When Don Day was thirteen, Don Day wanted to be just like Dad and, every Saturday morning, Don Day’s Dad went to the market. I thought the most difficult portion of this ritual would be rising at 6:00 am but I was to discover something else that took an even greater effort.
Dad’s Saturday breakfast was not the bacon, sausage, black pudding, eggs and fried bread I knew about from Sunday mornings. On Saturday, it was twelve Malpeque oysters shucked by a tousled haired man with bright blue eyes and a constant grin whom Dad called, appropriately, Oyster Man.
I remember feeling very, very manly (the word macho hadn’t yet entered our vocabularies) sliding not only this slimy creature down my throat but the two or three drops of Tabasco sauce on top that Dad recommended.
The first time I ever had an oyster was the first time I ever had hot sauce. I don’t remember having hot sauce with anything else again until I discovered the pleasures of alcohol and, shortly after that, the Bloody Mary. Again the sauce was Tabasco and, again, the most manly of men ordered “extra” in their drink.
Apart from oysters, Bloody Marys and, then, Bloody Caesars, hot sauce didn’t play much of a role in my life. Whether it was Tabasco or one of the myriad of other hot sauces that came in the familiar five ounce bottles, I never thought of them having taste, just heat. If I wanted to add hot peppers to my cuisine it was always in the form of dried chiles not a liquid.
Then I started to come to Mexico and also then, I started to eat huevos rancheros and, on one of those occasions, the sauce was a little different. I could actually taste chile peppers, plus maybe a little lime and some spices, even though I couldn’t tell exactly what they were. It was much better than any of those other hot sauces. It also came in a much bigger bottle, with a different style top and its name was Valentina Salsa Picante.
In my opinion, the world has become way too overexcited about hot sauce and put far too much stress on the amount of heat in those myriad of brands where outrageous names are almost de rigeur. There is even something called the Scoville scale to measure the amount of heat in chili peppers based on the amount of capsaicin they contain.
Wikipedia says, “Capsaicin is a chemical compound which stimulates chemoreceptor nerve endings in the skin, especially the mucuous membranes. The number of Scoville heat units (SHU) indicates the amount of capsaicin present.”
If you think a jalapeno pepper is hot, consider this: A jalapeno scores about 5000 on the Scoville scale. A habanero scores about 450,000! It’s not unusual for hot sauces to advertise that they contain habaneros, Scotch bonnets, chiltecpins or other very spicy chiles; if they do, I suggest you avoid them as the heat will probably annihilate any and all other tastes.
For Don Day there’s no room on my shelf or in my fridge for Lethal Ingestion, Flaming Arrow, Sphincter Shrinker, Baboon Ass, Up In Smoke, Mad Dog’s Revenge, Butt Twister, Executioner, Anal Angst, Scorned Woman, or Radical Red. I just want a little heat not a four alarm fire. I don’t mind a touch of warmth going down but I want none going out.
Valentina Salsa Picante contains Serranos and Chiles de Arbol. Serranos score 10,000 to 23,000 on the Scoville scale and Chiles de Arbol score between 15,000 to 30,000 units. That’s plenty for me. In addition to the peppers, there’s water, vinegar, salt, unnamed spices and the preservative sodium benzoate. Valentina contains no calories, no carbohydrates and no saturated fat.
The Valentina bottle has a red blotch on it that looks like a map of Australia with a growth on top but it’s made in a 26,000 square meter factory in Guadalajuara, Mexico that supports over 100 different families (I think the red blotch may be a map of Jalisco, the state where Guadalajuara is located). It’s made by a company called Salsa Tamazula that started business over forty years ago.
You can purchase Valentina in two different strengths, piquante (the yellow label) and muy piquante (the black label) and in two different sizes, 370 ml and 1 liter. Both size bottles have tops that rarely close correctly once they’ve been opened.
Valentina is the best selling hot sauce in Mexico, so you’ll find it almost anywhere; outside of the country, it usually requires a little searching. Mexicans often use Valentina with potato chips, popcorn, jicama, even mangos. If you want to try something a little different, use it as an alternative for the sauce that comes on a tapas dish you’ll often find in Madrid. To make very simple patatas bravas, just fry up some cubes of potatoes in olive oil until they’re crisp on the outside and sprinkle on the Valentina to taste.
In San Miguel de Allende I buy my Valentina at Mega but, every time I do, I’m bewildered. The current price of a 370 ml bottle of Valentina Salsa Picante is 8.40 pesos. A 1 liter bottle is 18.30 pesos. That’s less than almost any 5 oz bottle of hot sauce. That makes it less expensive than some bottled water.
Despite the fact that those prices are almost double what they were five years ago, I keep asking myself, how can they make it that cheap. Ah well, who really cares. I rank it as the best hot sauce in the world and right at this moment I’m thinking of a frittata with chorizo and cheese and a generous splash of Valentina on top.