Arrr, me hearties!
Today we’re going to be looking a sauce from the Cornish Chilli Company and it’s one that I’ve been really looking forward to showcasing.
It’s one of their three, fish-themed, slightly boozie concoctions but, unlike the other two, it’s not made using a strong flavoured drink.
The Red Snapper uses vodka – Probably the least flavourful of all alcohols. It tastes of volatility and occasionally some very mild creamy notes but, unless you’re really scraping the bottom of the barrel in quality, it’s not going to flavour a cocktail.
So why put it in a sauce?
Well, I did some research and the answer I found was a tad more scientific than I expected.
It turns out that, while red wine is more traditional in italian cuisine, vodka is a key ingredient in some american variations. An ingredient that finds use specifically because it’s both volatile and unflavoured.
You see, alcohol is a great solvent. It blends with many things and takes up flavours easily.
Yet it also evaporates quite easily when heated.
Being as subtle in taste as it is, Vodka is particularly good at picking up the flavour of other things – In this case the tomatoes in a “Penne a la Vodka” – and then, when it vaporises, that flavour becomes pure aroma.
Which sounds like a bad thing. It sounds like you’re sacrificing taste for an enticing smell.
But you’re not.
Aside from our five basic tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami), the vast majority of what we call “flavour” is just smell anyway. Smell perceived through the nasal pathway in the top of your mouth.
The aroma provided by the vodka actually makes the flavour of the tomatoes more readily available, not less. And it brings forth some of their subtler elements that might otherwise be hidden.
It is, to me at least, a fascinating phenomenon, so I was very eager to see how it worked for this sauce.
Unfortunately, though, I don’t think it did.
I’m not noticing anything in this runny yet chunky, grapefruit-flavoured chilli sauce that I wouldn’t normally expect from its ingredients list.
Cornish Vinegar*, Plums, Tomatoes, Apple, Hot Chillies, Pomegranate, Ruby Grapefruit, Pineapple, Beetroot, Vodka (2.8%), Garlic, Sugar, Salt
There’s no sign of any subtle undertones being made into overtones or anything remotely like that. Not even when it’s heated.
Quite frankly, I’m a little disappointed.
This sauce isn’t nearly the scientific masterpiece I had built it up to be in my head. It’s just a sharp, fruity sauce, made sharper still by its vodka and high vinegar content. Because yes, against all odds, you can taste the vodka.
Not its subtle, vaguely vanilla-like notes, though, or the nail polish remover element of the beverage at its absolute worst.
No, it’s the harsh twang of volatility given to it by its alcohol content that comes across to me here and you know what? It actually works.
I’m not normally fond of that flavour but, intertwined with the grapefruit in this sauce, it becomes a part of something much more pleasant – An acidic, pink citrus sauce that goes great on squid rings, pork or an equally strong-flavoured fish. And that’s just what its makers suggested.
Personally, I found it also worked wonders on onion rings, pizza and just about anything else with a little fat or grease to cut through.
Yet, of course, while that sharp and sour grapefruit and vodka side is clearly going to be its main draw, the Red Snapper does have a little bit more going on.
Its plum, tomato and apple provide less obvious undertones to reinforce its fruitiness and, while I can’t really taste them, there is a definite high
from the product’s Bird’s Eye chillies (confirmed in its little blurb).
It’s only medium but, since it hits alongside some serious citrus, it’s a pretty unique sensation that seems to linger around the front and sides of the mouth.
This sauce isn’t going to be for everyone but, if you’ve read this far, you probably already know if its your metaphorical cup of tea. If you enjoy a grapefruit in the morning or the tang of fresh lemon juice on your food, you just might fall in love with this one.
But, if you’re the sort who’s lips pucker at the mere thought of something sour then, well, stop it. Just stop. Go read another review that isn’t torturing the taste-buds of your imagination on every other line. This item isn’t for you!
It’s a sauce that’s set to test your sour tolerance more than your spice tolerance, for once. I’ll bring you something different next week.
Before I finish off this one, though, I feel a little discussion of the label is in order. I do, after all, like to review the whole product, even if it is the sauce inside that matters most.
This one comes adorned in an orange to red, vertical gradient, ensuring not only that its white text is backed with its namesake colour but also that the red snapper fish from which that name comes is still able to stand out against the orange higher up. Not that its thin, white outline and heavy drop shadow don’t do that pretty well already.
It is, though, with no clear reason, the grumpiest fish I’ve ever seen. Eyelids slanted way down, bottom lip coming up into a frown, this fish does not want to be eaten.
And yet its brethren, swimming around as pale silhouettes to break up the monotony of the background, look completely carefree.
Truth be told, I have no idea what’s going on with this packaging design but it does show off the animal after which the Cornish Chilli Company have named their sauce and it does have an excellent, ornate yet legible, title font.
And hey, I don’t know about you but I’m not going to let some snappy little sea creature tell me what I can and can’t have for dinner.
I’m going to thoroughly enjoy the rest of this sauce.
*The Cornish Chilli Company don’t state what kind of vinegar their signature cornish sort actually is but I would guess, from how sharp it tastes, that it’s made from some type of strong yet weakly-flavoured spirit. Perhaps even more vodka.