Hey folks, how’s it going?
For me, life’s been pretty good lately. But, sadly, the same cannot be said for our last few sauces. Since, as much as I liked the taste of rocoto in The Wicked Chilli’s Roco Loco, it still didn’t express the pepper’s unique heat as well as I’d hoped. And the other two that I tried these last couple of weeks were similarly disappointing.
So, this time around, I think I’m going to play it safe with a company who’ve already really impressed me once before: Balefire.
We saw their Get Schwifty a while back and, aside from the name, I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of that sauce. So, today, I’m going to take a look at two more in the hopes that their Tortuga and Critical Masala are just as stunning.
The Tortuga, named after the famous pirate isle, promises a rum-forward, caribbean flavour, while its partner, the Critical Masala, says it all with that name. The “Critical Mass” portion being used literally, this time, to refer to having just the right amount. Rather than for its nuclear weapons connotations.
But the more telling part is the “Masala” – An indian word for a spice blend – which tells us just what it has the right amount of. The classic tandoori mix used to marinate both meats and cheeses in traditional indian cooking.
Both are equally as evocative with their names as the company’s previous sauce, without any of the unfortunate context, and yet neither say much more with their visuals. The labels do list of the ingredients of each product on the front, which is unusual, but that’s the only thing which has really changed since the Get Schwifty. Though I do find it interesting that the Tortuga uses a noticeably lighter paper than its siblings.
Perhaps that’s an active choice, to contrast with the dark, waxed lid that reflects the colour of its spice flecks. But, chances are, it’s simply a variation between print runs.
Either way, the cosmic black with orange glitter is a nice touch. One which, in my opinion at least, outshines the Critical Masala’s simple, peachy orange. Even if that, too, matches the bottle’s deeper orange contents.
Here’s how the two look on my spoons:
One a slightly greyish shade of yellow, filled with dark flecks of black pepper and allspice. The other a vibrant, yet tomatoey orange, with a few less visible spices but plenty of pepper seeds, below the surface. As well as a hint of oil in its shine.
Both are an easy pour, yet bear plenty of thickness and weight. Clinging, just slightly, to the sides of their bottles on the way out.
The Tortuga, on the left, has an ever so slightly granular quality to it but is far smoother than it looks. With a flavour that’s tangy and carries subtle hints of both umami and fruit, yet manages to maintain a smooth, earthy body that’s unmistakeably caribbean.
One which is neither mustard-based nor chilli and lime but a smooth, allspice-laden curry. Similar to Hell’s Kitchen’s, despite lacking both the coconut and the scotch bonnet. Though its tangy fruit notes, overtones of onion and hint of MSG all go a long way towards setting this sauce apart, while its swap to habanero chillies and heavy use of black pepper give its heat a sharper, back of the throat and base of the nose kick.
One which only amounts to a high
but brings with it a subtle, yet pleasing, pepper fragrance.
The Tortuga isn’t the sauce that I’d expected it to be, with no obvious sign of the rum, but what Balefire have brought to the table is still something special. A unique and surprisingly delicate twist on a classic, perfectly suited for caribbean-style fish or goat curries but just as likely to work its way over chicken, thai dishes or a katsu. Perhaps even into soufflés or with stir-fry.
So it’s far from another of the disappointments that I’ve been experiencing lately. And, likewise, the Critical Masala isn’t nearly as “dry” as I expected but that’s by no means a bad thing.
Its use of sugar offsets any hint of bitterness from the spices, yet is otherwise pleasantly sparing. Only adding a gentle, almost ketchup-like, sweet and sour quality, when combined with the sauce’s vinegar, tomato and lemon. And even that very much takes a back seat to the rest.
The main flavours of the Critical Masala are its rich and slightly fruity blend of roasted red and habanero peppers – Further enhanced by the company’s own IPA – and the namesake tandoori masala. A spice mix which is golden, yet herbal, bright, yet robust and bears the subtle, maple-like hints of fenugreek. As well as something slightly woody, like cloves or cinnamon, underneath. All playing off the natural golden notes of the caramelised alliums underneath.
The exact composition is a mystery to me but its both beautifully balanced and satisfyingly strong. Stunning as a marinade to meat, fish or indian cheeses and darn good at the heart of an indian curry, too. Perhaps even transforming a stew from the night before into something new and special.
This sauce is far more of an ingredient to cook with than a pour on, to me, but its delicious taste will work both ways. With the sweeter, fruitier side coming through rather more when it’s fresh from the bottle and a considerable
fire building in the back of my mouth and throat as I eat it, regardless of which form I choose.
I’m thoroughly impressed by this masala sauce and, in fact, I’ve loved both of today’s features. They’re truly a fantastic duo of curry flavours, with their different cultural backgrounds oh so clear, despite the shared habanero chilli.
The Critical Masala was made from:
Onion, Red Peppers, Vinegar, Garlic, Habanero (9%), Beer (Contains: Gluten), Sugar, Tomato Paste, Lemon, Olive Oil, Salt, Spices, Monosodium Glutamate, Stabiliser: Xanthian Gum.
While Tortuga contained:
Onion, Habanero (18%), Peppers, Orange, Vinegar, Garlic, Ginger, Turmeric, Sugar, Rum, Black Pepper, Allspice, Salt, Xanthian Gum (Stabiliser), Monosodium Glutamate.
And I would wholeheartedly recommend them both.