The Szechuan Sauce

Alright everyone, it’s time to get schwifty, so pull down your pants and-

Okay, no. I’m not finishing that reference. Rick and Morty really isn’t the highbrow, adult comedy that its fans would like you to think and that level of toilet humour is just gross. Even for a chilli reviewer, like myself, who inevitably has to hear a tonne of it.

But, the show’s supposed intelligence aside, there is something else that it’s known for. Which is the absolute ridiculousness of the szechuan sauce debacle, caused by the start of its third season. The raids on McDonald’s stores, across the US, all in search of a long-discontinued tie-in to the original Mulan film.

Frankly, I’ve no idea why people cared so much about a simple szechuan sauce – Especially one with such an uninspired list of ingredients – but that absurd uproar did have some interesting knock-on effects. Including inspiring a whole host of more authentic chinese flavours in the american hot sauce market. As well as a few further afield and even one or two here, in the UK.

Today, I want to look at one example, in particular, which comes to us from Balefire, in durham:

Before I begin, no, I don’t like its name.

As the title of the series’ sixteenth episode and the song therein, “Get Schwifty” is a highly recognisable reference to the show that clearly inspired this sauce. Yet that episode is, in my opinion, one of Rick and Morty’s least funny and the whole point of its song was that people would listen to any old garbage. No matter how thoughtless, tasteless or poorly produced it might be.

So, were Balefire my company, I would have chosen just about any other reference over it, for the name of my spicy szechuan sauce. Ideally one without any ties to public defecation.

But again, Rick and Morty was a hugely popular show that incited a crazy amount of demand for today’s product genre. So placing at least some nod to it in the name does make a lot of sense. And everything else about Balefire’s packaging seems rather more tasteful.

I particularly like their runic font, aged paper colouration and the heads of wheat bordering their logo. As if, perhaps, to hint at the fact that they brew and ferment all of their own beers and vinegars for the brand.

Nothing visually sets this sauce apart from their others, which is a bit of a shame, but all of its key ingredients are front and centre. Providing a clear indication of what the product is, even if it does take a bit of reading.

Fermented habanero, szechuan peppercorns, roasted garlic, stem ginger, salted soy beans and craft beer are all within plain sight, yet their order doesn’t quite match what I see on the back:

Beer (Contains Gluten), Sugar, Red Pepper Paste, Vinegar, Soy Beans (Soy Beans, Salt, Ginger), Lime, Garlic, Ginger, Chilli, Spices, Salt, Stabiliser: Xanthian Gum.

The actual ingredients list suggests far more of a focus on the craft beer than I thought but, when I pop its top off, that isn’t reflected in its smell, at all.

When I fill my customary tasting spoon, the aroma wafting back up at me is all dark, rich, fermented beans and woody, winter spices. Though you can certainly see the beer content in its thin consistency, full of grains from all of the more solid ingredients blended in.

Between those visible, floating fragments and the dark brown, opaque nature of the product, it looks a lot thicker than it actually is. Making its quick and easy pour quite the surprise, at first.

What comes as even more of a surprise, though, is its flavour. Because yes, it does have the rich, dark, savoury taste of a black bean sauce, paired with szechaun peppercorn and cinnamon-like spices, along with a touch of ginger in the tail. Yet it also packs some completely unexpected red fruit and tanin overtones, as if it used red wine. Or perhaps a red wine vinegar.

Overtones which work wonderfully with those wintery spices and the rich body of the sauce. As well as bringing a slight sweetness, to balance out the drier beer.

I’m not going to pretend that I taste much else from that beer, though. Just as I get very little, beyond burn, from Balefire’s chillies. But that burn is a highly enjoyable, slow growing

heat that lingers both on the tip of my tongue and around the back of my mouth. Combining hints of both the habanero and szechuan peppercorn tingles.

It’s not too strong and, from what I’m told, this is actually the company’s mildest sauce. Yet I love both the feel and the flavour of it. Which is as at home over a good burger as it is over tofu or beef stir-fry.

It’s far more of a real szechuan-style than anything McDonald’s have ever made and a far better quality, to boot. So, as much as I dislike the “Get Schwifty” name, I have nothing but respect for the rest of Balefire’s creation.

I wholeheartedly recommend giving this one a go and I can’t wait to try the rest of their range!

3 thoughts on “The Szechuan Sauce

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