Thu Aug 27, 2015
A very sweet brown sugar base balances well with an equal amount of heat while still allowing spices like garlic and onion to play a strong supporting role in this unique, multi-purpose sauce from Alaska.
I never know where the next sauce will come from, and I was surprised when I got a message a few months ago from Pam Turner asking me to review her line-up of sauces she produces in Girdwood, Alaska. She started making her original sauce over twenty years ago primarily as a coating for chicken wings. It took some time for her realized that it could do good on a lot more than wings, but since then she's been on a mission to spread the gospel of what she's labeled "Alaskan Umami Sauce." It currently comes in three varieties—mild, hot, and extra hot—and can be found in many stores and is used in a few restaurants in Alaska. Her sauces have also been blessed with a a number of awards including the honor of World Champion in wing sauce and 3rd place in Asian barbecue sauce at this year's World Sauce Competition.
A potent balance of sweet and spicy fills the nose on first whiff of this sauce. The sweetness has a very distinct molasses aroma, while the spicy comes with a bit of tang behind it that's reminiscent of a wing sauce. Absent is any fruitiness from tomato, but there's a equal amount of garlic and onion that play background roles to the those two upfront heavy hitters.
Thickness & Texture
This dark reddish-brown sauce has a glossy sheen and textured consistency. Although it's very opaque, you can clearly see bits of spices that look mostly like minced garlic and/or onion with a few darker specs of pepper as well. It's incredibly thick and falls from a suspended spoon in a chunky, syrupy pour that releases very slowly in a few large final drips at the end, then leaves a thick coating of sauce left clinging that masks the silverware.
Out of the Jar
Upfront, the flavor is heavily brown sugar with extra molasses added to back it up. The texture of the sauce is even brown sugar-like, with crystals that dissolve a bit when they touch the tongue. The sweetness is quickly greeted by a strong cayenne pepper that was hot enough to trigger a hiccup reaction in me. Oddly, the other flavor components seem to come out after the first wave of heat with garlic, onion, and vinegar all adding complexity as the sauce settles in. The heat then ramps up again and ends with a nice burn that's plenty hot, but not taken to the extreme, along with the continued presence of sugar, spices, and vinegar.
Slathered & Cooked
The sauce coated in an even layer that started out thin and pale, but built up nicely over multiple brushings. The sauce baked down well and began to caramelize of indirect heat. Once I moved the chicken leg to direct heat, the sauce burnt quickly due to the the massive amount of sugar that also left quite the mess on my grates. The entire flavor profile out of the jar held up after being cooked. All the sweetness, tang, and spiciness was accounted for in every bite. Luckily the sauce was flavorful enough that the burnt bits didn't taste burnt at all, but concentrated pockets of extra sweetness.
Put to Use
As you may have noticed, sauce reviews have been absent for a while here due to my inability to grill amongst my big life changes of moving and finding a new job. Luckily, my return to form couldn't have been better served than what I got from this Hot Alaskan Umami Sauce. It surprised me with its different flavor profile that ditched the common tomato and worked more minimally with sugars, spices, and vinegar—it was a winning combo both out of the jar and after being cooked. It's definitely a hot sauce that straddles the fine line being just spicy enough to make pepper heads happy, but not so spicy that it wouldn't please just about anyone. If this is any indication of how they do things up in Alaska, I'm ready to seek out more from that far corner of country.