Buffa-nero Chicken Nuggets with Lemon-Lime Gorgonzola Dipping Sauce

I have this running joke that I’m a hot sauce addict.

Thank God for science, because we can prove that eating the capsaicin in chili peppers results in the release of endorphins, giving hot sauce an addictive quality. So I guess it isn’t so much a joke as an actual fact.

But I’m living in the right time and place. Because nowadays, there’s more hot sauces to choose from than we know what to do with. I love discovering new brands in the grocery store, because each one has their own flavor profile and affinity to certain foods that I can tease out over time.

More often than not, I’ve found that hot sauces tend to fall into one of these buckets.

  • Cayenne Pepper-Based Hot Sauces
  • Green Hot Sauces (Jalapeno, Serrano, Poblano)
  • Very Hot Hot Sauces (Ghost Pepper, Scotch Bonnet, Habanero)
  • Smoky Hot Sauces (Chipotle)
  • Buffalo Wing Hot Sauces
  • Authentic Asian Hot Sauces
  • Authentic Mexican Hot Sauces

At any given time, you will find somewhere between fifteen and twenty hot sauce bottles on the door of my fridge.  There is a systematic approach to this madness. Some of the hot sauces are sparingly reserved for select foods – while others can go on just about anything.

Here’s a look into the best food & hot sauce combinations I’ve pinpointed in over a quarter lifetime of trial and error. Most are pretty obvious, but some are unexpectedly perfect when you take that bite. And because some of the hot sauces I’d like to call out by name are hard to come by – i.e. bought at an airport in Mexico, I’m just including the easy-to-find varieties you can buy almost anywhere.

  • Tabasco (Original) – Runny Eggs, Burritos, Raw Seafood, Potato Salad, Clam Chowder
  • Tabasco (Chipotle) – Steak, Chicken, Mixed Kebabs, Ribs, Rice Bowls, Roasted Nuts
  • Tabasco (Jalapeno) – Beans, Lentils, Bruschetta, Guacamole
  • Tabasco (Scorpion) – Ceviche, Honey-Mustard Sauce, Hearty Seafood, Tamales, Polenta, Onion Dip, Scotch Eggs
  • Crystal – Macaroni & Cheese, Fried Chicken, Hashbrowns, Sausages, Biscuits, Pot Pies, Gratins, Grits
  • Texas Pete’s (Original) – Mashed Potatoes, Pot Roast, Jambalaya
  • Cholula (Original) – Scrambled Eggs, French Fries, Grilled & Roasted Vegetables, BLTs, Tomato Soup
  • Cholula (Green Pepper) – Lamb, Hot Dogs, Cheeseburgers, Corn Salad, Avocados
  • Cholula (Chili Garlic) – Fried Rice, Chili, Roasted Chicken, In Salad Dressings, Hummus, Popcorn, Chicken Tenders
  • Sriracha – Salads, Soups, Pizza, Sushi, Hard Boiled Eggs, Slaws, Mixed into Ranch Dressing, Mixed into Ketchup
  • Tapatio – Mixed into Pico de Gallo, Enchiladas, Tacos
  • Valentina – Cocktails, Mixed into Queso, Refried Beans, Breakfast Burritos
  • Frank’s RedHot (Wings Sauce) – Buffalo Chicken Dip, Cobb Salad, Chicken-Fried Steak, Pasta Salad

What are some of your must-have combinations? Any hot sauces you swear by? If it’s as good as you say it is, I guess you’re giving me the go ahead to buy just one more bottle. Right?

I N G R E D I E N T S

Makes approximately 40 nuggets.

