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Jenny Song and her partner John run China Spice from a base in West Sussex. Jenny is a well established Chinese cook with a wealth of experience cooking authentic Chinese food, which is nothing like the takeaways we indulge in here in the UK. China Spice are importers of Chillies and Spices from China, specifically the Chengdu, Sichuan region of China which is where Jenny grew up.

This region of China is well known for its Chillies, something I was not aware of until I had the opportunity to visit Jenny & John last year at their base. There are incredible photos of the Chinese drying chillies in their millions, chillies on rooftops, hanging off anything which will allow them to dry evenly.

dragons backThe region is known for its Dragon Back Chillies, which are named after the man made terracing of the steep hills to accommodate the growing of rice, these contoured hills have been around for over 700 years and from a distance resemble the scales on a Dragons back. These Chillies are very much sought after in China and are an ingredient in the main chilli sauce made in the region called Pixian Douban. This sauce consists of broad beans and chillies and sits in clay pots until it has fermented.

China Spice also sell authentic kits to enable people to create the authentic tastes of Sichuan, with no sign of any MSG. The most famous of these is the Huo Guo or Hot Pot, cooked in a round metal dish which is divided in two in a “Ying and “Yang shape.

The sauce that comes in the kit goes in one side after cooking in a wok to create a fiery hot dipping style sauce and the other made to be milder, ideally heated at the table but can be heated in the kitchen, other ingredients can be added or pre cooked and dipped into the sauce/stock, meat, vegetables, the list is endless.

They also sell a Mapo Doufu sauce, which is as authentic to the Chengdu region as it could be as the recipe came from there and the restaurant that first served it is still open for business. This sauce is made to go with Tofu but other ingredients can be added, and can make a relatively bland ingredient come to life.

Here’s Carl Anderson demonstrating how easy this is to cook

Now in the video Carl talks about Sichuan Flower Peppers, not to be confused with normal peppercorns or even supermarket Sichuan Flower Peppers. These are a fairly unique ingredient and something I had never come across until I saw China Spice at the Fiery Foods UK Chilli Festival in Brighton last year. These are not actually a pepper but related to the Citrus family. They grow like berries and are dried.

China Spice were giving out samples, and inviting people to gently chew and move the pepper around the mouth and wait for the sensation to take effect.

These are not spicy in the Chilli sense but give a fizzing numbness around the mouth like nothing else, they stimulate your saliva glands and the effect can last 30 minutes or more.  The effect can be likened to licking a battery (not that I would advise that!) and is very potent, and works like a mild anesthetic, apparently in China, they are used to reduce tooth ache.

People have described these as having the “Willy Wonka” effect and I can see why. From the photos you can see that they are actually the husks from around the seeds which are black. China Spices Sichuan Flower Peppers have minimal seeds and according to Jenny, less reputable sources will have lots to seeds in the bag which adds to the weight. If you have never tried these then I would urge you to contact China Spice and buy a small bag to try them, they are certainly unique!

So pay China Spice’s website a visit and maybe buy a bag of Flower Peppers, you really should try them once!

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Truly Texas - Mesquite BBQ Sauce

Truly Texas - Mesquite BBQ Sauce

Let hope that after the wettest April on record in the UK we will now be starting the BBQ season, I have to admit this bottle has been waiting for the better weather for me to c rack it open and try to create some proper BBQ.

This BBQ sauces just smell divine, a light smell of vinegar carries the sweet tomato, molasses and smoke it is hard to stop smelling this,  the taste is just as good if a little more complicated, as you can see from the ingredients list there is a lot in here, but when you take out the ingredients in the components used, it starts to look a bit simpler with tomato puree, Worcestershire sauce, salt,  some smoke, vinegar and  a few herbs and spices.

The mesquite smoke flavour is not overpowering, if you have ever tried using a smoke extract you know how careful you have to be with the quantities unless you want things to taste like you are licking the inside of a chimney, over the past few years I have tried a lot of BBQ sauces and this must rank as one of the best.

Ingredients: Tomato Puree  (Water, Tomato Paste, Citric Acid), Sugar, Vinegar, Worcestershire Sauce (Distilled Vinegar, Molasses, Corn Syrup, Water, Salt, Caramel Colour, Garlic Powder, Sugar, Spices, Anchovies, Tamarind, Natural Flavour), Salt, Natural Mesquite Smoke, Lemon juice, Apple Cider Vinegar, BBQ Spice (Sugar, Ground Spices, Salt, Corn Starch, Garlic, Onion), Onion Powder, Spices, Xanthan Gum, Mustard Powder, Caramel Color.

