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.
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.
STEP #1: Pickle your Peppers
2 lbs. red peppers–any variety from sweet to scorching (1 kilo)
2 quarts water (2 liters)
¼ cup salt—heaping (100 grams)
Mix the salt into the water dissolving completely to make the brine.
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.
Place the peppers in a clean, non-reactive vessel like a half gallon mason jar.
Label the jar with the date and contents and place it on a plate or in a bowl to protect your counter from spillage.
In a few days you will see the water begin to cloud and bubbles appear. This is the fermentation process.
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.
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 Sauce
Remove the pickled peppers from the brine (do not discard the brine) and puree them in a blender or food processor.
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.
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.
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.
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)
Combine all of the ingredients and store in the fridge where it will last for 1 year or more.
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.
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Romesco is my go-to recipe whenever I need an appetizer. Rich, nutty, and sweet, this is a seriously delicious and highly addictive dip. Though the dish originated in Catalonia, Spain, I include it with any meal with even a remotely Mediterranean influence. Versions vary but all contain almonds or hazelnuts, garlic, peppers and olive oil. This recipe is simple but gets me all kinds of complements and has become my signature dish. I use it mostly as a dip with crackers, but it can be served as a sauce for all sorts of foods—beans, potatoes, pasta, fish, meatballs, etc. Try it; you’ll be inspired.
For a rich, complex, sweet and smoky flavor, roast your own peppers. Roasted red peppers from a jar make the dish bland and unremarkable. In the fall when red peppers are at their peak, I apply an economy of scale principal, roasting and storing as many as my freezer will hold. Not only do I save money, but I also save time. With ready-to-use roasted peppers in the freezer, I can make romeso in less than 5 minutes all throughout the year.
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.
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.
Because exploring ethnic grocery stores remains one of my favorite past-times, I feel fortunate to live in a city as ethnically diverse as Milwaukee. I love ethnic food adventures so much, that 2 years ago for Mother’s Day, my husband drove me all over Milwaukee’s South side so that we could investigate all of the Greek and Turkish grocers. We took turns going in the stores while our girls slept in the back seat. It was nap time.
Milwaukee’s South side is rife with immigrant-owned mom and pop establishments. Although we have fewer on the North side, a few gems exist. El Pueblo, a Puerto Rican/Caribbean specialty store just down the street from my house, is one such gem. It was here that I discovered sofrito in the freezer section. After asking, the owner explained that sofrito is a seasoning made with tomatoes, peppers, onions and herbs. Sofrito is a constant of Puerto Rican cuisine added to various dishes like beans, eggs, rice, and meats. I took it home; I tried it out; I loved it, and thought, “I can make that.” And so I did with all locally-grown ingredients of course. After researching and testing many recipes I came up with my own.
Sofrito can be made with green or red peppers. I prefer the red for sweetness and color. When red peppers come into season, make a large batch of sofrito--enough to last the entire year--then freeze it. I add it to beans for a quick delicious side dish. I also like to add it to Latin inspired soups and sauces.
2 T olive oil
3 cups onions, minced
3 cups red and green bell peppers, minced
5 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
1 cup cilantro, finely chopped
1 cup tomato, cored, seeded and finely chopped
1 lime, juice
2 t salt
2 t black pepper
Chop or process ingredients in a food processor and combine.
Place sofrito in freezer safe bags, removing all air.
Date and label.
Freeze sofrito flat in the bags so that it is easy to break off frozen chunks as needed.
Fresh sofrito will keep for about a week in the fridge.
Cooking with Kids: I make sofrito with a food processor. The kids are in charge of pushing the button. They love this task. The processor is a noisy, electric machine with a button and a sharp blade. Nothing could be more irresistible to a little kid