  • 2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into cubes
  • 2 cups habanero hot sauce of your choosing
  • 1 habanero, minced
  • 2 sticks butter, melted
  • 3 cups buttermilk
  • 3 cups flour
  • 6 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 4 tablespoons cayenne pepper
  • 4 tablespoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons pepper
  • 24 oz. vegetable or canola oil

F o r  t h e  L e m o n – L i m e  G o r g o n z o l a  D i p p i n g  S a u c e

  • 1 / 2 cup sour cream
  • 1 lemon, juiced & zested
  • 1 lime, juiced & zested
  • 4 oz. Gorgonzola, crumbled
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of pepper
  • Pinch of sugar

D I R E C T I O N S

  1. Put the chicken cubes in the buttermilk and allow to marinate in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Combine the dredge ingredients – the flour, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, salt and pepper in a large shallow bowl. Set aside.
  3. Melt the butter, and combine it with the hot sauce and minced habanero. Set aside.
  4. Combine the dipping sauce ingredients in a bowl, and allow to sit in the fridge while you prepare the rest of the dish.
  5. To dredge the nuggets, remove the chicken from the buttermilk, roll in the flour, put back in the buttermilk and coat, and then roll in the flour a second time. Repeat for all chicken cubes, placing them in one layer on a large clean plate.
  6. In the meantime, heat the oil on medium heat in a large skillet. Make sure there is about an inch of oil in the skillet, adding more if needed. Heat until you can feel the heat rising off the oil. To test if the oil is ready, put a pinch of flour into the hot oil and see if it begins to bubble and sizzle. If it’s too hot or too cool, adjust the heat.
  7. Once the oil is ready, place the nuggets in the oil with tongs, being sure not to crowd the meat. When you see the chicken is golden brown on the underside, flip the chicken to the other side to finish frying. Remove the cooked chicken and place on a paper towel-lined plate.
  8. Once all the chicken nuggets are cooked, toss them in a large bowl with the hot sauce mixture until all nuggets are completely coated with the sauce.
  9. Serve immediately alongside the dipping sauce.

Spicy Dill Pickle Potato Salad

Good old, classic American potato salad doesn’t get the credit it deserves.

It’s gotten a bad rap for being bland, unexciting and outdated. But I think it belongs right at the top of the list with the other star members of the comfort food group.

With potatoes and mayonnaise acting as ingredients number one and two in this dish, potato salad lends itself to flavor-boosting ingredients.

I’ve seen variations like bacon-ranch potato salad, green goddess potato salad, cobb potato salad, and tons of other ingenious recipes on Pinterest. This gives me hope that potato salad has officially made a comeback and is here to stay.

This spicy and pickle-infested variation of potato salad checks two important boxes for me: spice and brine.

I always find ways to sneak pickled vegetables, capers, olives or cured salty fish into dishes that lack a “salt & vinegar” vibe. Does anyone else do this?

Quick-pickled red onion and habanero peppers, along with a hefty amount of spicy dill pickles, juice included, do a good job of cutting through gloopiness and high fat content of the mayonnaise dressing. I also used Peewee potatoes, which are ultra-velvety and the perfect size for biting into.

Once it’s all had a chance to meld together in the fridge, you can’t go wrong with the combination of the mayonnaise tang, zippy pickles with their garlicky juice, and a flaming hot pickled habanero bite. If these potatoes were potato chips, they would be McClure’s Pickles Spicy Pickle Kettle Potato Chips.

I didn’t go homestyle with this recipe, but it doesn’t mean I don’t have a place in my heart for the usual stuff. It’s instinctual food that serves a purpose. Like when you mechanically grab that pre-made container in the grocery store on your way to the cash register.

Sometimes, you just need the predictability that potato salad provides. 😊

I N G R E D I E N T S

Serves 4.