Bottle kindly provided by Taste of Texas

Now this is not a grill sauce, if you put it on meat that then over the hot coals on your bbq grill, this this will burn and you will lose all that special flavour, this needs to be added at the end of cooking and gently coated over the meat.

We tested this on some BBQ ribs using the method that the outline in a video we published by The British BBQ Society a few days ago, I saves a few ribs to try before and after the sauce was added and the transformation has to be tasted to be believed, the ribs before where good, but after was to die for, and my ribs did not last long as unfortunately the whole family could smell what was cooking.

Now this is not the kind of BBQ sauce your supermarket sells for £1.49 a bottle, this is a not just sugar and caramel with a hint of tomato, this is the real thing coming direct from the home of real BBQ and it is work the £3.99  a bottle, that said the bottle is 340g  or 12oz of sauce, a little bigger that most.

You can order on-line at Taste of Texas who distribute this sauce in the UK

Flavour
(9.5/10)
Heat
(1/10)
Packaging
(8/10)
Value
(8/10)
Overall
(8.5/10)

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I have to admit that sadly I know very little about Peru, except that Paddington Bear come from Darkest Peru. So here is a quick bit about Peru.

The Republic of Peru is in Western South America it borders to the north Ecuador and Colombia with Brazil and Bolivia on the east and south east and finally Chile to its south. To the west is the mighty Pacific Ocean. The population is around 30 million who’s main language is Spanish, but they also speak Quechua or other native languages. Evidence of human habitation goes back to 9000 BC with the oldest known human society, the Norte Chico living on the west coast between 3,000 and 1,800 BC. In modern times the country is described as developing and has great potential for growth with exports to the rest of the world of copper, gold, zinc.

So why am I talking about Peru.. Well we have just received a range of sauces from Rico Picante  who are producing authentic Peruvian Chilli Sauces using 100% fresh Peruvian chillies and some traditional family recipes.

Hot Sauces from Rico Picante

Hot Sauces from Rico Picante

The business was started by Allison Ward and Christian Castillo-Martienez who are brother and sister, they originally come from Lima (The Capital of Peru). The sauces have won many awards including  the coveted Great Taste Gold Award in 2011 and they are being stocked in Fortnum & Mason and Selfridges from April this year. You can also find them in many independent Deli’s. and almost uniquely for a American readership, they are stocked in Williams-Sonoma (One of my favourite stores in the USA).

So if you would like to try some of there sauces why not visit them at www.ricopicante.co.uk our review will start shortly.

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Roberts Chilli Garlic Vinaigrette

Roberts Chilli Garlic Vinaigrette

Roberts Sauces is a local manufacturer of sauces, dressings, Mayonnaises and Vinaigrettes here in Somerset, strangely for such a business they have no web site!! We have purchased and used a number of their other products at home, the quality was excellent.

In the bottle the dressing has a tenancy to separate, so needs a good shake before use, it looks not unlike what I have made at home, and on opening it has a mild smell of the Sunflower Oil and Vinegar. The taste is delightful, using cider vinegar makes the dressing less harsh than when using a white vinegar, combine this with the honey and garlic the initial taste is sweet, then the mustard and a slight warmth from the chillies.

Ingredients: Sunflower Oil, Cider Vinegar, Mustard (Water, Mustard seeds, Vinegar, Salt, Sugar, Preservative: Sodiumbissulphite), Honey, Garlic (2%), Black Pepper, Chilli.

This is a nice quality product, from a regional manufacturer,  and at only £2.69 a bottle it offers excellent value, I have used it on some freshly cooked pasta as a pasta salad, but probably my favourite was mixing it in with some mashed potatoes.

Its is not hard to make salad dressing like this at home, and normally that is what I would do, but I have to say this one is as good if not better that most of my attempts, I especially like the touch of honey, must add that to my next home made version.

Using a clear overprinted label is a brave move, but this time it has worked out very well, unlike a resent product I photographed from Sainsburys, who colour selection for the print completely lost the plot.

Roberts Sauces
Unit 9, Barrowshill Farm, East Chinnock. BA22 9EY
Phone 01935 863663

Flavour
(7/10)
Heat
(1/10)
Packaging
(8/10)
Value
(7/10)
Overall
(7.5/10)

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