Friday, September 28, 2012

Fie, Fie, Foe, Friday: Fermented & Demented Hot Sauce

Fermented & Demented Hot Sauce
Somewhere, just before the turn of the last century, I got bit by the pickling bug. Not just the vinegar kind. Fermented pickles. Kimchi. And sauerkraut. It started with a nice lady named Min. She and I worked at a Whole Foods at the same time, and we'd share things from our home-packed lunches. She had never eaten eggplant Caponata that my Italian family has always made from our homegrown eggplants and garlic, and I had never eaten homemade Kimchi. A revelation for us both, but bigger for me. After I had kimchi more or less figured out, I went on to growing and pickling short, fat cucumbers in a crock with dill and garlic, the way our neighbor Mrs. Shultz did when I was a kid. Then sauerkraut. I made quite a bit for a while, and then stopped for a few years as there were too few of us kraut-eaters in the family. More kimchi and Moroccan preserved lemons. Then a real hiatus.

I started again a few years back, making some naturally fermented foods to slip into my son-in-laws lunches while he was fighting cancer. Because the pickles and the sauerkraut are delicious, and also because fermented foods are considered to have some health benefits. I wish he was still alive to taste this latest batch of hot sauce. He'd have loved it. He'd have been crying while he ate it, because it's arse-kicking hot, but he'd have loved it. I grew both these killer-hot jalapeños this summer, and the garlic I used here. This stuff is crazy good. Demented.

The big thing for me is flavor. Fermented pickles have an entirely different flavor profile that I adore, and I wanted my hot sauce to have something going on in the background besides just vinegar and heat.

In the old days, I don't think people were as precise as we are now when they were pickling, or doing any sort of food preserving. They learned what worked and stuck to it. There is an absolute TON of information on how to ferment hot peppers (and lactic fermentation of many foods) on the web, and you can use any one of those methods. What follows is very basic, so do a search if you have questions, or post them in the comments below.

Mine is pretty simple: you'll need a jar to hold your peppers to the top, with a fairly narrow opening.  A quart  is a good size. A canning jar. The jar should have "shoulders". You'll need enough hot peppers to fill the jar tightly,  1 big bell pepper, a handful of peeled garlic cloves, a scale, some non-iodized salt (use kosher) and water that has no chlorine in it. If your tap water has chlorine in it, let it stand in a bowl for a few hours so the chlorine can dissipate, or use filtered water.

Weigh 50g of salt and mix it thoroughly into 1 liter of water. This is your 50% brine. Wash the peppers, and trim off the stems, and most of the green top. DO NOT touch your face while handling peppers or wear gloves. Pack the peppers into the jar, adding a few garlic cloves here and there. Pour in the brine to near the top, then cut a piece of the bell pepper bigger than the jar opening, and fit it into the jar so it holds all the peppers and garlic below the liquid. I had a couple of absolutely huge jalapeños, so I just criss-crossed them at the top near the opening to hold the peppers down.  Top it up with brine so the brine comes top of the jar rim. Cover it with a clean cloth,  set it aside, and check it every day, skimming off any mold that forms. This strong brine can take 10 days to two weeks to get good and sour. It'll smell a bit like sauerkraut as it ferments. If you ever think anything is going really wrong. throw it out, and consider it a cheap learning experience.

Once your peppers are pickled, Pete, place a strainer over a bowl and pour the hot peppers and garlic into the strainer. Keep the brine, you'll need it.  Clean out your blender and turn on your kitchen exhaust fan. Now you can make:

Fermented & Demented Hot Sauce


1 quart of fermented  peppers and garlic, drained and brine set aside
1/2 cup cider vinegar
6 whole cloves
6 whole allspice berries
1 tsp. fennel seed, bruised
2T raw honey


1. In a small non-reactive saucepan, combine  the cider vinegar, the cloves, allspice and fennel, bring it to a quick boil, shut it off, cover the pot and let it steep, off the heat, for a half hour.

2. Strain out the solids and pour the vinegar into the blender jar. Add the honey and the peppers. Puree, adding the saved brine as needed to make a sauce consistency. Do NOT put your face anywhere near the top of the jar, and open it cautiously. The fumes from the peppers can make you cough and choke.

3. Place in a quart jar, in the fridge and let mellow for a day or so before using. Makes about 3 cups. If you save  the remaining brine in a covered jar in the the fridge, you can use it to "spike" another spicy fermentation project.

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