We Can Phickle That! Hot Pepper Sauce
Last night I taught a super fun class for my favorite local crusaders for fair food, the appropriately named Fair Food Farmstand. We made pickles fit for a bahn mi, and tasty, spicy pepper sauce. The bounty of peppers made available by Fair Food was absolutely incredible! In fact, I know they didn’t put them all out, so if you’re in the neighborhood of Reading Terminal Market, you should stop by and get you some. We’re talking everything from jalapeños and cherry bombs to Trinadad Scorpions and Ghost peppers. No joke!
I may have to sojourn that way again this weekend despite the fact that my garden (and trips to Fair Food) have yielded about about 2 gallons of hot sauce now, this homemade, aged stuff is so good, I basically chug it.
Now, there is some debate in the fermentation community about the best way to make hot sauce. I have tried all the ways I’ve heard of, and then I developed my own process, because I didn’t really love any of them. The most common way I’ve seen is to make a puree of peppers, stir regularly for a week or so, then put into an airlock jar and let it age/continue to ferment. When it’s done, strain it and you’ve got sauce! If you’d like to do it that way (which to me is too labor intensive and, generally a phickle faux pas, requires special (if super cheap) equipment, check out these instructions on making an aged hot sauce. It works well (I skipped the vinegar at the end a couple times and stored in the fridge), but I think my way is easier, and the results are mindblowingly good.
As I’ve mentioned for other foods before (ginger and garlic, for instance), hot peppers are an ingredient that you probably want to buy either organic or from a trusted, local source. I bought some imported peppers, in search of variety, and they didn’t ferment. This happened three times, with three varieties of peppers, until I finally realized it wasn’t user error, and that the peppers, too, could be irradiated. Lesson learned, though, from now on, I’m fully a farmer’s market or garden lady when it comes to peppers!
You can use any kind of hot peppers to make this recipe, but I prefer to either use peppers hotter than I can normally eat, or to mix in a couple super hots to whatever I’m making. I also tend to ferment different peppers separately (I don’t mix my fresnos and my habaneros), because I can always do mixed, test batches later, and if I’m not crazy about the way one tastes when done, or if it’s hotter or not as hot as expected, it won’t blow the whole batch. That’s totally personal preference, though. Feel free to mix away.
FERMENTED, AGED HOT PEPPER SAUCE
Yield will depend on how much brine you include in the final product, but generally, 1 pint-3/4 of a quart
If you are unfamiliar with the basic concepts of fermented pickling, please read my pickles FAQ before getting started.
- Quart Jar
- Food processor or high power blender (Vitamix would be ideal, but, sadly, I don’t have one so I use my Cuisinart which does a great job!)
- Vinyl or rubber gloves
- 3.5 packed cups whole hot peppers of your choosing (fresnos, cayenne, habanero and jalapeños work particularly well, but you can use anything), stems and green caps removed
- 5 cloves garlic
- (optional) additional seasonings, cloves, star anise, mustard seeds, brown sugar, etc
- Brine (1 T salt dissolved in 2 cups room temp water)
- If using seasonings, place in bottom of jar.
- Pack peppers and garlic into jar, as tightly as possible.
- Pour brine over and ensure that pepper are submerged under brine, using the ghetto jar method to ensure that they stay submerged. You want to use as little brine as possible here, so be sure that your peppers are well packed in. It’s okay if they crack here and there while you’re packing them in.
- Allow to ferment for at least two weeks and up to 8 (or really, a year if you’d like). If you want to stop there are just eat this hot peppers as pickles, go for it! At 3 months, my serranos where still perfectly crispy.
- Once fermentation is complete, drain and reserve brine and place peppers and garlic in a food processor, removing any whole spices first. Process for 2-3 minutes, or until very liquidy.
- Add brine a tablespoon at a time until it reaches desired consistency. For a liquid, tabasco-style sauce, add it all. I like a sriracha consistency, so I usually add back between a quarter and a half cup of brine.
- Run the puree through a food mill or fine mesh strainer. I work with a pretty awesome OXO fine mesh strainer (you can use metal here) and a spatula, stirring and pressing until my pepper dregs are quite dry.
- This is one ferment that keeps almost indefinitely. I have sauces that are over a year old in my fridge, and they still taste great!