We Can Phickle That! Hot Pepper Sauce

Hot peppers

SO many hot peppers: Ghost peppers, Trindad scorpion peppers, cherry bombs, habaneros. It was amazing.

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.

hot sauce fermenting

If you want to puree first, you’re going to need one of these.

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.

hot peppers fermenting

Packed pickled peppers and garlic

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!

Cracked packed pickled peppers

Cracked packed pickled 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.

hot pepper sauces

The final products and one just getting started. Clockwise from back left: serrano, habanero, ring of fire cayenne, cherry bomb and fresno, a mix of goodies.

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.

Equipment

  • 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

Ingredients

  • 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)

Process

  1. If using seasonings, place in bottom of jar.
  2. Pack peppers and garlic into jar, as tightly as possible.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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!
Ferment Gardening Pickles Probiotic Sandor Katz Vegan Vegetable Vegetarian

26 comments

  1. This looks delicious! Every summer, I make a large quantity of Túóng Ót Toi style fermented hot sauce, and then lament come December when it runs out.

    In fact, I had been in the middle of writing my own blog post about it when I saw this.

  2. Becky says:

    Last summer, when I was just starting to dip my toes into fermenting, I packed a bunch of chilis a friend grew into a jar with some brine. (I can’t remember if I added garlic or not.) It sat on the counter for a few weeks, then got moved into the fridge. I finally pulled it out and pureed it in July or August. Added some vinegar and it’s like Tabasco. I had no idea it was that easy!

    • Amanda says:

      Totally. Hot sauce is one of my all-time favorites. My only quibble is the length of fermentation time (I really do like a 3 month sauce better than a 3 week sauce). I usually do a simultaneous batch of vinegar sauce (can be eaten the next day) and fermented (can be eaten months later) when I first have enough peppers to get started. I used to have a slight preference for the fast sauce, but then I started skipping the “add vinegar” step in the fermentation process, and aging them longer, and the fermented version won my heart! No question!

      • Rich says:

        I know this is an old post but I thought I’d offer a tip here. If you use a pro-biotic capsule or two, mixed into the brine in the jar, you get that 3 month flavor in 3 weeks or less. in a warm cupboard it can be done in a week. I just add it when I’m packing in the peppers to kick start everything (kefir or old recent brine from a batch of pickles works great too!)

        Rich

        • Amanda says:

          Hi Rich – I don’t use starters in my ferments unless absolutely necessary for a few reasons. There is actually research done on fermented vegetables that shows that the end product of vegetable ferments made with starters is of lower quality (taste and texture) than vegetable ferments made with out. I can’t recall the title of the study that I’ve read on this topic, but it was done by the WHO and is cited (amongst other similar studies) in The Art of Fermentation.

          I’ve done a lot of experimentation with starters (capsules, whey, brine from finished ferments, Caldwell’s) and my own personal experience bears the WHO study out 100%. Slimier texture and less complex taste are frequent by-products of using a starter for vegetable fermentation.

          The other main reason not to use starters is the lack of microbial diversity in which they result. When you add a probiotic tablet, you are only getting the pre-selected strains of bacteria, possibly, in some cases definitely, to the detriment of the natural (much more diverse) strains that would play out their natural cycles during the fermentation process. I personally prefer wild fermentation with the microbes that were evolved to do the work.

          Personally, time isn’t my main concern when I’m fermenting (there’s vinegar pickling for that!), but for those who want a quicker fermentation, starters are certainly an option.

          I’m so glad you found a way that works for you!

  3. I’m doing a red and a green version. My red one, jalapeños and bell peppers, has a film of something white collecting on the top of the water. Weirdest looking stuff…doesn’t look slimy or moldy.

    What is it? Is everything still ok? It’s been a week today.

    • Amanda says:

      Hi Lori,

      Without seeing it, I can’t really tell you what it is, but my best guess would be that it’s kahm, a harmless yeast that can sometimes build up during fermentation. Although it’s harmless from a health perspective, it can impart a flavor that some people find off-putting so you may want to skim as much off as you can when you have the chance.

      I hope that helps!

      Amanda

  4. Thanks Amanda.

    Would it be safe to open it, skim it and then put the airlock back on for the rest of the ferment?

    It is the weirdest looking stuff. I’ll take a picture and blog it tomorrow and you can see.

    Thanks!

    • Amanda says:

      Hi Lori,

      I don’t work with airlocks a whole lot, but what I’ve read is that you generally don’t want to remove one during fermentation. I think you’ll probably be fine to leave the excess yeast in there (if that’s what it is) unless you’re planning on fermenting for months and months. Removing the yeast has a downside, but so does not removing it, so I would go with your gut and keep an eye on it.

      Let me know what you decide and how it turns out, if you have the chance.

  5. Brian says:

    Hi… In my first attempt at hot sauce, I’ve got some white stuff going on at the bottom of the jar. I’m guessing it’s yeast? Is that a normal thing? Should I try not to include it in the final product?

    • Amanda says:

      Hi Brian,

      Yes, it’s probably yeast and bacteria (although I can’t be sure without seeing it, I get the same stuff in my sauce). For the stuff that settles to the bottom, I don’t worry about it a whole lot. If it’s on the surface, it could be kahm which can definitely impart an off flavor, so I do try to skim that. I hope that helps!

      Amanda

  6. Waqas says:

    Some silly questions but when you pack the chillies in (or purée them), do you seal the can or use a breathable cloth until fermentation is complete.

    Also say you use a chilli base that’s has been blended with herbs and spice in a vitamix and then ferment the mixture. You don’t need to then strain again do you, you can use as is?

    • Amanda says:

      Hi Waqas,

      Not silly at all. This is anaerobic fermentation. You don’t want air getting in there because it will give you surface mold. Submerging via the ghetto jar method (linked in the post) or some other way that you normally use is the best method here. You can also use an airlock to achieve the same effect. I am not a fan of doing it pureed from the start because it takes much more attention (stirring to avoid surface mold). You don’t need to strain it if you do it that way, but you will probably still want to run it through a food mill or fine mesh strainer to remove the seeds and pulp. That’s up to you, though!

  7. Cally says:

    I have a white, milky substance growing in the brine, but not on the surface. It’s just sort of floating around in there, not settling to the bottom. Could this also be a yeast of some kind?

    • Amanda says:

      Hi Cally,

      Unfortunately without seeing it, I can’t give you an opinion. You could try googling for images that are similar. Sometimes that’s a good way to diagnose!
      Sorry I can’t help!

      Amanda

  8. rickdale says:

    a note about salt: depending on type(kosher, sea, pickling, ect.) a tablespoon of salt can vary in weight a lot. better to weigh the salt. 1.5 oz. of salt per quart of water makes a 4% brine, which is good for most fermented stuff. also, don’t use iodized salt,iodine will stop or hinder the good bacteria from fermenting properly.

    • Amanda says:

      Hi Rickdale,

      I actually prefer to measure salt. It’s easier, and many years ago, I weighed every salt I could get my hands on. I believe that ended up being about 15 varieties of salt. For the size of batch I do, the difference between a tablespoon of kosher salt, rock salt and fine salt was negligible. The only sizable difference was between flake and fine salt (and I never ferment with flake salt) I always prefer to work without equipment when I can, and I’ve found that I can work without a scale in this case quite well. I hear your point, but it’s really not my style.
      Glad you’ve found the way that works best for you, though!

      As for iodized salt, that’s just not true. Sea salt also contains iodine in varying degrees. I’ve fermented with every type of salt under the sun (including the cheapest, most iodized) and I’ve never had a failed batch. Thanks for your thoughts!

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