Last year, I made two batches of home-made fermented chili sauce, a version of Tabasco, working from Rob Walsh’s recipe in his book The Hot Sauce Cookbook. This is one of those recipes that is a real project– it requires lengthy drying and fermenting, and there’s no point in making just a bit of it. So the learning process from repeat efforts moves a little slowly. For that reason, I posted on the blog then, and am going to post an update from this year’s batch. The post has been one of the most regularly-viewed posts I’ve done in the last year or so.
I learned something from the two batches, the first made with Thai bird chilies and the second with what was being sold at the local farmers market as tabasco peppers. The thai chilies were wonderful. It made a hot sauce, but it was balanced with a lot of great flavor from both the chillies themselves and the fermenting process. I was moderately unhappy with the tabasco peppers. I think they had far more water in them than the Thai chillies, and, in the process of fermenting, a funky slightly off taste was too pronounced. I decided in the future, whatever peppers I used, I was going to sun-dry longer than the recipe suggested.
The Thai bird chillies I used last year are rated as 50-100,000 Scoville units on the scale used for rating pepper and other hotness. They are a pretty hot pepper and hotter than most used in Mexican cooking or in many hot sauces. The cayennes I am using this time are rated at 30-50,000– plenty hot but not as ferocious as the Thai ones.
I also discovered that, once you make the mash into usable hot sauce, it is very stable in the refrigerator. The stability of Tabasco is in part because it has so much vinegar in it. Walsh notes that the mash his recipe produces keeps a couple of months. I discovered that if you go ahead and use the amount of vinegar his recipe calls for, on the low side, it will keep in the refrigerator indefinitely. I still have some left from last year in the fridge (a little) and it’s still great. No sign of spoilage.
Another aspect of the effort last year that was difficult was that Walsh called for deseeding the peppers after fermenting. This process with the Thai chillies was ardouus, and I was determined to find a better way this time.
This year, I bought cayenne chillies from Yoknabottom Farms. It turned out well. I’ve only tasted it a bit and not used it in cooking and will report back in comments as I used it.
Here’s some notes on what I did and how it compared to before.
One serious word of caution: With this recipe, you are doing a lot of handling of a lot of peppers. Even if you are accustomed to handling peppers without gloves, you are going to want gloves for the cutting and seeding. Also, even dried, these peppers still have some juice to them. More than once they squirted on my face, and I’m not sure how to deal with that. A shower just got pepper in my eye, I am pretty sure from an eyelash.
Fermented Hot Sauce
1. Wash and pat dry about 2 pounds of peppers. Put them on a large baking tray and dry them outdoors for 5 days. That’s slightly better than twice what I did last year, and I think was a good move.
2. Cut off the stems of the peppers. Cut the peppers in half. Remove the seeds from the peppers. I do that by scraping them with the side of a knife, and then removing more as I go along. It’s a big project.
3. Put the peppers in a large steel bowl and mash hard and thoroughly. Add 1/4 cup fine cosher salt and keep mashing. Leave out on the counter overnight.
4. Put in a earthenware crock and stir in a cup of spring water. Cover the crock with a dinner plate (I dispensed with Walsh’s method of covering the fermenting peppers with a half cabbage. It just made a mess). Let sit for a couple of weeks. Check occasionally, mix together.
5. Put the contents of the crock in a blender or food processor. Get all the liquid you can. Add two tbs of high quality vinegar (I use Bragg organic apple cider vinegar. It complements and does not compete with the flavors in the sauce). Blend very thoroughly. If you have 2 1/5 cups of paste, add 2 cups of vinegar and blend some more. Put in clean jars and refrigerate.