Homemade Hot Sauce from Fermented Peppers

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Hot sauce adds a welcome layer of hurt-so-good flavor and excitement to many dishes.  This homemade hot sauce recipe holds its own and some would say even surpasses some of the more popular brands.  Compared with store-bought, homemade has the same tangy richness but with a fresher flavor, a brighter color, and not a whisper of questionable additives.

So now, while red peppers of every variety are still at the market, make haste.  The beauty of this recipe is that it allows you to make something entirely unique, designed to fit your taste.  You may choose to make it with 100% Thai chilies for a fiery hot sauce or you could go the other extreme and only use sweet bell peppers for a pure pepper taste experience.  The choice is yours.

This recipe starts with fermented red peppers.  Fermentation takes time but little effort.  I promise that the hullabaloo is kept to a minimum and effort exerted shall be paid back ten fold in the tangy heat enjoyed over the next several months or weeks—however long it lasts.

Click here for a quick tutorial on the basics of fermenting.

TIP FOR CHOOSING YOUR CHILIES: To help you gauge heat, you can create a mild sauce like Louisiana Hot Sauce or Frank’s Hot Wing Sauce using about 1.5 pounds sweet red bells and 0.5 pounds red ripe serranos or jalapenos. You may also choose to ferment your peppers separately—bell peppers in one vessel and habaneros in another for example. After fermenting and processing them both separately, you can mix the 2 peppers until you get the precise amount of heat and flavor you desire. That is a bit more work but not much and probably worth it especially if you’re looking for an exact level of heat.Homemade Hot Sauce & Pickled Peppers

Homemade Hot Sauce & Pickled Peppers

STEP #1: Pickle your Peppers

Pickled Peppers

  • 2 lbs. red peppers–any variety from sweet to scorching (1 kilo)
  • 2 quarts water (2 liters)
  • ¼ cup salt—heaping (100 grams)
  1.  Mix the salt into the water dissolving completely to make the brine.
  2. Wash and cut the peppers removing, stem, seeds and white pith. Depending on the size, cut them into halves, quarters or even smaller.  Do not try to ferment whole peppers as the interior flesh must be exposed.
  3. Place the peppers in a clean, non-reactive vessel like a half gallon mason jar.Homemade Hot Sauce & Pickled Peppers
  4. Pour enough brine over the peppers to cover them.  Pour the rest of the brine into a sealable quart or pint sized plastic bag and stuff it into the mouth of the jar so that all of the peppers are completely submerged in brine. If using a larger, more open container use a larger gallon bag filled with brine and lay on top of the peppers. All peppers must be completely submerged in brine or they will not ferment.
  5. Label the jar with the date and contents and place it on a plate or in a bowl to protect your counter from spillage.
  6. In a few days you will see the water begin to cloud and bubbles appear. This is the fermentation procesIMG_6118s.
  7. Keep it at room temperature for 3-6 weeks removing the bag periodically to clean off the white scum (yeast). Begin tasting the peppers at 3 weeks to determine whether they have become sour enough for your liking.
  8. Once they are ready you can do one of the following: filter the brine, boil it for 1 minute, cool it and then store the peppers in it in the fridge where they will keep for 1 year. Eat them; cook them; they are delicious. OR you can make home hot sauce.

Note: Brine, not water, is used to fill the “weight” bag so that if the bag accidentally springs a leak the salt water concentration remains constant and the fermentation process is not spoiled.

 

STEP #2: Make the Hot Saucefermenting peppers2

  1. Remove the pickled peppers from the brine (do not discard the brine) and puree them in a blender or food processor.
  2. Strain the pepper puree through a fine mesh colander, sieve of or food mill until the entire liquid portion of the pepper is squeezed out.Homemade Hot Sauce & Pickled Peppers
  3. Yield will vary depending on how enthusiastically you strain and the fleshiness of the peppers used.  Jalapenos are very fleshy for example but scotch bonnets are quite thin.  In this example  1 ½ lbs. red bells and ½ lbs. serranos yielded 1 2/3 cup liquid purée + ½ cup fermented pepper solids. Homemade Hot Sauce & Pickled Peppers
  4. Freeze or refrigerate the pepper solids in a freezer-safe container or bag.  They make a great flavoring agent for beans, soups, stir fries—anything where you want a bit of heat and sour.IMG_6173
  5. Strain the brine through a coffee filter and boil for 1 minute removing any additional scum. Allow it to cool and store in the fridge. I use it in soups and stew.  It adds a rich flavor that I find irresistible.  It’s like using beer or wine in cooking.

