I love spicy food. When I was younger, my sisters and I traveled through Asia together and dared each other to eat the spiciest peppers we could find. My half brother and I get into very heated (haha) discussions about the best Mexican hot sauce. He gets restless if there isn’t Valentina on the table, and I would drown my food in a whole bottle of mild El Yucateco if I could. The hot sauce feud is such a part of our relationship that I’ve nicknamed him “Val,” and he always buys me a bottle of “troll slime” for Christmas.
Sometime in my travels in Asia, I discovered kimchi and the wonders of all things fermented. It wasn’t long before I was trading scobys with my sisters for kombucha and making sauerkraut. I guess my family really bonds over food. So, the magic of something both spicy and probiotic is like a dream come true.
Fermented hot sauce is one of the easiest things I make. Peppers are simple to grow, and we always have an abundance. I can’t think of a time when peppers failed in my garden. (However, I can recall an uncomfortable time when I failed to wear gloves while processing a bumper crop of serranos…ouch!)
Regular hot sauce requires peppers, salt, vinegar and a blender. So easy! Fermented hot sauce replaces the vinegar with water, so it’s even easier. All you need is a little time. I love that it is so simple, so tasty, and so healthy, too. When cold season hits, a dash of Vitamin C and probiotic laced hot sauce in some soup always makes me feel better.
Basically, to make fermented hot sauce, wash and halve peppers. Wear gloves, and remove seeds if you like. Please wear gloves. Don’t skip the gloves. If you don’t have any, at least wrap your hands in plastic bags. I’m often laid back about things like that, but chili oils pack a nasty punch.
My traumatic serrano experience in college taught me to never skip the gloves. I was using a meat tenderizer to pound the peppers to make chili paste, but it was taking for-ev-er. So, I naively decided to mash the chilis with my hands. Everything seemed okay for about 30 seconds until my hands and forearms erupted in searing pain. Then, I brushed the hair out of my eyes while searching for something soothing in the bathroom, temporarily blinding myself. I was crashing around with tears streaming down my face looking for anything to curb the burn. It was the worst ever. Until it got even worse. I had to pee…
An hour or so later my boyfriend stopped by to find me in the fetal position on my futon with my hands submerged in bowls of iced milk and a thawing bag of frozen veg across my eyes. The easiest way to stop chili oils from burning is to not get them on your skin in the first place. There are all kinds of remedies, from milk, to acidic things like lime juice or vinegar, to dish soap, but none work as well as just avoiding the oils in the first place.
Once you’ve chopped your chilis with the comfort and safety of gloves, submerge them in salted water. There are all kinds of fancy fermentation vessels, but I just use a wide glass bowl and a small plate. Then, cover the container with a paper towel or dish cloth so that it can breathe, and let it sit for 7-10 days.
While the peppers ferment, the lactobacteria might form a whitish film. This is totally fine! Either skim it off or stir it in. It’s important to keep the fermenting chilis in a place where pets and kids can’t reach them because just the fumes are pretty spicy. I keep the fermenting peppers in a back corner of my counter, but even then, when the wind is just right, it is like there is a hint of pepper spray in the air…(I do use a lot of ghost peppers, though. A sauce with just jalepeno and tabasco peppers won’t make it seem like someone maced your kitchen.)
After awhile, the fermenting peppers will bubble a little, like a lighter version of the fizz in kimchi or kombucha. Then, don those handy gloves again, toss the chilis in the blender and make a smooth paste. Add some of the brine to get the liquid consistency you want, then pack in a container that can “burp” and refrigerate. The peppers will keep fermenting slowly, and the spicy sauce will last for several months.
Here’s my recipe for fermented hot sauce:
- a mix of hot peppers: try to use some you’ve tried before if you are trying to achieve a certain level of spiciness
- enough water to submerge chilis
- about 1-2 tablespoons of salt for every cup of water
- Wash and trim peppers while wearing gloves.
- Dissolve salt in water to make the brine.
- Cover peppers with brine and weigh them down so all peppers are submerged.
- Cover the vessel loosely with a cloth or paper towel.
- Let the peppers sit undisturbed for 7-10 days. You’ll know they are done when the water gets cloudy and a little fizzy. If a white film forms, just stir it in or scrape it off
- Carefully add the peppers to a blender and blend until a smooth paste forms.
- Add brine until the sauce is the desired consistency.
- Transfer to a container with a lid that can be “burped” to let out fizz, and store in the fridge.
The sauce I made for this post is really hot, but that’s due to the ghost peppers. My husband is kind of addicted to it, though, and loves to add a dash to everything. I’m wondering if this recipe will make my brother give up his cherished La Victoria, too…