fermented hot pepper sauce

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, but Culinaria Eugenius put up a peck of fermented peppers!

Here’s how I started, with my fermented pepper recipe.  I packed a few half-gallon jars full of fresh hot peppers, garlic, and a salt brine.  It sat in a cool corner until the fermentation got going, rewarding me with the most delicious, spicy-sour peppers that would last through the winter.

They were so beautiful, and so bold.  After chopping up dozens of the peppers to use in my salsa, stirfries, beans, and anything else that would benefit from a burst of heat, I used up every last drop of sour brine from several large jars.

Happily, I realized I still had enough to make hot sauce from the hottest and fruitiest of the peppers.  I had one large jar in the back of the fridge, a blend that was heavy with burnished brown Ethiopian beriberi peppers.  They made me cough, they were so strong, but the mix of peppers had so much more depth than the plain jar of jalapenos or the mixed jars of jalapenos and other Central American peppers.

So I chopped the peppers roughly, added bit by bit to the blender with all the brine, and got this:

And thus, the best hot sauce in the world was born.  I can’t emphasize how delicious this stuff was after spicing up the salt brine from October to June.  And it’s all about the fermentation.  Fermentation is the secret of some commercial hot sauces; Tabasco, for example, ferments its pepper mash in oak barrels for up to three years.  But we don’t really take advantage of this at home, often just counting on the half-vinegar half-water hot peppers that we can from the Ball Blue Book.

There are reasons for avoiding fermentation with pepper sauce, including the problems keeping the mash at a cool temperature.  Peppers are a bit more finicky than cucumbers.  At first, I tried to strain off the delicious brine and keep that on the counter, but it developed a white film, so I knew it had to be refrigerated.

And even though the peppers in brine were fine for many months in the refrigerator, the blended hot sauce, after sitting in the refrigerator for a month or so, started to grow white mold on top, so I had to get rid of the rest of the jar.  I attribute this to the complete lack of vinegar in the brine.  You might try adding some vinegar as a preservative.  I definitely recommend making the hot sauce in small batches, since the peppers in brine last beautifully long in the refrigerator, but the peppers in the sauce seem to have a short refrigerated shelf life.

Hank Shaw’s hot sauce recipe, a wholly different preparation than mine, directs the cook to add spices, which would be great next time.  The recipe also includes two particularly good tips: using a growingly available binding agent called xanthan gum to prevent the sauce from separating, and letting the sauce settle to remove excess air.

For about 2 cups of finished hot sauce, he advises using 1/4 teaspoon of xanthan gum, mixed with 2 tablespoons cold water.  Without the xanthan gum, expect the pepper mass to float atop some briny water in your jar.  Nothing dangerous, but not the most visually appealing thing in the world.  A good stir fixes the problem.

Shaw also recommends this easy tip to battle separation:

Pour into a bowl or large jar and let this settle for 1 hour to allow all the trapped air you introduced into the sauce while blending to escape. If you skip this step your sauce will not hold together as well.

I’m going to try these steps next year for sure!  Until then, I’ll be eating this glorious sauce on barbecued pork, tacos, chicken wings, gazpacho, etc., etc., etc.

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2 thoughts on “fermented hot pepper sauce

  1. curtis dowling 23 July 2012 / 9:53 pm

    You could have just skimmed the mold of the top of the jar. The sauce under neither should have been fine. The mold grows because of exposure to air, not an uncommon occurance when fermenting.

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  2. Eugenia 24 July 2012 / 9:50 pm

    It shouldn’t be growing in the refrigerator. Mold sends down little spores into the mass of soft food, so it wouldn’t really do to scoop off the top layer, either. I think it became more susceptible to mold because of the separation in the sauce — although it was fine with the whole peppers in brine, with the sauce, the brine sunk below the solids and that was enough to allow mold formation.

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