Homemade Hot Sauce Recipe

  • 1 cup strained, fermented pepper liquid
  • ½ cup vinegar
  • ½  teaspoon canning salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
  1.  Combine all of the ingredients and store in the fridge where it will last for 1 year or more.
  2. You may adjust the seasoning to your liking with more or less salt or vinegar.  You may also prefer to use the brine instead of the vinegar.Homemade Hot Sauce & Pickled Peppers

     

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Roasting & Freezing Bell Peppers

Sometime in fall, my attention turns from tomatoes to peppers.  Sweet red, yellow, and orange bell peppers come into season in Southeast Wisconsin in Mid-September and usually stick around until sometime in early November–a mere 6 or 7 weeks to enjoy one of the most delicious treats from the farmers market.  During peak season, farmers practically give them away— 2 or 3 for a dollar!!!  That’s a steel of a deal compared with prices at the supermarket. So while they are in season, run to the market and buy as many as your freezer can hold. You will not regret this.

First determine how many you plan to freeze as is and how many you plan to freeze roasted.  Make sure to set aside 3 of the roasted peppers to make Romesco.

How to Freeze a Fresh Pepper

All peppers freeze well.  Simply wash them, remove the seeds and white membranes, and cut them how you would like to use later—chopped, sliced, halved etc. After preparing peppers, place them on a cookie sheet and freeze.  This is called IQF—Individually Quick Frozen.  Once individually frozen, transfer the peppers to a freezer-safe plastic bag or box, date and label.  Use these peppers in cooked dishes, not raw, as they lose their crispness.  I uses them in stir-fries and soups.

How to Roast  Peppers

Peppers can be roasted on a grill, under an oven broiler or directly on the grate of a gas stove.  I use the grill as it is the easiest way to do larger quantities and it can be done while grilling other food.

Grill Method

  • Place whole washed peppers on a clean grill on medium high heat.

  • Char and blister each side of the pepper (3-4 minutes each side) turning with a metal tong.

  • Once the pepper is charred evenly, place in a bowl and cover with a plate or a larger nesting bowl to contain the steam.

  • Allow the peppers to steam at least 15 minute.

  • If you plan to eat the peppers soon, remove the stem, seeds, and skins with your fingers.  Do not use water to wash the seed away as this will reduce the sweet, smoky flavor attained in roasting.

Oven Broiler Method

  • Follow the steps above but #1.  Instead place peppers on a cookie sheet and place under the broiler.

Stove Top Method

  • Follow the steps above but #1.  Instead place peppers directly on the grate of the stove top and turn gas to high.  You can roast 2 or 3 peppers on each grate.  This only works with gas stoves.

Storing roasted peppers in the refrigerator

Roasted peppers kept in an air tight container will keep for 2-3 days in the refrigerator. Peppers drizzled with olive oil, will keep for about 1 week.

Storing roasted peppers in the freezer

Place roasted peppers with skins and seeds still intact on a cookie sheet.  Freeze and transfer to a freezer-safe bag or box.  It’s easier to remove the skin and seed from partially defrosted peppers as the pepper is stiff and easier to handle.

Mild Pickled Jalapeños

Pickled jalapeños are a family favorite.  No Mexican inspired meal goes without them.  Because 3 of the 4 members of the family protest when something is too spicy, I would buy mild jalapeño pickles from the grocer.

Yes, you read that right.  I WOULD BUY A PICKLE.  I bought La Preferida Mild Pickled jalapeños for years.  It galled me, especially when fall arrived, and jalapeños spilled over every farmer’s stall at the market selling for a cheap $2 a quart.

