Many people are fine with eating hush puppies as they are, with no dipping sauce. If a dipping sauce happens to come with the seafood (which is normally the principal element in that kind of meal, with hush puppies merely as a side), then folks will often shrug and drag their hush puppies through that sauce—just because it's there.
As much as I've enjoyed munching on this second batch of pups, though, they can get a bit boring without sauce. But which sauce to use? That was tonight's culinary-experiment question, and I deployed six different sauces—two homemade—to find out what might go best with my hush puppies. The six sauces were:
1. ketchup-sriracha-mayo (homemade)
2. honey-butter (homemade)
3. horseradish (store-bought)
4. honey-mustard (store-bought)
5. "herb" barbecue (store-bought—a Korean brand)
6. sweet chili (store-bought)
Neither homemade sauce made it into the top three, which was a blow to my pride, but before I throw in the towel, I'd like to try variations of my sauces first. The top sauce turned out to be the one I didn't buy tonight because I'd been storing it in my fridge for months: the sweet-chili sauce, which you'd normally associate with mandu/gyoza (potstickers—ugh, that word), egg rolls, and the like. It worked great with the hush puppies and was the clear winner. Not that the other sauces were bad: honey-mustard and barbecue were second and third place, and the horseradish, which tasted suspiciously like wasabi mayo,* was fourth. That left my homemade sauces to take fifth and sixth places.
But as I said, I'd like to try some variations. The ketchup-sriracha-mayo combo isn't actually of my own design; it was a commenter's recommendation that I'd found on one hush-puppy website. It seemed to me that such a sauce was creeping toward a Cajun remoulade, in which case I should have gone all the way and added capers, chopped gherkins, mustard, garlic, chili powder, and other ingredients to take the craziness home.** As for the honey-butter sauce: it was okay, but not earth-shattering. This leaves me to wonder what it would have been like to dip hush puppies in a plain-butter sauce (just melted butter) and/or a garlic-butter sauce. I think that both would have been interesting, and if I do another round of puppies (I've got plenty of flour, cornmeal, and panko left), that might be what I'll try next. And if those homemade variations don't pass muster, fine: I'll stick with the store-bought sauces, which are all quite good. (The barbecue sauce was the biggest surprise because it tasted so American.)
*You may know the trivia that most wasabi sold worldwide isn't actual wasabi, but is instead some form of horseradish, often dyed green (fresh-ground/grated wasabi root can look green, yellow, or even brown; see here for one comparison). This is why the horseradish sauce reminded me of wasabi. I do sometimes wonder whether I've ever tasted true wasabi before. I think I have, but it was probably a long time ago, at some fancy Japanese place. By now, I've forgotten the taste... assuming I ever tasted the taste to begin with.
**A Cajun remoulade, unlike a traditional French remoulade, is a happily chaotic sauce made of ingredients that really shouldn't go together, yet which harmonize very well. In truth, if I were to do a remoulade, I'd nix the ketchup. Normally, I build my version of the remoulade from a foundation of mayo and sriracha only, piling everything else on top like overly enthusiastic players in a rugby match. Some remoulades do have ketchup; many don't. Personally, I don't like ketchup in my sauce because it takes it in an overly sweet direction. It also just feels plain weird to have tomatoes in a remoulade. The guys at Serious Eats, whom I trust, put no ketchup in their own remoulade recipe. So, there—vindication.