Diablo sauce

Diablo sauce, also known as fra diavolo, is a smoky and spicy tomato-based sauce with a tangerine-reddish colour. The sauce is usually eaten as an accompaniment with seafoods or used to flavour pastas. The term fra diavolo, from which diablo sauce got its name, is Italian for ‘brother devil’. This refers literally to the sauce’s characteristic spicy kick and red colouring. From that term alone, you can imagine the unfathomable heat the sauce is known for as well as its bright red hues.

The typical ingredients used to make diablo sauce are serrano peppers, tomato, and chilli powder. Diablo sauce’s characteristic flavour is a subtle smoky tomato that makes it easy to distinguish from other hot sauces, as well as that unquestionably spicy kick. When one first tastes diablo sauce, the smoky tomato taste seeps in, quickly being taken over by the overwhelming heat of the chilli.

Diablo sauce first became popular when the famous American-Mexican food chain Taco Bell released their own limited edition of the sauce. The Taco Bell diablo sauce was a quick hit amongst consumers and built up a huge fan base despite being a limited run. People continued to sell packets of Taco Bell diablo sauce on eBay even long after it was removed from stores. Because of overwhelming popular demand, the American fast food chain permanently put diablo sauce back on its menus.

What is diablo sauce eaten with?

Most people associate diablo sauce with Taco Bell, but it is just as often eaten with other dishes. In Italy, fra diavolo sauce is most often served as an accompaniment to steamed crab legs or lobster tails. However the sauce also pairs well with virtually any type of meat or seafood, and can even be used as a spicy pasta sauce. It is often likened to a typical Italian tomato sauce but with a spicy kick. Diablo sauce is popular in Italian, Mexican and Spanish cuisines and is also found in various Central American cuisines. In these regions, it’s common to pair diablo sauce with main dishes like chicken, pork, beef, fish, or pasta. It is also often served as a dip for canapés.

How do you make diablo sauce?

A Saveur.com recipe for diablo sauce features 1 serrano chili, 1 tbsp dark red chili powder, and 1 can crushed tomato. More flavouring is added to this fiery foundation with garlic, smoked paprika, onion, and brown sugar. The sauce is thickened with olive oil and butter, and finished with a seasoning of salt, pepper, and a tablespoon of lemon juice. Other versions of the sauce include spices such as cinnamon and umami flavouring from soy sauce.

For those who are curious about the popular Taco Bell version of the sauce, this one features a blend of chipotle, aji panca, and chilli peppers.

The Italian version of diablo sauce, fra diavolo, is typically made with crushed capsicums, tomatoes, garlic, onions, and flavoured with fresh herbs like parsley and basil. To make fra diavolo, first chopped onions are sautéed in olive oil. Then tomatoes are added (either fresh or tinned), along with crushed red pepper and garlic. White wine can also be added to the sauce.

Is diablo sauce very spicy?

While technically considered a chilli sauce, diablo sauce isn’t that spicy when compared to other chilli sauces. The Scoville scale, which measures the spiciness or heat of different chilli peppers, records diablo sauce at about 350.000 SHUs (Scoville Heat Units). This puts it at around the same spiciness or heat scale as habanero chillis or Scotch bonnet peppers. The hottest chilli pepper in the world, Carolina Reaper, is ranked at about 2,200,200 SHUs. So diablo sauce is on the hotter side of the scale but still nowhere near the extreme spiciness of some other peppers like ghost pepper.

The history of diablo sauce

The actual origins of diablo sauce, pre-Taco Bell, and when it was still called fra diavolo sauce is uncertain. Some people claim its roots are in Naples while others think fra diavolo is an Italian-American invention from immigrants living in the tri-state area. Many of New York’s oldest Italian restaurants claim that they were the ones to have popularised fra diavolo. Grotta Azzurra, a restaurant in New York’s Little Italy, has been serving lobster fra diavolo since 1908. Another restaurant, Patsy’s, also lays claim to being the one to popularise the spicy sauce in America.

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