Happy new year, everyone! For the second time this month.
I’m well aware of how strange that might seem but this week’s post is a little bit different. Because it’s not just a late celebration of the julian new year, like my previous feature, but a spotlight on two chinese-style products, for the lunar one. Which took place a mere four days ago.
So, this time around, I’m actually on time. Here’s what I’ve got:
Dragon Salt from Tubby Tom and a special sauce from Chilli Bobs, which I’ll give you a closer look at in a moment or two.
First up, the Dragon Salt seems to be part of the “fakeaway” trend that’s gained a lot of traction in the last year. A “salt x pepper” seasoning, meant to replicate your local restaurant’s chinese chicken, chips and tofu.
It contains rather more than just the salt and pepper in the name, though. And none of the black peppercorns that you might expect. Here’s its full list:
Sea Salt, Sugar, Monosodium Glutamate, Garlic, Szechuan Pepper, Cayenne Pepper, Cinnamon, Crushed Fennel Seeds, Star Anise, Clove. Activated Charcoal.
A list where szechuan peppercorns and chilli make up the “pepper” content.
Which is odd because no salt and pepper dish that I’ve ever ordered has had that numbing, szechuan tingle. But we’ll see just how accurate Tom’s creation is in a just a second. Before that, I’d like to quickly go over its packaging.
I ordered the small version of Tubby Tom’s Dragon Salt, so mine came in a silver, screw-top tin but yours might come in a plastic shaker. Either way, though, the label will be the same.
Tom’s good old logo of his face, now with blue war paint and a yellow beanie, takes centre stage, in front of an equally blue and yellow background. His company name and the product’s both circle the rim, in jagged, white bubble writing, while the symbol for “dragon” separates the two. And, likewise, golden dragons subtley separate Tom’s face from that text.
Interestingly enough, it’s written in traditional chinese, which shares the symbol with japanese, rather than in the modern, simplified script. Not that I really understand what significance that holds.
It’s not an overly complicated design, in any way, but the rough edges to each and every part of it still make it seem very busy. Which would be a problem if the outlines didn’t make Tom’s face and text pop.
As is, however, that business seems to fit his brand. Mimicking the feel of the intense metal beneath most of his YouTube updates.
Yet, even so, I don’t think that it’s perfect. I don’t think that its colour-scheme says much about the product and I don’t think that the dragons are clear enough to mean much, either. So, if you don’t see the hanzi and know that it’s chinese text, you’re going to have to read the red and white small print to know anything about the contents.
But maybe people do recognise the origins of hanzi and know what to expect. I really can’t say.
So, let’s move on to something that I can be more sure on. A good, old-fashioned taste test:
The Dragon Salt is a dark grey, coloured by its charcoal content, with fragments of chilli, fennel and lighter salt crystals, all in the mix. Yet, flavour-wise, it’s the MSG that hits me first. That familiar, rich, savoury and almost meaty taste, often known as “umami”.
And that umami is a major player, in this product, but it’s not the only flavour, by any means. Or even the only taste.
Saltiness and sweetness take hold immediately, as well, and the lot are soon supported by a fragrant spice and szechuan pepper blend. Though I can’t say that I’d recognise the peppercorns, if I didn’t know what I was looking for. Or that they bring anything, at all, to the table, when it comes to their heat.
Both those peppercorns and the cayenne come across surprisingly weakly, with only a low
burn, when eaten straight, and not even that, when cooked with.
This Dragon Salt is entirely about the flavour, not the heat. Yet it more than makes up for its mildness, there! It tastes almost identical to the restaurant equivalent and my only criticism would have to be the sugar.
It’s perfect for chicken and tofu and would be delicious on some crispy chicken skin, as well, but it’s just a little too sweet for my side of fries. Especially if I cook them up with onion, as is traditional.
So, will you enjoy this seasoning? That depends on what you want to do with it but, if I had to hazard a guess, I’d say “yes”. Because it definitely is a great way to get that takeaway taste at home.
Now, let’s move on to our second product:
Chilli Bobs’ Chinese Tiger BBQ – Made with actual pink tiger chillies.
If you don’t know the variety, they’re a favourite of the Chilli Pepper Company, who claim that they’re the rarest and most valuable strain of all. One which has most of the ghost pepper‘s heat, yet also a beautiful, white and purple, striped colouration. Courtesy of its other parent, the pimenta de neyede.
I honestly think that their rarity is a tad exaggerated but their looks most certainly aren’t. As you can see on Chilli Bobs’ label and, to an extent, in 📽️my own taste test📽️.
I found their flavour, in that video, to be a touch hit and miss but their fruity skin and floral, slightly bitter core certainly hold great potential for offsetting the sweetness of a barbecue-style sauce. So let’s see what Bob has made:
It’s smooth, it’s glossy and it’s not at all the colour that I expect from a barbecue sauce. In fact, it has something of a thickened tomato soup look about it, which would make sense, given its ingredients list:
Nectarines, Pasata, onion, garlic, demerera sugar, olive oil, water, Dijon Mustard, Onion, soy sauce, cumin, paprika, Pink Tiger Chillies, Salt
And yes, that really is how the list is written – With demerara misspelt, random capitalisation and two instances of onion. It looks a mess but it does also provide some interesting information.
From what’s stated in the ingredients, we can tell that it’s smooth, sieved tomatoes and an olive oil emulsion – Held together with mustard – which provides that glossy, cream of tomato finish. A texture which is just as gentle on the mouth as it is on the eyes.
That creamy, silky quality comes through first, before slowly releasing the rest of the sauce’s tomato-forward flavour and depositing its spice grains – Including the spice, itself – onto the back of my tongue. The chilli’s ghost-like heat taking just a second or two to peak at a throaty
And sure, it’s a lot milder than I expected but that’s because there isn’t a lot of the chilli in this particular product. Perhaps due to its scarcity.
I can still tell that the pepper, itself, is a potent one and that its apple peel-like skin is enhancing the fruitiness that the nectarines have brought to the sauce. While its slight bitterness is all but lost, yet still adds just a tiny touch of extra depth.
For such a fruity, tomato-based, smooth and sweet product, the pink tiger is a perfect fit but I would have liked for it to come through a little more, still. And, when it comes to being a barbecue (or BBQ), this sauce just ain’t it. It’s closer to an artisan ketchup.
Sure, it’s going to be gorgeous on roast meats and perhaps even smoky ones, like a proper chicken tikka, but it isn’t tailor made for charcoal-grilled foods, like Chilli Bobs’ 📽️viper sauce📽️ was.
It doesn’t have its own smoke and molasses but, because of that, it’ll also go at least as well with tomato-based pasta sauces and soups. So there’s definitely an upside to it not quite being the asian barbecue that I was expecting. It does make this sauce very usable.
So I would happily recommend it but, at the same time, Tubby Tom’s Dragon Salt definitely seems like its the more topical of today’s pair. And both are well worth checking out.