  • 2 lbs. Peewee potatoes, cut in half, or 2 lbs. Yukon Gold if you can’t find Peewee potatoes, cut in small cubes
  • 6 spears McClure’s Spicy Pickles, small diced, plus 4 tablespoons juice
  • 1 habanero, minced
  • 1 / 4 red onion, small diced
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 / 2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 / 2 cup sour cream
  • 4 tablespoons fresh dill, minced
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of pepper
  • Pinch of sugar

D I R E C T I O N S

  1. Heat the vinegar, 1 tablespoon salt and 1 tablespoon sugar in a small saucepan until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Pour into a bowl. Add the diced onion and minced habanero and let sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Cut the Peewee potatoes in half. Bring a large pot to boil, adding a tablespoon of salt. Add the potatoes, and boil for 15 minutes or so, until the potatoes are fork-tender. Strain the potatoes and cover with a clean dish towel to steam while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
  3. In a large bowl, add the mayonnaise, sour cream, 5 spears’ worth of diced pickles, pickle juice, 3 tablespoons dill, and pinches of salt, pepper and sugar. Add the potatoes and combine. Once 30 minutes have passed, add the pickled peppers, discarding the brining liquid.
  4. Once all the ingredients have been thoroughly combined, taste for seasonings, garnish with the fresh dill & pickles, and let sit in fridge for as long as possible so the sauce has a chance to seep into the potatoes.
  5. Serve chilled.

Red Hot Pasta Carbonara Nests

Real Italian pasta aficionados would shudder at what I’m about to do – add buffalo-style hot sauce to pasta. It’s sacrilege. But I’m doing it anyway.

I pour the stuff on 99.98% of my food. Sriracha, a close cousin, claims to be a good accompaniment to salads, pizza, eggs and pasta among other things, according to the label on the bottle. But I would hedge bets they’re referring to soba noodles, or ramen.

Caution to the wind, I gave this a whirl, and it knocked my socks off.

So what elements are a must for a buffalo-style wing experience? In my mind, there’s the obligatory Frank’s Hot Buffalo Wings Sauce or Tabasco Buffalo Style Hot Sauce (pro-tip – always mix 2 parts hot sauce to 1 part melted butter), blue cheese crumbles, ranch or blue cheese dressing, and celery or carrots.

Not all of these ingredients are going to make the cut into this dish. Carrots in a Pasta Carbonara? No thanks.

But the uber-American buffalo-style flavor will shine through.

To that end, here is an Italian-American Frankenstein of a dish I concocted to share with you all. Cheese. Spice. Butter. Carbs. Garlic. Rendered pork fat. All topped with a runny egg yolk. What else could you ever want in a meal?

I genuinely hope you spice lovers like myself give this a try when the mood hits you just right.

And a quick disclaimer to add here – you may not be able to button your pants the next day.

I N G R E D I E N T S

Serves 3 to 4, depending on appetites.

  • 1 lb. bucatini, or another long pasta
  • 1 / 2 boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • 4 oz. pancetta, diced
  • 3 large eggs, whisked, plus additional egg yolks for each nest
  • 8 tablespoons Frank’s Hot Buffalo Wings Sauce or Tabasco Buffalo Style Hot Sauce
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 5 oz. Gorgonzola, crumbled
  • 4 oz. Parmigiana-Reggiano, shredded
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced thin
  • 2 tablespoons celery leaves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, crushed*
  • 2 tablespoons spiced chili oil**
  • 2 / 3 cup reserved cooking liquid from the pasta
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of pepper

*The easiest way to crush peppercorns if you don’t have a mortar & pestle is to put the peppercorns in a sealed Ziploc bag and smash with a meat mallet or rolling pin.

**I made my own chili oil in a cinch. Just heat 1 / 2 cup olive oil with 3 cloves minced garlic, 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes and 1 habanero pepper, minced. Let the spices simmer in the olive oil over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes,  let cool, and place in a glass mason jar. Will last for several weeks at room temperature and can be used in any dish in place of olive oil to add a spicy kick.

