Return of The Chow Chow
ARTHUR NEAD ILLUSTRATION
To the left was a small container of Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers special dipping sauce. In the center was a Cane’s chicken tender. To the right was a bottle of Zatarain’s Chow Chow. Never in the annals of science had there been an experiment like this one, but the thirst for knowledge, if not the hunger for chicken fingers, awakened the sense of curiosity.
This has been the summer of Chow Chow, described on the Zatarain’s limited edition label as a “Mustard Blended with Tangy Pickle Relish.”
When I was a kid, I thought it was a given that all hot dogs were splashed with Chow Chow just as naturally as chili. It turned out that the relish is one of those things that, while not totally unique to New Orleans, was more commonly used here than in most places. That ended in 2007, when the Zatarain’s company stopped making the product. This summer, however, it brought it back – but just through September. During that time the city’s most diverse purveyor of hot dogs, Dat Dog, has offered a special edition Zat Dog. This season might be the last time we’ll see Chow Chow on grocery shelves, unless Zatarain’s, now owned by McCormick, brings it back. While the availability has lasted, some folks have taken advantage of the opportunity. Twice this summer I’ve been offered stuffed eggs, bursting with flavor, made with Chow Chow. I have personally tried it on red beans and on sausage. Chow Chow is more tart and tangier than most relishes. You certainly know it’s there.
There is uncertainly about the origin of the relish but, according to that fad that all the kids are talking about – the internet – Chow Chow was sort of a southern thing made at the end of the growing season when leftover vegetables were ground together and mixed with mustard seed and vinegar to create a preservable relish. In New Orleans, Chow Chow, perhaps because of Zatarain’s, found special favor.
That got me thinking. A new Raising Cane’s just opened near our offices. I have never been to one, but those who have say the secret is in the accompanying dipping sauce. Since I’m clinically unbiased, I thought it might be interesting to compare Cane’s special sauce with Chow Chow on a strip of chicken.
Cane’s is smug about its sauce. There is even a sign inside the place that shows a wholesome looking employee teasing about the secret ingredients. Served in a little plastic tub alongside the chicken, the sauce is indeed good. The texture is smooth. The color is sort of pink, like a rémoulade sauce. I squirted some Chow Chow on the side. The relish is non-subtle in its speckled yellow color and its bold taste.
Which is better is like deciding between beers – a bold Guinness or a Miller Lite. It is just a question of taste, though the lighter sauce allows more of the chicken flavor to come through.
For everything there is a season Ecclesiastics says, and who can dispute the Bible on such matters? May Chow Chow return next year, but please, no one try a King Cake version.