When I first set my mind to making my own Hot Sauce, I discovered the art of lacto-fermentation. I had actually been fermenting Kimchi for over ten years, but had no idea of the biochemistry going on in my kitchen. Since we are a bilingual home I note that both Hot Sauce and Salsa are Salsa in Spanish. Interestingly, lemons and limes are both Limon, even though the flavors are distinct. So I subtitle my Hot sauces Salsa Picante, even as my fresh salsas are in fact fairly piquant. (My secret: I save the filtered tailings of my Hot Sauce — too thick to go in a shaker bottle, and use them to season my fresh salsas. This means that I can make a Salsa that you cannot, unless you first spend 30 to 45 days on a Hot Sauce.)
You might think that making hot sauce is as simple as chopping a volume of your favorite hot pepper and fermenting it. What about garlic? Onion? Your piquant peppers are low in sugar, how about some sweet peppers? Carrots? Yes! Many ferments bubble aggressively, others not much. When I find the right balance of these ingredients it bubbles so aggressivly that I need to dress my ferment morning and evening. By dress, I mean re-pack and/or re-evacuate the jars. Nerd Alert! This is the most satisfying ferment I do. Kimchi and Sweet Pepper Mash are close seconds.
I like to ferment in 1/2 gallon mason jars. This usually produces 6 woozy bottles of Hot Sauce. That may not seem like very much but this stuff packs a punch. Plus, I use the tailings.
I hot-water-can the sauce (and tailings). It is quite acidic and I have never had a problem with spoiling. In fact, I have shipped a few bottles in the mail.
The sauces I have produced are Habanero and Jalapeno-Poblano. I am getting ready to do a Chipotle sauce and I will document that here. These sauces are not stunts or tests of endurance. They are full-bodied and rich in flavor. The amount you shake out of the bottle depends on your desire for picante. All of the flavor is in two drops, or ten.
The selection of sweet peppers and fillers depends on the desired color of your final product. The color is driven by the color of the starring pepper. So for a habanero sauce the carrots and orange bell peppers give you that nice orange color. For Jalapeno-Poblano, Poblano peppers take the place of the carrots, but more yellow bells give you the sugar you need for a good ferment — and a green sauce. For Chipotle, I focus on carrots and red bell peppers for a deep crimson.
These recipes are based on what I have done so far. I encourage you to experiment with things that appeal to your tastes, and find new magic.
Habanero Chiles are commonly available these days and sold in 4-6 Oz bags of fresh, vibrant chiles.
For a ½ gallon batch:
2 - 3 bags of habaneros, stemmed and cut in quarters
2 large carrots, sliced 1/8¨ in diagonals
3 or 4 large orange bell peppers, stemmed, seeds removed, and cut into chunks
1 large yellow or sweet onion, sliced into half inch and quartered
6 to 8 cloves of garlic, skinned, crushed and chopped coarsely
This green sauce is made with two compadres who are sassy without being overbearing.
For a ½ gallon batch:
8 - 10 large green jalapenos stemmed, seeded and cut into 6 chunks
2 - 3 poblanos stemmed, seeded and cut into 1 inch pieces
Chipotles are Ripe (red) Jalapenos with have been smoked for hours.
As an avid gardener I work for an ample crop of Jalapeno chiles every autumn. Ripening on the vine provides the best flavor, and it is rare to find red jalapenos in the grocery In Mexico, these chiles especially, are smoked as one would smoke meat, or agave for Tequilla or Mescal. They are then dried in order to preserve all the flavor for months to come.
Place all ingredients into a large bowl and sprinkle liberally with natural salt. Toss and do it a few more times. Let the mixture sweat at room temperature for 1 to 6 hours. Pack your mixture in a jar and tamp down as you go. There will be plenty of natural brine. If needed to cover everything you can add a bit of prepared brine. Place your weight and cap the jar. Ferment at 70-72° f for 30 days. This will ferment vigorously so you will want to tamp and re-evacuate the jar as often as twice a day.
Bottling the Hot Sauce
You will need a blender or food processor, and a fine mesh sieve to extract the sauce from the pulp. We have a ~ 3 cup nylon fine-mesh sieve that we use to wash rice. It is also the right tool for this job.
I have read articles suggesting I use Xanthan gum to thicken the sauce. I do not like this approach at all, because Xanthan gum does not contribute any flavor to the sauce. It is useful in small measure to reduce separation in the bottle.
I try to blend and strain the ferment so that there are still solids in the final sauce. Your blender motor is going to get hot in the process, so let it rest between cycles. It takes some time and patience but the payoff is worth it.
As you pour the pulpy ferment into the strainer, use a spoon to stir and press out the liquids, scraping the strainer to press through the finer solids. You should be able to see some fine solids hanging off the bottom of the strainer as you go. Those too should go into the sauce.
I hot-water steam my woozy bottles as I prepare the sauce so that they are ready to be filled. The final prep to canting is to add 1 tsp of Xanthan gum to the sauce. In order to avoid clumping of this powder, you will either transfer it back to the blender, or use a immersion blender as you sprinkle it into the sauce.
Transfer your sauce to a small pot and bring it to a gentle simmer on the stove. Use a syringe to transfer sauce to bottles. Place the filled bottles back into your steamer and steam for 5 minutes more. Then, pot covered, let them cool down for about an hour. Cap them and transfer to the counter to cool to room temperature. This is the step where a nice vacuum is formed inside the bottles, insuring there will be no leaking or unwelcome biology going on inside.
After the fashion of where we live here in southern New Mexico, I make red chile sauces for salsa for the table. My salsas are unique. Friends have asked me for the recipe. I can be a smart-alec and begin to describe the lacto-fermented hot sauce process... and 14 days later you have the secret ingredient to my salsa.
I use the tailings (solids) from my hot sauce preparations to flavor my Salsa. A little bit goes a long way. They add body and a unique flavor that is only available through fermentation. I usually hot-water can the tailings. Then they do not take up room in the fridge, and if you are a good friend I might hand you a jar of my secret sauce to use in your kitchen