After allowing a bunch of chilies and other delicious things to ferment for about two months, I finished up a batch of my hot sauce yesterday. It was a messy job, and at times pretty painful. In fact, the sides of my fingers are still burning. But it’s well worth it, and the sauce is pretty much the way I wanted it.
It started with a mix of local variety cayenne peppers. I was careful to buy both long and short peppers; the short for their hotness, and longer peppers for their fruitiness. I did a basic online search for lacto-fermentation and how to make a brine, in which to ferment these little bad boys. I have included the link to the basic process here, as I found this site to be the most simple and concise.
The first thing you really need to know if you plan on making any hot sauce, fermented or fresh is this; WEAR GLOVES. I’m serious. Even if your chilies are not particularly hot, the accumulation of capsicum oil from both seed and vein will catch up to you and burn your digits. It’s not fun. I endured a good three hours of burn after the fact. The worst of this was it took about half an hour for the burn to begin. So in the meantime, feeling fine and gross as I am, I managed to scratch my eye and pick my ears and nose–and luckily nowhere else. And like some strange forensic heat stamp, I could feel each part of my body that my throbbing fingers had touched. I tried soaking my hands in milk, which did not work. I scrubbed them with dish detergent and the rough side of a sponge, which only seemed to work the hot oil deeper into my skin. Finally, I soaked my pulsating hands in white vinegar for around ten or so minutes. This seemed to help the most, but only for around half an hour. So if you mess up from the beginning like I did, you’ll just have to grin and bear it. You’ll be fine in the morning.
This was the second time I made a fermented hot sauce. The first time around I left the chilies and brine in the dark for about two weeks. This really added a strong funk and pungency to the sauce that I found to be a little over the top. So when starting this new batch, I opted to leave it on the counter but out of any direct sunlight. What I hoped for was a milder sauce that had not been taken so far into what I can only describe as a woody, boozy flavor–very similar to Tabasco Sauce, but not as nicely balanced.
Within a week, the pepper brine was bubbling away nicely. Daily, I would release the gas and shake up the bottle to ensure that all the peppers were fully covered in the solution. This is important in the first week or so. As you can see most of the peppers are still floating, which means they can piggyback some nasty bacteria. A couple shakes everyday or so, and nothing horrible will happen.
Once the mix got nice and cloudy, I began to add other things. Lemons with rind attached, bay leaf, peppercorns, about twenty cloves of garlic, ten or so thick slices of ginger, some clove, and a few other things. I basically just winged it. I smelled it everyday when releasing the gas, and really just took it from there.
Around the third week, the bubbles had started to subside. I figured this meant that the fermentation process had started to ebb. It was time to add vinegar. To make room, I dumped about half a cup of my lovely living pepper pet, and replaced it with rice, white and apple cider vinegar. Cap back on and let another week or two pass. Eventually the peppers and everything else sunk to the bottom, fully waterlogged in the brine.
The final steps. Happy that my sauce looked and smelled the way I wanted it to, it was time to pressure cook the hell out of it. I added both a whole pineapple and mango, cut into chunks. If you don’t have a pressure cooker, you can cook it at a low boil for up to a couple hours, but be prepared to have your kitchen pepper-sprayed with an acridness that will make you choke and sneeze. Serious. In my classic impatience, this even happened to me with the pressure cooker–which was what I hoped could be avoided by keeping everything locked inside. I added way too much to my pressure cooker, well over the fill line, hoping to save some time. So at first, maximum pressure could not be reached. I had to manually release all that steam, which caused me to gag and choke. Eyes watering, running to the balcony, a very non-peaceful demonstration.
After I settled down, I divided my sauce into two batches and pressure cooked each for around one hour. I then transferred each cooked batch to a large metal bowl, and allowed it to cool. When fully cooled, I added part by part to the food processor. This took a few times as my processor’s liquid capacity is around 3 cups, and I was working with around a gallon of sauce. I dumped the processed portions into the empty pressure cooker pot. And tasted. I added a little more pineapple juice and some fresh squeezed orange juice.
It was now time to strain. This was a big decision for me because I do like all those hot little seeds. But I had decided from the beginning that I wanted this to be a smooth, seedless sauce. I had achieved the color, flavor and consistency, so I had to throw those little guys out. They could be saved and jarred, but as it stands, I have a lot of freaking hot sauces in my fridge and life.
To extract every last drop, I placed my heavy stone mortar and pestle on top of the seeds.
Flavor. What resulted in this two month experiment is a super tangy and fruity hot sauce. On the hot scale, I’d give it a 6-7. It’s got an upfront heat that is slowly taken over by the rich sweetness of mango, and the tart zing of pineapple, vinegar and ginger. Below that, there are subtle layers of peppercorn and clove, allspice berry and lemon. It’s a good sauce. It was achieved mostly through late night drunken inspiration. The fermenting sauce whispered to me, and beckoned for more tweaks and additions. It sat with authority on my countertop, like an arcane mixture in a rundown apothecary. It awaited its day of final transformation. A beautiful thing, if you ask me.