“Poor old fool,” thought the well-dressed gentleman as he watched an old man fish in a puddle outside a pub. So he invited the old man inside for a drink. As they sipped their whiskeys, the gentleman thought he’d humor the old man and asked, “how many have you caught today?”
The old man replied, “You’re the eighth.” – from A Prairie Home Companion
“They call ’em the flyover states because no one wants to spend any time in ’em, you see, they’re just for driving through and flying right on over, you know?” He motioned with his hand in mock airplane fashion, making a whoosh! sound as it passed in front of my face. I do the same thing to my son when I’m trying to get him to eat something. Open wide! Here comes the airplane …
I was perched at a relatively empty old bar in DC, waiting for a friend to join me and trying my best to appear intentional in my lonesomeness. The man sitting catty-corner from me, just across the worn corner of the old wooden bar, had scooted his bowl of half-eaten peanuts to me as he carried on about the merits of coastal city living, wondering why anyone would want to live in the so called “flyover states.” Originally from Oklahoma, he’d moved to DC two decades ago, raised two kids and didn’t give two flying leaps about the fact that he’d left his home in the literal dust. Where’d you say you were from again? He’d asked me, swirling his whiskey around in its glass and circling back to the question that had kickstarted the conversation in the first place.
Oh, right. Sorry.
Two … three … four … I’d started adding up the number of glass drinking vessels that were scattered about in front of the man and surmised that he’d been there a while, in this sleepy, nondescript bar tucked away in one of DC’s more residential areas. The bartender feigned busyness, wiping down the seemingly spotless bar top over and over again, but eventually he gave up and walked over to tend to us instead.
Can I get you anything else, Sam? Ready to settle up? Oblivious, the man had twisted around in his chair and was exchanging pleasantries with the couple sitting behind him. His head was resting contently on his arms as he chatted them up and it seemed as if he felt right at home … like he belonged exactly where he was.
I snacked on my peanuts as I regarded the man, being careful to pile my shells in a neat little stack on my napkin, which was really more a product of my own neurotic tendencies than any attempt to be polite. “Nah, you can just knock ’em on the floor. Everybody else does,” the bartender told me. It was about this time that my now very late friend called to let me know that she would be significantly later and that I should just go ahead and order some food. So, I grabbed a menu and scrolled up and down trying to make up my mind. But before I could do much figuring, the bartender peeked around the large sheet of laminated tri-fold paper and informed me that they had a special running, if I was interested. “Spicy spatchcocked chicken with veggies … we make it with our house hot sauce and it’ll knock your socks off clear back to Indiana!” His face reddended then, as it dawned on him that he hadn’t technically been a part of our previous conversation, just a listening bystander. I laughed, telling him it was fine and ultimately taking him up on the chicken special. He had a look about him, when he described it to me that made him seem so proud of it, that chicken … like he’d come up with the dish himself. After a bit more prying, I discovered that the house hot sauce to which he had referred was, in fact, his own creation and it was as if he’d been waiting all night for someone to tell. Seeing as how I’d nearly been stood up at that point, I was happy to be his someone and agreed to do a taste test.
And if that hot sauce wasn’t delicious. It was definitely spicy, but not palate crushingly so. The vinegary, garlic-laced liquid was so good that I asked him if I could have a couple containers of it to go …
“Wait, what was it called again? What was the name of the sauce?” I’d asked.
“Sam’s No. 5.” He said. “Sam because, well, Sam is our most loyal customer (I’d figured as much), and it took me five tries to get it just right. Fifth time’s the charm! Ah, I don’t know though, I’m not much good at that kind of stuff – naming things. I mean, my dog’s name is just “Dog.” This made me laugh out loud, almost spitting out my beer … the one that had been sent to me by my new friend Sam, who had started making the airplane motion again with his hand, laughing as he gave me a wink and two big thumbs up.
“Isn’t that sauce the best! It’s too damn good!! Named after me, you know!” My friend had made it to the bar by that point, collapsing into the seat next to me at my little corner, as if she’d just finished running a marathon. After sampling my chicken and declaring it to be “absolutely incredible,” she promptly ordered her own and I turned to find Sam, so as to properly introduce the two of them. But Sam was nowhere to be found.
“Oh he’ll come back,” said the bartender with a knowing smile. “Always does.” He gestured then, toward Sam’s now empty seat and I squinted to see what he was pointing at. Scrawled in all uppercase letters across the top of the chair were the words, “RESERVED FOR SAM.” No one else sat in that chair for the remainder of the night, and I had a sneaking suspicion that no one ever did.
Homemade Moonshine Hot Sauce RECIPE
This is an adaptation of a recipe I saw in an issue of Saveur magazine several years ago, and it’s more of a method than an actual recipe. There are plenty of approaches you can take when making homemade hot sauce, but this recipe is very simple and requires minimal effort. It makes for a fantastic food gift and its applications are endless. From spicy chicken, pork and seafood dishes to grilled vegetables and even fruit, this hot sauce is fantastic on so many things. You can use tequila if you prefer (the original recipe does), but as a nostalgia-filled displaced southerner, I opted for moonshine.
1/4 tsp whole allspice
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1/4 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 pint (.5 cup) moonshine
1.5 cups apple cider vinegar
3 – 5 fresh or dried chiles, (I used jalapenos and serranos, but red Thai chiles are great as well if you can find them)
In a small saucepan over medium heat, toast the allspice, peppercorns, and cumin seeds until fragrant, about 3 – 5 minutes. Add them to a jar followed by the moonshine, vinegar, and chiles. Let the hot sauce sit for one week before using.
Spicy Roasted Chicken with Hot Sauce RECIPE
This recipe is great for both roasted and grilled chicken, so you can use it year-round. My roasted chicken recipe has always been a version of Ina Garten’s, and in this case, I add the spicy butter under and over the skin to give it a kick. I like to serve mine with grilled or roasted veggies that change depending on the season.
for the boozy hot sauce compound butter:
6 – 8 cloves garlic (if they’re really big, 6 should do it)
1.5 sticks butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup fresh parsley
Zest and juice of one lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
Homemade hot sauce, to taste (I use about 1 – 3 tablespoons)
for the chicken:
5-6 lb. whole roasting chicken
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
1 large bunch fresh thyme
1 lemon, halved
1 head of garlic, cut in half crosswise
boozy hot sauce butter
1 large onion, sliced thickly
3 carrots cut into 2″ pieces
1 fennel bulb, tops removed and cut into wedges
for the butter: Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until evenly incorporated and the garlic and parsley are finely chopped. Transfer to a storage container and keep in the fridge until needed.
for the chicken: Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F.
Remove the giblets and rinse the inside and outside of the bird; pat dry. Remove any excess fat from the chicken. Liberally salt and pepper the inside. Stuff the cavity with the thyme, lemon halves, and garlic.
Peel back the skin on the top of the chicken, being careful not to tear it, and slather plenty of the boozy hot sauce butter underneath, covering as much of the surface area as possible. Cover the outside of the chicken with an even layer of the butter as well. Sprinkle again with salt and pepper.
Tie the legs together with kitchen string and tuck the wing tips under the body of the bird. Place the chicken in a roasting pan, elevated on a roasting rack if you have one (you can also use thickly sliced vegetables as your “rack” if you so choose). Roast the chicken for 1.5 hours, or until the juices run clear when you cut between a leg and thigh.
Remove the chicken and cover with foil for about 15 – 20 minutes, to rest. Slice the chicken onto a platter and serve.