Saturday, October 13, 2012

Ever Wonder How Tabasco Sauce is Made?

Well, I did. So I decided to take a field trip to Avery Island. That's the home of the McIlhenny plantation and the Tabasco factory. This is a must do for foodies that have a passion for spicy foods and new ingredients  The tour is fun and educational, the island is beautiful but the real fun comes when you get back to your kitchen with some of your new found souvenirs.  More on that later.

Edmund McIlhenny was the master mind behind Tabasco.  In the 1860's, he received some seeds of the beloved capscium pepper from an associate from Mexico or Central America. He planted the seeds and when they were the perfect ripeness, he picked them and began experimenting with a pepper sauce recipe. 

Believe it or not, people of that era complained that the gulf coast cuisine was very bland. He gave the sauce to friends and family and everyone raved. McIlhenny quit his job as a New Orleans banker and started a new business.  The rest is hisory...

The Process Behind the Treasure!

Introducing the capsicum pepper. The pepper was officially renamed by the U.S. Government in 1917 as the Tabasco pepper. 

Capsicum Pepper
 When they are at the peak of ripeness, the peppers are hand picked and are immediately ground with a small amount of salt. Next, the "mashed" peppers are placed in oak barrels and sealed.  The lids of the barrels are then drilled with several holes. Afterwards, salt is packed on the lids. The holes allow gasses to escape during the fermentation process while the salt prevents air from seeping into the peppers.

Aging Tabasco Mash
Remember the song "Time in a bottle"? Nothing could be more true of Tabasco pepper sauce.  The mashed pepper are aged in these barrels for over three years! When they are removed the peppers are mixed with vinegar, Avery Island sea salt and a few other secret ingredients. That mixture goes into large vats and is stirred constantly for 30 days.

Assembly Line
Think about this. In his first year of business, McIllhenney made 658 bottles of Tabasco pepper sauce. Today, the company produces over 700,000 bottles a day. 

Vinegar Truck

That being said, I asked how much vinegar do the buy. The tour guide pointed over her shoulder and said, "Here one of today's deliveries now!" That's a lot of vinegar!!

The Country Store
The Tasting Counter
After the tour I visited the Tabasco Country Store. Here you can by everything Tabasco. They have clothing, glassware, Christmas ornaments, books, nicknacks and most exciting to me... a wealth of different foods. There is a full line of different pepper sauces, BBQ sauce, pepper jellies, chips and so on. 

What's more, there is a tasting counter where the let you try experimental items. I tried Tabasco Coke and it was great. Sweet and spicy make perfect culinary sense.  I also tried the Tabasco ice cream.  That was very good as well.

Tabasco Mash

Now for the best part. In the back of the store, there is a large reach-in refrigerator. Inside were bags and bags of my new found treasure! When the vat of mashed peppers and vinegar is strained, the juice is bottled and the solids are bagged and put into this refrigerator. I love this ingredient!! I've been playing around with different recipes using Tabasco "mash" as a flavoring agent.  It makes a great addition to sauces and marinades. I gave some to Gary, a friend of mine and he came up with an interesting idea.  He has become quite the expert at beef jerky. His first batch of Tabasco mash jerky could have melted the plastic bag he put it in.  Moral of the story...a little mash goes a long way.  The second batch of Tabasco jerky was a home run!!

One of my favorite uses is in marinades. Below is a recipe for Avery Island Marinade. I've used this on everything from shrimp to chicken to redfish and all are superb. After marinating,  just throw the item and the grill and cook as you normally would.  The result is a wonderful flavor of peppers, vinegar and salt. Try it! You can't go wrong.

Avery Island Marinade

Extra Virgin Olive Oil - 1/2 cup
Garlic, minced - 1 tsp.
Red Wine Vinegar - 2 tsp.
Kosher Salt - 1 tsp.
Tabasco Mash - 1 Tbl.

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.  Great for marinating chicken, shrimp and fish.

Avery Island Shrimp, Andouille & Pepper Jack Mashed Potatoes, Smoked Tomato Gravy


Chef Joe

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