How to make hot sauce

hot sauce

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.

You’ll need:

  • 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.

First ferment:

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.

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.

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22 Comments

  1. Kind of sounds like the chili mash that I make- I grow a lot of Habanero, Caribbean Red, Scotch Bonnet and other super hot chilies, I wash, de-stem and quarter them and put them in a food processor with about 6% by weight sea salt and just enough Bragg’s Apple Cider to keep it loose, after processing it goes into loosely capped jars to ferment, I stir it with a clean spoon every couple of days in the beginning and after it starts to mellow I tighten the lid and just let it age, occasionally a little mold may form on top, I just scoop that off and that usually only happens once (maybe outside contamination). The final chili mash is a super concentrated, fermented and flavorful heat addition for lots of stuff. I like to take a quart of canned tomatoes from the garden, pour off the liquid and run it through the food mill with a medium size disc, then I add a couple of teaspoons of the chili mash to the tomatoes and a few spices (granulated onion & garlic, cumin…etc.). That makes a tasty hot sauce that rivals anything you can get at a Mexican restaurant or buy in a jar!

    http://www.wikihow.com/Make-Habanero-Pepper-Mash

    • Also, I save the liquid strained from the tomatoes, it is tasty just by itself of if you are so inclined: Put a small spoon of the chili mash in and a little high end tequila or vodka, squeeze of lime or lemon, ice and have a spicy Bloody Maria or Mary, super tasty! (;

  2. That sounds lovely. We make a similar one with lots of garlic in the initial ferment (ala rooster). This year I want to try smoking some of the chilies first.

  3. The best hot sauce I ever had was probably made just that way and re-bottled into old maple syrup jars in the Caribbean with mis-matched twist on lids and never ever refrigerated. It seemed like food poisoning waiting to happen but it was sheer bliss and kept for over a year!

    • This reminds me of an old Italian country technique of fermenting tomato sauce outside for a couple of weeks, then bottling it in old wine bottles and sealing it with wax. No heat. No cold storage. This is how they made salsa for a year. The sound of it scares me, but I bet it tastes heavenly! (I think this was described in Keeping Food Fresh)

  4. I am so glad you posted this.I have some nice dried cayenne and smoked anchos from last summer’s garden. I searched the web awhile back and there is a lot out there,of course. But this info is the most helpful.Thank you.

  5. I’ve made hot sauce. It’s kind of a PTA when there are lots of things you want to do with your (limited) time. So, I can put on rubber gloves and start cutting peppers, fermenting mash etc or I can buy a delicious (and reasonably priced) bottle of Mexican, Jamaican or local hot sauce from store. And why the fridge instead of the table where it belongs? Perhaps that’s why it’s not getting used up and going in the trash. I disagree, it’s not a thousand times better to do it myself, nor is it a sin. Someone makes a living and employs hard working people that make that hot sauce (that probably tastes better than what I would make).

    • I have a fridge full of all sorts of tasty hot sauces my #1 favorite is Marie Sharps, all varieties, there are lots of good commercial hot sauces, even Tobasco. Too many of the commercial brands add fillers, stabilizers and preservatives, guar gum, not good! I do believe that my chili mash rivals many of those brands, because it’s mine, I know exactly what’s in it and how it was made,and if I have a pile of beautiful chilies it is worth a little time to make a product that I will use over the course of maybe a year or more and it will only improve with age, I put my good energy in and it shows in the product. I feel the same way about homebrew, there are soooo many great commercial beers but when I brew, ferment and bottle it, it just tastes better…. (=

    • i have all kinds of store bought hot sauces but a guy a work brings bags and bags of peppers in that he grows and it took like almost zero time on my end…..all i did was chop them up in my little hand chopper thingie with some sea salt and a little braggs….that was all (like drbrew wrote actually)…..stuck it in a jar and actually forgot about it – when i remembered it, tried it and it was delicious – and here i will say i actually tried the diy because i love the chili paste with the rooster cap but its a bit pricey – well maybe i eat too much of it/go through it too quickly. but whats the dif if you buy it or make it? sometimes i go out to eat and sometimes i make dinner at home – same idea…..i took this as an informative post – like a recipe for pie….maybe you mostly buy it but want to try making it on your own once or twice….and i have never thrown a bottle of store bought hot sauce out – i mean, i didnt know it actually got bad….

    • It was just the kind of foodie “what you don’t churn your own butter, don’t you know better?!” nature of this post that bugged me a little bit. I like and respect root simple quite a bit and have been a long time reader as have even given the urban homestead book as a gift (that’s how I found the blog). I’m not bizarrely against people making their own hot sauce, just the assumption that you (or the root simple people) somehow committed a grave error. And to point out that if you throw your hot sauce away from disuse, well then you should probably buy better hot sauce and use it rather than squirrel it away in a fridge.

    • Don, I’m sorry if the tone of my post offended you in any way. I didn’t mean to come off as finger waving (e.g. holier than thou). Partly the tone was a little exaggerated for (failed?) comic effect. But there is also some real exasperation behind it, but entirely with myself, not with anyone else and their choices.

      As you know since you’re a regular reader, I’m a just a little obsessed with a few things, including eating locally grown food, reducing food waste and reducing packaging, particularly plastic packaging. I also stand firm by the notion that often–not always, but often–the things we make at home taste better than what is sold in stores, and as a bonus, we can save money while doing it.

      It’s not an elitist “let’s make everything difficult and precious” foodie thing, honestly. I just want to be more connected to my food, and conserve resources where I can.

      I’m exasperated with myself because I’ve not been holding to those ideals so well lately, and making the hot sauce after a long hiatus reminded me that it is fun and easy, and really, really good. Not everyone is going to want to do this, certainly, and that’s cool. It’s a largely symbolic action, after all, because, after all, whether or not I or anyone else make or buy our own hot sauce is not going to affect the fate of the planet. (It’s also irrational that I worry about condiments while I drive a car!!) We all make choices and compromises and get by as best we can.

  6. Yes but you’re going on the assumption that we can’t know what is in what you buy. I’ve had no problem finding hot sauces that aren’t full of unnecessary things. I’m just saying, everyone can pick their battles when it comes to making homemade things and how they spend their time, but I just disagree with assertion that DIY is always better or demonizing practicality.

    • I got ya, and as I said I like a lot of commercial hot sauces and other products, just have to read the label and make sure they aren’t loaded with a bunch of garbage….. There are some things that are certainly more practical to let the pros make, but it is fun and sometimes suprising how much better and even easy it is to DIY and I feel that way about quite a few things, you might feel that your time is better spent doing other things, indeed!

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