Snapshot: The Secret Behind Sazón’s Award-Winning Hot Sauce

It's all about balance, baby

The secret behind Mexican restaurant Sazón's success as a four-time first-place winner of the "Red Sauce, Restaurant Category" (Hall of Flame status, y'all) at the annual Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival is obvious, if you ask co-owner Margarito Aranda Jr.

"It's gotta have balance," he says, "[in the] flavor profile as well as the heat. If I'm not gonna taste my dinner because that salsa burned a hole in my mouth, it defeats the purpose."

When Aranda and his wife Maria Cecilia opened the eatery in 2006 after meeting at Curra's Grill (he was general manager, she was prep cook), they created a menu of multiregional, authentic Mexican cuisine with only one expected ATX Tex-Mex standard added: free chips and salsa. But they consciously veered away from the "all garlic, all cumin" salsa recipes "where you don't taste any of the fresh peppers" found at many local fusion joints. During a recent visit to the Southside mainstay, Aranda gave "Snapshot" a glimpse of the process and history behind their special house blend.


A tomato base is packed with jalapeños sourced from Fredericksburg's Basse Orchard and Ranch, plus chipotle chiles soaked in adobo sauce, which conjures the salsa's lingering kick.


And, of course, they add a secret spice blend, the only element the owners aren't willing to reveal. "Every table's going to have it, so we said, 'Let's take some pride in it,'" says Aranda. "It's our little Frankenstein."


All of that's puréed, then more fresh tomatoes and garnish are added, resulting in the chunkier finish to the 4.5-gallon batches they produce daily.


Each batch requires a taste test: "This one might not be spicy enough [for the Hot Sauce Festival]," says Aranda. "We'll change the recipe between now and Sunday."


Sazón always offers spicier, non-menu options available upon request. Pictured: a dozen sauces made with peppers of varying heat. One mixes serranos, fresh jalapeños, roasted jalapeños, and fresh habanero: "We'll normally serve that in an 8-oz. cup and I've never seen anyone finish it, ever," says Aranda.


Aranda does all the talking, but says the kitchen is really ruled by Cecilia (left), whose previous profession as an in-home chef in Morelia (her hometown) and Mexico City gave her the "sazón" the restaurant is named after: "In Mexico, there's an expression, kind of like when you say someone has a green thumb," he says. "When you're referring to someone's ability in the kitchen, you say, 'Tiene buen sazón' – he or she has that right touch." Essentially, Cecilia's the salsa mastermind, the flavor to Aranda's fire: "It all goes back to balance."

See more online at austinchronicle.com/arts/snapshot. Want to pitch an event, happening, idea, or person for "Snapshot"? Email the author/photog: dhall@austinchronicle.com.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More hot sauce
22nd Annual 'Austin Chronicle' Hot Sauce Festival Winners
22nd Annual 'Austin Chronicle' Hot Sauce Festival Winners
Congratulations to all our hot sauce contenders

Virginia B. Wood, Aug. 31, 2012

'Chronicle' Critics' Picks for Restaurant and Commercial Hot Sauces 2010
'Chronicle' Critics' Picks for Restaurant and Commercial Hot Sauces 2010
Our critics guarantee these sauces are all delicious and encourage readers to check them out

Virginia B. Wood, Aug. 27, 2010

More Sazón
Claudia Alarcón's Top 10 Food and Drinks Keeping Austin (Real) Mexican
Claudia Alarcón's Top 10 Food and Drinks Keeping Austin (Real) Mexican
The best places to get a taste of Mexico deep in the heart of Central Texas

Claudia Alarcón, Jan. 6, 2012

Local Hangover Cures
Local Hangover Cures
Defeating the porcelain god and that pounding brain

Mick Vann, March 20, 2009

More Snapshot
Snapshot: Rodeo Austin
Snapshot: Rodeo Austin
It’s not all bucking broncs and fried food on a stick. Photographer David Brendan Hall goes under the rope to explore the inner workings of the rodeo.

David Brendan Hall, March 29, 2019

Snapshot – Inside Hopscotch: Light and Sound
Snapshot – Inside Hopscotch: Light and Sound
This is the immersive art experience that's all over your Instagram feed

David Brendan Hall, March 1, 2019

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

hot sauce, Sazón, Margarito Aranda Jr., Maria Cecilia Aranda, Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle