Watertown Daily Times - 8/30/2013
Bringing the tropics to the tundra
Moran’s sauces heat up city
By Samantha Christian
When Jay Moran isn’t on stage making music, he’s in the kitchen making hot sauce.
A well-known musician in the Madison area, Moran has recently been driving back to his hometown to work on his new culinary business. While he enjoys visiting his mother in the process, he is no longer using her kitchen.
Instead, Moran cooks and bottles his own specialty sauce line called Wisco Tropicál at Watertown Farm Market Kitchen, LLC., 410 E. Main St. The professional kitchen facility, owned by Fred and Julie Guenterberg, allows entrepreneurs to rent the fully equipped space at a reasonable price.
Spending time behind the stove was not something Moran did much of as a child. But when he moved to Madison in his 20s, he discovered flavors and dishes that piqued his interest in food and made him rethink the meat and potatoes routine he had become so accustomed to growing up.
“I tried new foods and it really opened me up,” he said.
What most got his attention were the spices and sauces that seemed to rev up Jamaican and Caribbean cuisine.
Now his mission is to bring tropical flavors to the tundra and beyond.
Small though it may be, the ingredient that packs the most powerful punch in his sauces is the Scotch Bonnet. Native to the Caribbean, these peppers were named after their resemblance to the brimless cap worn by Scottish men.
Moran buys these hard-to-find red chili peppers at an Asian grocery store in Madison.
He must wear disposable gloves while handling the peppers, making sure to wipe down counters and clean utensils well after each use so the next person cooking in the kitchen avoids a fiery surprise.
Even the vapors from the chopped peppers can be piercing to the senses, so fans are a necessity to keep air moving well in the kitchen.
Moran currently sells two varieties of his sauce: sweet and hot. While the Sweet Pepper Sauce omits the seed pod from the pepper, the Hot Pepper Sauce keeps it in to crank up the heat a couple of notches.
Blended with a medley of sweet fruits and savory elements, the sauce becomes an enticing condiment for the taste buds.
While Moran likes to experiment with bold, exotic flavors, he still returns to his roots and embraces locally grown and made Wisconsin products as the base of his sauces.
For instance, he uses Habelman Bros. cranberries from Tomah and Koops’ mustard from Pleasant Prairie.
Pears are also added to balance the natural tartness of the cranberries. Moran said he wishes he could find a way to avoid using canned pears, but the growing season in Wisconsin is too short to be able to cook with them year-round.
Though originally intended to be paired with meat, the sauces can be served “with anything your palate can imagine,” as indicated on Moran’s website www.wiscotropical.com.
“I consider it more as a complement for food — to white meats and fish or shrimp — but I gave up telling people how to like it,” he said.
He noted people have described to him the various ways they use the sauce, such as a marinade or served with chips, spring rolls, cheese and even scrambled eggs.
The sauces took Moran five recipe developments before he got it just right. He records the exact ingredients and quantities as he goes and then scales the recipe up proportionally to make a small batch.
He is in the kitchen about six hours at a time and waits until he has more orders before making another batch since the shelf-life for his products is one year and should be refrigerated after opening. During a visit to Watertown he can make 14 cases with a dozen 5-fluid-ounce bottles of sauce in each.
“Plenty of measuring goes on, especially with the peppers,” he said.
Moran cuts the peppers with a knife to remove the stems and, depending on which sauce he is making, the seed pods as well. He then chops them in a food processor.
He admitted he once ruined a batch by adding too many peppers.
“The sweet became hot, and the hot became extra hot,” he joked.
While he was unable to sell that particular batch, he has since found ways to improve his trade and become more accurate and efficient in the kitchen.
“I make a big batch of the pepperless sauce and then divide it for the sweet and hot,” he said.
The base consists of sauteed garlic, onions and shallots, pureed and strained cranberries, pears, mustard, sugar, apple cider vinegar and canola oil.
Moran revealed he nailed his newest recipe on the first try. A mango, lime and ginger sauce should hit the market this fall.
“I’ll keep creating new ones and share the best with you,” he wrote on his website.
Wisco Tropicál pepper sauces are also gluten-free and can currently be purchased at Gluten-Free-For-All, 1020 N. Fourth St., Watertown. Other local businesses are also being contacted for resale.