I’ve noticed we sort of drift in and out of some habits, or practices, or hobbies… or whatever you want to call them. In theory I’m big on all sorts of DIY, especially in the kitchen, because making staples at home can really help save packaging, money and food–and condiments, like mustard, mayo and hot sauce, are easy to make.
However, it’s also really easy to fall to temptation and just buy a bottle of something at the store. So here’s a confession: we’ve fallen into sin around here, and haven’t made our own hot sauce in a good while. We dodge the homemade when we know better. We know a thousand times better. And yet it happens. The jar ends up in the cart, and then in the fridge, and then in the back of the fridge, and eventually in the garbage.
What is appealing about the jar on the shelf? Why does our hand drift toward it? Perhaps we are enchanted by the evil hot sauce rooster.
Anyway, I just remedied the hot sauce omission. I made a chunky, fresh and not very hot sauce which brightens anything we slather it on, and I want to share the happiness.
Hot sauce is easy to make, yet it can be controversial. I actually hesitated to post this, because I didn’t want to step into the hot sauce minefield. People are passionate about their hot sauce, about what constitutes “real” hot sauce, and can be more than a little insistent that their way is the True Way of the Sauce.
For some people, it’s all about the heat, and the provenance of the peppers used. For others, the sauce must be made only of peppers, for others, it needs the earthy notes of onion and carrot and garlic and even tomatoes. For some it is fermented, for others, stewed, and for some, raw. For some, sugar is a necessity, for others, a blasphemy.
The basic technique I’m going to describe makes a simple sauce with nothing in it but peppers, vinegar and salt, and it is fermented to bring out the flavor. I don’t subscribe to any particular school of sauce, but this is the easiest sauce to make for my purposes.
The outcome of the recipe depends mostly on your choice of pepper, but also a bit on how much vinegar you put in it, and what type of vinegar, and whether you strain it or leave it chunky.
We used fresh red peppers labeled Anaheim peppers (kind of like a red New Mexico chile), which are mild, and also some dried California peppers, which are also mild, but a little smokey. These peppers make your tongue tingle–they don’t burn. Our sauce is more like a mild salsa–enjoyable on everything, by everyone. Later this summer if I get my hands on some good hot chiles, I’ll make a hot batch. Regardless of the heat, the technique is the same.
Hot sauce is improvisational and hard to mess up. I’d recommend not over-thinking it, but rather just throwing it together with whatever you have on hand, however it comes together. Trust me, it will be pretty good no matter what you do. It’s smart to take notes, though, so you replicate your successes.
(Root) Simple Hot Sauce
Makes about about 2 cups.
Takes up to a week to make, but only five or ten minutes of actual effort.
- About 1 lb of fresh chiles of any sort, or the same weight in re-hydrated dried chiles, or a mix of the two, stemmed and roughly chopped. (Rehydrate dried chiles by soaking them in hot water for 10 min.) Keep the seeds, unless you want to decrease the heat.
- 2 tablespoons of kosher salt or sea salt–salt without additives
- About 1 cup of vinegar. Many people use distilled white vinegar, because the flavor is not intrusive. Some people don’t trust white vinegar, thinking it far too industrial a product. I’d say just know your brand–they do vary. If you prefer to use another type of vinegar, just factor in how the flavor will effect the sauce.
Mix your chopped chiles with the salt in a covered jar or bowl and let it sit out at room temperature for about 12 hours to soften and ferment–being a ferment, it doesn’t have to be precisely 12 hours. Leave it out “a good while.”
Add the vinegar and blend:
Add your vinegar to the peppers and blend using a blender, food processor, stick blender or a mortar and pestle. Here’s where the art comes in!
Add the vinegar sparingly as you mix, watching for the texture you want and well as the flavor. (Flavor is a little hard to judge, though, because it has more developing to do.) There’s no right or wrong texture.
Remember, you can always add more vinegar later if the sauce needs to be thinner, or more vinegar-y.
I like thick hot sauce. Some people like it thin. If you like it very thin, you can strain out all of the solids after the second ferment.
Put the newly vinegar-ed sauce in very clean jar, put on loose lid on it, or rubberband some muslin over the mouth, and leave it to sit out for a few more days–and again, this timing is pretty flexible and will depend a lot on personal preference and ambient temperature. Two days is probably the minimum amount of time you should give it, and you could let it sit out for as long as a week.
(BTW, I used our fermenting jar for this project–as I do for all our ferments. )
Just taste it now and then, and when you like the way it tastes, stop the ferment by putting it in the fridge.
At this point you can also make all your last minute adjustments, such as adding more vinegar, or salt, or (gasp!) sugar, or blending the sauce more, or putting it in a strainer and taking out all of the solids.
Note that your sauce may separate after sitting for a while, because it doesn’t have stabilizers or thickeners added to it. This doesn’t mean it has spoiled. Just shake it before using.
Keep it in the fridge, and use it up within a couple of months.