I Got Scarlet Fever

by Marina Chotzinoff

In the summertime my daughter is obsessed with playing out in her mud kitchen. She spends hours mixing, stirring, pouring and garnishing with sprinkles of chives and sage before proudly offering up each creation. One day she handed me a soupy slop adorned with twigs and leaves. “What is it?” I asked. “Scarlet Fever,” she announced without hesitation. This was due, no doubt to the fate that befell her good buddy’s family the week before, resulting in the (gasp!) cancellation of his birthday party. And just as that event made a serious impression on my four year old, so was I mesmerized by the notion of a dish called “Scarlet Fever.”

I’ve considered it off and on all summer. Usually I come back to a soup of sorts, likely a version of the velvety and surprising caramelized carrot soup from Modernist Cuisine. But of course it needed heat of some sort and I continued to picture swirls of chili paste or smokey chipotle. And it wasn’t until the spicy foods contest at Food52 that I decided to really make something.

As I thought about it, the soup decided to be a sauce. A joining of the deeply rich and sweet caramelized carrots, the fresh spice of red jalapeños, some vinegar tang and the all important garlic. I didn’t have time to toy with fermenting (which I’d like to try next) so I settled on adding a bit of fish sauce for funk and more depth A final drop of orange added brightness (thanks to my ex-cook, food taster husband) and I had it. Scarlet Fever.

I chose not to strain it, leaving it a little chunky, but if you are a lucky sucker with a vitamix you might choose to make it a bit smoother. It was great on chicken adobo over rice, scrambled eggs for breakfast and sriracha beef with broccoli. An ideal accompaniment to some simple, pan seared fish and a must for any sandwich. My daughter even tried a couple small dabs of it, making some amazing spicy faces with each bite. I can’t wait for the next inspiration.


Makes 1 1/2 cups
1/2 pound Carrots, peeled, cut into coins
3 tablespoons Unsalted butter
1/8 teaspoon Baking soda
3/4 teaspoons Salt, divided
3/4 pounds Red jalapeños
3 Large garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoons Palm sugar (or brown)
1/3 cup Rice vinegar
1 tablespoon Fish sauce
2 tablespoons Orange juice

Melt the butter with the carrots in a pressure cooker. Add 1/4 t salt and baking soda and cook on high for 10 minutes. Cool under cold water, release lid and set aside.

Cut stems off jalapeños and roughly chop. I removed the seeds and ribs from half…the heat can really vary so you might try a couple and see what you think. Put jalapeños, garlic, vinegar, sugar, fish sauce, carrots and salt in a blender of my dreams or make do with a food processor and blend until it is as smooth as you can get it.

Pour the mixture back into the pot and simmer over medium stirring often for about 10 minutes until thickened. Stir in orange juice, taste and adjust if needed for salt. At this point you can blend again for a smoother consistency.

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