D I R E C T I O N S

  1. Preheat the oven to 350*.
  2. Slice the whole chicken breast in half lengthwise. Brush with 1 tablespoon of the chili oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast the chicken in the oven for 30 minutes and set aside, covering with foil to retain juices while you prepare the rest of the dish. After 10 minutes or so, when it’s cool enough to handle, shred the chicken by hand (or 2 forks) into bite-sized pieces.
  3. Whisk the 3 eggs in a bowl. Set aside.
  4. Carefully separate as many eggs as needed so that each pasta nest has a yolk. Set the yolks aside.
  5. Melt the butter in the microwave for 20 seconds or so, and mix with the hot sauce. Set aside.
  6. Heavily salt a pot of boiling water and cook the pasta al dente. Be sure to reserve cooking liquid before straining.
  7. In the meantime, while the pasta is cooking, brown the pancetta in a large shallow pan in 1 tablespoon of chili oil. Once crispy, add the garlic, and cook for an additional 2 minutes, stirring often to make sure the garlic does not burn.
  8. On very low heat, add the chicken, hot sauce, the two cheeses and crushed black peppercorns.
  9. Ideally, you will now pour the pasta right from the colander into the pan with the chicken, cheeses, peppercorns, pancetta and garlic. Toss to combine.
  10. Once the chicken is heated through, off the heat, add the whisked eggs. Add some of the reserved cooking liquid to achieve a saucier consistency.
  11. With tongs, shape the pasta into a nest shape in large shallow bowls. Place an egg yolk in the center of each nest, and garnish with a sprinkling of minced fresh celery leaves and crumbled Gorgonzola.

Habanero Pepper Soup

What’s your most unrelenting food addiction?

Mine is over-the-top spicy food. Dangerously hot. I cannot adequately emphasize the level of spice that I like in my food.

I’ve let myself go, totally. Maybe in some other ways too. Especially since I adopted a 4-month-old rescue dog – Jesus, you should see my apartment. Hot sauce bottles and torn furniture everywhere.

I take swigs of Tabasco straight from the bottle. Red pepper flakes don’t do it for me anymore. It pretty much has to be a habanero-based sauce, or something that purportedly sets a normal person’s mouth on fire.

A spicy soup can be anything you want it to be. You just need broth and spice. When the mood hits me, I’ll dig in my pantry & fridge in an attempt to alleviate this craving.

I bet this might cure up a nasty sinus infection bout or a low-grade cold. In rummaging through my fridge & using what I had on hand, this turned out to be the best combination of lingering spicy heat, garlicky flavors, a teeny bit of sweet & animal-based fats that will satisfy that “itch.” Put a poached egg on top if you need a bit more substance.

Keep a box of Kleenex nearby, because your nose is going to run like crazy. But the burn will feel good, so good. And it will be worth it.

I N G R E D I E N T S

This dish serves 2 spicy-food lovers. 

  • 1 liter high-quality chicken or seafood stock (College Inn is a good brand)
  • 1 / 2 habanero pepper, sliced
  • 1 / 2 habanero pepper, minced
  • 1 / 2 jalapeno pepper, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 8 tablespoons coconut milk (or 6 tablespoons heavy cream)
  • 2 tablespoons scallions, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon Sriracha
  • 1 1 / 2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce
  • 1 / 4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 / 4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 tablespoons white granulated sugar (if using heavy cream instead of coconut milk, add 4 tablespoons of sugar)

O p t i o n a l

  • 1 egg, lightly poached
  • 1 teaspoon hot sesame oil, for finishing

D I R E C T I O N S

  1. Saute the garlic and red pepper flakes in olive oil over medium-low heat for 3 – 4 minutes. Add the stock, sliced habanero and jalapeno peppers, Sriracha, fish sauce, sugar, salt and pepper. Allow to come to a boil.
  2. Once heated through, add the coconut milk or heavy cream. Simmer for 15 minutes uncovered.
  3. After 15 minutes, plate in shallow bowls, garnish with sliced scallions, minced habanero peppers, and a poached egg, if desired.
  4. Serve hot, drizzling with spicy sesame oil for garnish, if desired.