It seems I have a bit of a hot sauce problem. The other day, I came across some beautiful cayenne peppers at the market and a vision of them pureed into a lusty, tangy bottle of lava swam through my thoughts. I bought a few handfuls, chopped, salted and pounded them into pliancy, and then set them aside to see what happened.
Fermentation took off overnight, and by the end of the next day the brine was already so tasty that I asked my boyfriend to pick up any hot peppers that looked interesting at the Union Square Farmers’ Market. He came back with just a pint of pretty red jalapeños – which I subjected to the same treatment, this time with a bit of ginger.
Three days later, both jars of future spicy condiment bubbling away, I strolled by the Farmers’ Market myself and found a gentleman with an entire table dedicated to beautiful chiles of varying heat. I walked away with a bagful of more long cayennes and a handful of red Anaheims. I’ve now got one sauce pureed and bottled, two jars bubbling away, and an idea for a new item to include in holiday gift baskets this year.
Basic Recipe (makes approximately 1 to 1 1/2 cups hot sauce):
- 500 g chili peppers, sliced (tip – to add an additional herbal note, snip off the stems but keep the green base on the pepper)
- 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped (vary amount according to your preference)
- 10 g salt
- 5 g sugar
- up to 1/4 cup of 2% saltwater solution (using filtered water)
- optional – 1 sweet pepper or small carrot, diced (this balances heat with a bit of sweetness and fruit)
- optional – additional spices / vegetables (I’ve done one batch plain, one batch adding ginger so far)
This “recipe” could not be easier! Put the sliced peppers, garlic, salt, sugar and any optional ingredients into a clean jar that is large enough to hold them. The only ratio to remember is to mix in 2% of salt as compared to the weight of the peppers. Using a pestle, muddler, or large wooden spoon, pound the peppers until they start releasing their juices. Weight the peppers down (I use ceramic weights I bought for this purpose). If they are not submerged in the liquid they released, add the saltwater solution until the peppers are just covered – the peppers will release quite a bit of liquid over the next 24 hours. Cover the jar with a lid that is just shy of tight (or a few layers of cheesecloth secured with a rubber band).
Once you see the telltale bubbles, let the mix ferment for at least three days. Start tasting the brine at day 3 (careful, it will be hot!) and taste every couple of days until you are happy with the balance of salty and sour. Suggested times for fermentation that I’ve seen vary wildly – from a few days to up to 2 months or more. It all depends on your taste and how quickly the fermentation is going. This is my favorite part – it’s a reminder that this is a living process and, while I can certainly try to provide an environment that will make my yeast and bacteria friends comfortable and hungry, I cannot control them entirely.
The pepper mix for the bottle above took off fermenting right away. I bottled it at 7 days when it had a hint sour while still maintaining the fruit and floral notes of the raw pepper. I plan to ferment the other two batches for 2 and 4 weeks to compare.
Once the peppers are at just the right balance of zing and spice for you, remove the green chili tops that you can see and blend all the ingredients together. I use a stick blender to do this right in the jar. Using a fine mesh strainer, separate the chile mash from the liquid.
If the liquid seems too thin, you can mix back in some of the chile mash until you are happy with the consistency. Bottle or jar and refrigerate (or keep it on the counter a few days or weeks more to see the effect of further fermentation). You can also save the mash as a chile paste – both are delicious!