/20313311

Cemita – http://vimeo.com/20313192

Appetites is now available on iPad and coming soon for the iPhone. I hope you’ll check it out – http://appetitesapp.com and on the App Store at http://bit.ly/appetites_appstore

Enjoy it!


Meanwhile, over at Cooking Channel…

So we wanted to create something in the spirit of Mardi Gras for Cooking Channel’s Devour The Blog. The result is something so delicious that I just had to point you in that direction. And since I just got back from Louisiana yesterday I might just have to make another batch. With beer. Plenty of beer.

And just for kicks, we also decided to make a quick video comprised of still images. Sumthin’ like 220 or so. And there are focus issues. And the music doesn’t line up exactly. And it’s very DIY. But it’s fun! And Adam let me film his famous hands. Enjoy it and happy celebratin’!