An Introduction of Sorts
Taco Bell held a random drawing to give away a limited number of free bottles of "Mtn Dew Baja Blast Hot Sauce." I tossed my hat into the ring not really expecting anything to come of it, but then I got this email:
I shared the news with my coworkers, and plans were made for a journey to the local TB to sample the sauce. Well over a month passed before I actually got my hands on it (apparently it went to the wrong address on the first attempt), but the "prize pack" did eventually arrive. Aside from one bottle of very blue sauce, the pack included a taco stand with sauce cup and a bunch of stickers (though these were all unusable; I couldn't get them cleanly off of the backing paper).
So then a gaggle of us stroll over to the bell, sauce in hand, and so began the most disappointing taco bell visit I have ever had. Despite ordering in advance and repeatedly inquiring about my order, it took over half an hour to get my food (and one of the items was incorrect). By the time I sit down most of everyone else has already eaten, but everyone has saved a morsel in reserve to try this limited edition rarity of a hot sauce,... and it was terrible. There are off-putting chunks of tomatillo floating in viscous blue soda syrup, with a barely audible whisper of spice. I don't regret slathering it on my tacos, but I did want the past couple hours of my life back. Interestingly, we did find that a not un-drinkable and slightly spicy baja blast soda could be made by adding the sauce to seltzer... so that's worth something....
And so began my journey to create a hot sauce worthy of both the Baja Blast name and the title of "hot sauce".
The Essence of Baja
To sweeten the sauce during finishing, a Baja Blast simple syrup was produced by boiling down 10 mini cans of Baja Blast until a viscous liquid was produced with a 2:1 sugar/water ratio by weight based on calculating the mass of sugar in the initial soda from the nutritional facts on the back of the cans. This syrup tastes of intense, concentrated Baja with perhaps a smidge of added caramel notes from cooking the sugars. Oddly, the syrup was more green than blue when it was finished.
The Essence of Blast
Given the utter lack of spice factor in the original sauce, this sauce was crafted to have a reasonable kick. A blend of superhot and less hot peppers was used for the fermentation, with the expectation that the sweetness of the Baja Blast syrup would provide a counterpoint to the heat.
The following peppers where cut into octants (seeds and pith retained) and added to a wide mouth bell jar:
- Jalapeno peppers (10) - 293 g
- Hungarian peppers (6) - 236 g
- Habanero peppers (green) (3) - 28 g
- Reaper (3), ghost (1), and scorpion (1) peppers - 45 g
Then, ~2 cans of liquid death spring water (997 g) and salt (37 g) were added to the jar, and the solution was agitated to dissolve the salt yielding a 2.25 wt% brine (relative to the combined weight of the peppers and water).
The jar was sealed with a one-way gas valve and allowed to ferment to 8 days, resulting in a final pH of ~5.5.
The peppers were separated from the brine with a sieve. The fermented peppers (568 g) and 5/8 cup of brine were combined in a blender and blended at a low speed ("chop" setting) in order to leave some seeds and small pepper chunks intact (as in the original sauce). The blended mixture was transferred to a pot and boiled for 15 minutes while covered. This resulted in a relish-like material.
Baja + Blast
A simple approach was taken to finishing this sauce in the hopes of preserving the flavors of baja while adding a blast of heat from the peppers.
Back in the blender, combine:
- Simmered pepper mash
- 1 cup of concentrated Baja Blast syrup
- 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar
The concoction was given a brief additional whirl in the blender to bring everything together. The final pH of the sauce was measured to be 4, which should result in a reasonably shelf-stable substance. The sauce was transferred to freshly boiled bottled that were then immediately sealed and transferred to the fridge until use.
This fomula produced two large bottles o' sauce.
Compared to the original sauce, the texture is a little more chunky and a little less gelatinous, but it is stable in the bottle and pours nicely. The color is much more green than blue. This could be corrected with additional food dye (or perhaps by more careful control of temperature when reducing soda into sugar syrup). Taste-wise, Version 2 is in another league compared to the original. There is an initial hit of distinct baja blast flavor followed immediately by a wave of fire. This sauce is hot (but not crazy hot) and the sweetness balances the chi of the peppers. It is great on Mexican food, and also highly recommended on Thai food or other noodle dishes that hold up to a sweet sauce. This is the sauce that Taco Bell and Baja Blast fans deserved.
Here are some quotes from my peers who experienced the disaster that was the original sauce:
- "Sweet... than overwhelmingly hot" - Annon.
- "You made a better version" - Also Annon.
- "Infinitely better, but I wish it was still neon blue" - Still Annon.
- Tears (presumed to be of joy) - All
While mostly made as a joke, this sauce is actually pretty great and a great leason in incorporating additional sugar into hot sauces. A "Code Red" reduction has been prepared for a future experiment.