Five Tips for Salsa-Making Contest Entries Gleaned from the Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival
By the way, the Weekly is thinking of sponsoring our own hot sauce contest and festival 'round Cinco de Mayo. Think it'll work here, or will too many Know Nothings show up?
Anyhoo, the tips, in no real order:
*Do not use liquid smoke. Not in a million years, not ever: Walsh had about 30 of us serve as preliminary judges. We tasted the good, the bad, and the horrid. What universally disgusted the esteemed panel was the use of liquid smoke for seasoning. The faces of judges turned to grimaces, squints, or near-gagging when tasting the stuff. Liquid smoke in salsa tastes like ash-tinted water, and the difference between the liquid variety and naturally adding smokiness to your salsa (like, say, adding torched pepper skin) is like the difference between Barbara Coe and Jesus.
*Put your entry in a small container, not a moat: Whenever we'd get entries in massive tubs, snickers would inevitably arise about the big ego of the entrant (and remember: everyone in the room was a Texan). We still judged on the merits of the salsa, but you want the judges' attention solely on the salsa--anything else is a distraction, and you can't afford to suffer one when they have 300 more salsas to go.
*Remember that "hot sauce" doesn't necessarily mean "Mexican": Walsh told me that previous grand prize winners have been Malay sambals and Indian chutneys. Hot sauce contests have special categories for non-Mexican entries, but those usually don't get more than a few token entries. Want a better shot? Perfect that ají!
*Moderation, amigo: moderation: Some of the better salsa we tasted were milder than vanilla, yet exhibited a great balance between heat, citrus, and other flavors. Some of the hottest salsas were the most loathed, not because we can't weather scorchers but because they only offered it. Hot sauce contests are about flavor, not nuking.
Now, start prepping for the Fifth of May!