I am a big dipper. I simply must have a good dippin sauce. In my world there are no such things as a plain burger or naked goetta or dry barbecue. And, no little thimble of a honey mustard packet from McDonald’s or extra-charged packet of Cain’s sauce from Raising Cane’s will do. ( I spent the New Year diatribing to my boss the evils of how his favorite chicken finger lunch haunt charges 50 cents extra after the first complimentary sauce, which incenses me! ) The packet-to-nugget ratio should always be greater than 1:1. I was always the one getting the slanty eye from relatives with the size of my dip portion at a holiday party. Uncle Fuzz famously told me as a kid, “maybe you should leave some for the rest of us!” A cracker or crudite is just a vehicle for a delicious dip or condiment.
So, I obsess on a particular condiment for the year. Or I should be specific – I obsess on a condiment -which I define is a homogenous pureed or strained liquid – and then one salsa-or-chutney-like topper – a non-homogenous, chunky, fluid sauce. The easy thing about a condiment is, like Oprah you can carry it around in your fanny pack to be added to any food at any place you go to eat. It’s harder to cart around a chunky salsa – and there’s the shelf stability issue with chunky toppers.
Anyway, for 2020 my obsessive condiments for the year were Pickapeppa (Hot Mango/Pepper) and Tiger Hot Sauces. My obsessive salsa for the year was the unlimited family of Eastern European Eggplant salsas like Adjvar and The Pickled Pig’s Bakla Jan – which I couldn’t get enough of last year. While both of these will stay in my arsenal, I’ve found my new obsessive Hot Condiment of 2021 and it’s fab – Schug!
I had been passing the few jars of Schug for nearly 6 months after noticing it in the Kosher aisle at Remke Markets. I had never heard of it, and always laughed when passing it, being reminded of the character of Sug’ in The Color Purple. So, in December, I decided to take a leap and purchased a jar of Schug. It was alluringly bright red – my favorite color for a condiment – and it wasn’t homogenous, it was more of a paste, but not fluid enough to be considered a salsa. It’s also very healthy as it’s low carb, no sugar, and low-fat, non-oily.
So I mixed it with sugar-free ketchup and used as a dippin’ sauce for some baked sweet potato ‘fries’. Wow – the result was a spicy Nirvana. It has quite a hot kick that’s not initially intimidating but does sneak up on ya, being mostly hot pepper puree, with the spicy seeds included. It’s significantly less oily than another fave of mine – Chinese hot chili oil, and not at all fishy like yet another fave of mine- Sriracha. I couldn’t get enough. I’ve since used it on spiral cut butternut squash ‘French fries”, tofu chicken strips, and yes, even steamed broccoli. It compliments almost anything you can imagine. Oh maybe a schug sauce pizza is in my future!
I remembered my Army Ranger childhood friend, Mike, talking about this super hot sauce he ate in Yemen while on a tour of duty and sure enough it was Schug. But his experience was with green schug. The fiery condiment originated in Yemen , named after the pestle used to grind the peppers to make it. It was carried to Israel by Yemeni immigrants and now is served like ketchup alongside a plate of hummus, tahini and hard boiled eggs at every Israeli hummus café. It’s usually made fresh, and in small quantities, because, like I found – a little goes a LONG way! That’s how it made it to the Kosher aisle of my Remke market is it’s integration into Israeli food. It’s spread throughout the Middle East, and I’d bet it can be found on table at one of the many Chili Houses (owned by the Daoud family of Gold Star) dotted throughout the countries of the former Ottoman empire . It’s the saucy cousin of the Turkish baharat spice blend, the backbone of Cincinnati Chili – and would taste very good underneath the cheddar layer of a Threeway.
And just like everything else, although there are standards, every family or commercial producer has its own variations. The main ingredients tend to be hand-ground hot peppers, garlic, and coriander, with roasted cumin and cardamom, good olive oil and lemon juice added.
Apparently Sabra – the same company that makes the popular hummus brand – also makes both a red and green Schug, which I am going to seek out and try. Time for a red and green schug roundup at Jungle Jim’s this weekend.