I tried to recreate them at home, an annual exercise in futility.  I tired the obvious at first—removing the seeds and white pith. This helped but certainly didn’t eliminate the heat. I tried to substitute peppers like poblanos, but they didn’t have the right meaty texture.  I wanted mild pickled jalapeños, not pickled poblanos.   I tried blanching and salting them, knowing from a food science stand point this probably wouldn’t do anything…and it didn’t.  Renewed in my quest, each fall I scoured university extension sites from California to Maine for answers on how to de-heat  jalapeños.  Nada.

How do the people at La Preferida make such a tasty mild jalapeño pickle?  I was on the verge of writing the company a letter, when serendipitously, I stumbled on a seed catalogue revealing the answer.  You cannot make a hot jalapeño mild.  You can, however, grow a mild variety.  Duh!   The answer is so obvious.  Why did it take me 5 years to figure it out?

Question answered. Problem not solved. Where can I get one of these mild varieties?  I have yet to meet a farmer that grows and sells them in Southeast Wisconsin.  Let me know if you know one.  I could grow them, but with curious children and cats and a cave of a house,  I don’t have a safe environment, let alone the sunlight to start my own jalapeño seedlings indoors in February.  Nor have I discovered any nursery around here that grows mild varieties like Texas A&M, Senoritas and Fooled You.  Again, let me know if you do.

Then, in another serendipitous moment, I went to lunch at a Mexican restaurant with a friend who asked the waiter to bring extra pickles—not the jalapeños, just the carrots.  She confessed that she was addicted to those delicious little pickled carrots.  I tried one and agreed—a perfect combination of mild heat and sweetness and a satisfying toothy texture.  Light bulb!  If I modify the heat with carrots, not only will I get milder pickled jalapeños but also the added bonus of pickled carrots.  This classic pickled is officially called Mexican escabeche and includes jalapeños, carrots and white onions.  Most recipes call for a bay leaf too, but I prefer a lighter, brighter flavor and so leave it out.

Mild Pickled Jalapenos (and Carrots)
Author: 
Recipe type: Condiment
Cuisine: Mexican
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 9 pint jars
 
Ingredients
  • 3 pounds jalapeños, sliced into ⅛th inch rings, seeds and veins removed
  • 3 pounds carrots, sliced into ⅛th inch coins
  • 3 cups finely chopped white onions
  • 6 cups water
  • 6 cups white distilled vinegar
  • 4 T canning salt
  • ⅛ t turmeric per pint jar
  • ¼ t sesame oil per pint jar
Instructions
  1. Prepare the carrots, onions, and jalapenos. De-seeding/de-veining is best done with hands--slice the peppers, put on some disposable gloves and deseed/devein the rings one at a time with your hands. Slow but effective.
  2. Rinse and drain the prepared jalapeno rings in several changes of water to eliminate all seeds.
  3. Meanwhile, bring vinegar, salt and water to a boil.
  4. Add turmeric and sesame oil to clean hot pint jars, then pack tightly with carrots, jalapenos and onions.
  5. Pour hot brine over ingredients leaving ½ inch head space.
  6. Cap and hot water bath process for 10 minutes.
Notes
This recipe is flexible. Reduce it by half or a third. You may also play with the ratio of carrots to peppers. More carrots for less heat more peppers for more. If you find a mild variety of jalapeno you can eliminate the carrots all together. Do not reduce the ratio of water to vinegar if you intend to can it.

After reading this, you might ask, why not just buy the mild pickled jalapeños slices bottled by La Preferida.  Is a $2 quart of fresh jalapeños so compelling?  Well, to me it is, but if it isn’t to you, I have additional reasons.  I like to know the source of my food whenever possible for all sorts of environmental and food safety reasons.  Remember the E. colitainted jalapeños discovered a few years ago?  Do I have to say more?   Also commercial bottled versions come with preservatives and additives like sodium benzoate and sulfides.  While the FDA may generally recognize them as safe in the amount typically eaten, I would just as well avoid them if I can.  Cancer is cancer no matter how tenuous the link.

More pickle recipes and information:

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