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.

Ramen on Empty Burger

We’ve watched food trends explode over the past few years. Ones that come to mind – the cupcake frenzy of 2008 singlehandedly instigated by Georgetown Cupcakes, toasts, matcha, kale and cronuts.

I’m a dupe for social media shareables of searing-hot raclette cheese poured over some carb-packed vehicle. Raclette NYC does this right – so right. That, and Momofuku’s Milk Bar, which is – for better or for worse – two blocks from where I live. They dole out the most addictive and sedating cookies and cakes a human being will ever taste.

But of all the food trends I’ve seen come and go, my biggest regret is that I didn’t hop on the ramen burger train when I had the chance.

I had the intent while working part-time in New York to head to the celebrated birthing place of ramen burgers – Smorgasburg in Brooklyn. This never happened.

With no imminent plans to head to New York, I made this at home. I know I’m very late to the party here. I’m like Europeans screening U.S. blockbusters – always lagging behind.

But even though I’m obsessed with food, I’ve embraced my indifference to food trends – & I’m fully aware I’m just as uncool as I always knew I was. 😉

This recipe is fluid – approach it as a good use-up-your-pantry & freezer opportunity. I had frozen ground pork and scallions that I incorporated into the patty mixture to mirror the ingredients you’ll find in a bowl of ramen. The mayonnaise sauce is made from staple Asian condiments I always have stocked on the door of my fridge.

And if you’re familiar with the TV show Bob’s Burgers, I hope you might have picked up on my tribute to his pun-tastic daily burger specials in this recipe title. If you haven’t watched it – do.

I like to think I approach food the same way Bob does – content to cook the same ho-dum thing over and over again. All the while, Jimmy Pesto’s restaurant across the street grasps at the flashiest dish that will bring customers in. Bob refuses to sell out and play that game. He knows good food will always be good food.

You should also know – Thrillist did their homework & compiled a list of every single burger special featured on the show. You’re welcome.

This one’s for you, Bob! You just keep doing you!

I N G R E D I E N T S

Makes 1 ramen burger.

  • 1 package ramen noodles
  • 1 egg, whisked
  • 3 oz. ground pork
  • 3 oz. ground beef (80% lean to 20% fat)
  • 1 slice American cheese
  • 2 oz. microgreens
  • 2 oz. mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 / 2 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 / 4 teaspoon wasabi
  • 1 / 4 teaspoon Sriracha
  • 1 / 4 teaspoon chili oil
  • 1 / 4 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 / 2 scallion stalk, minced
  • 1 tablespoon butter, salted or unsalted
  • 1 tablespoon flavorless oil, like canola or vegetable
  • Pinch of sugar
  • Dash of olive oil
  • Salt, as needed
  • Pepper, as needed

D I R E C T I O N S

  1. Cook the noodles according to package instructions, discarding the seasoning packet. Strain the noodles. Once cooled, mix with the beaten egg, pinch of salt and pinch of pepper. Set aside.
  2. Combine the mayonnaise, wasabi, Sriracha, chili oil & sesame oil. Set aside.
  3. Combine the pork, beef, scallion, and pinch of salt and a pinch of pepper. Form into a round, large golf-sized ball and set aside.
  4. Pull the caps off the mushrooms and slice thinly. Sautee on low heat with the soy sauce, a dash of olive oil, and pinches of sugar, salt and pepper. Once browned, set aside.
  5. In a nonstick skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of butter. Take 1 / 2 of each of the noodle mixture and place them inside two large patty-sized mason jar lids inside the pan. Smush the noodles down to compact them. Cook the noodle buns for 4 minutes on medium heat until golden brown. At this point, remove the lids as the ramen buns should be able to retain their shape. Flip the buns over and finish cooking, about 4 minutes until lightly browned. Set aside for plating.
  6. Heat a tablespoon of flavorless oil, like canola oil or vegetable oil, in the bottom of a cast iron skillet. Once heated, place the meat in the pan, smashing with the underside of the spatula until it’s as about 1 1 / 2 to 2 inches thick. Cook for 10 minutes on medium-low heat, then flip and brown until cooked through for another 8 to 10 minutes. Place a slice of American cheese on top of the patty and cook for an additional minute until the cheese is completely melted.
  7. Put 1 tablespoon of the mayonnaise mixture on each of the buns, topping one bun with the burger patty, then the sautéed mushrooms and the microgreens. Serve hot.

Green Eggs & Spam

This is the first of a few modern-day “no-no” processed meat recipes I will be posting in the coming weeks, so brace yourselves.

I’m going back to my food roots.

I have always been drawn to nitro-, sulfite-, preservative-packed meat products. Hot dogs, Steak-umms, deviled ham, bacon, Jimmy Dean sausages, Spam, bologna, that bologna stuff studded with olives. Pretty much anything with the Oscar Mayer logo stamped on it.

I was a really skinny kid. Thinking back, I wonder if my parents bought this food thinking it might fill me out a bit. All that and Little Debbie snacks. Zebra Cakes were my favorite. Anyone else? Any Nutty Butty fans out there? Try putting those in the freezer if you haven’t already, by the way.

Of course, I’m kidding about the trying to fatten me up part.

As an adult I still have the same salty, faux-meat cravings. And I let myself give into them – not all the time, but every so often.

I think of green eggs and spam the same way I think of egg in a hole or Micky Mouse-shaped pancakes. It’s a fun breakfast food that (I imagine) may appeal to kids.

But let’s get real – wouldn’t we all pick this off a menu in a heartbeat, if only because of the name? Some foods can be super nostalgic. And as adults, most of us love to eat what we ate as kids.

I loved Green Eggs & Ham as a kid because it was about weird food. And who would’ve thought that would carry through to adulthood!

So this recipe hits home for me big time. I hope you like it.

I N G R E D I E N T S

Serves 1.

  • 1 / 4 can Spam, sliced thinly

F o r  t h e  E g g s

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon half & half
  • 1 teaspoon sour cream or crème fraiche
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of pepper
  • 1 tablespoon butter

F o r  t h e  S a u c e

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 / 2 scallion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chives, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons basil, chopped
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of pepper

D I R E C T I O N S

  1. Whisk the egg ingredients except for the butter. Set aside.
  2. In a blender or food processor, pulse the sauce ingredients until completely incorporated. Pour the sauce into the egg mixture and whisk.
  3. Take the sliced Spam and pan-fry on medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, flipping once. Set aside.
  4. In the same pan, melt the butter on low heat. Add the egg mixture, stirring slowly with a wooden spoon until the eggs begin to set. Right before they are fully cooked and still a little soupy, plate the scrambled eggs.
  5. Plate the Spam slices on top of the green eggs. Sprinkle with chives or any other green herbs you have on hand.