It’s hot pepper season here at Happy Acres. That means it’s time to start turning some of those peppers into hot sauce. I usually make several different kinds every year, some with fresh peppers and some with fermented peppers. I’ve already shared my recipe for fresh sauce that I call No-Rooster Chili Garlic Sauce, which is my version of the popular Huy Fong Foods Chili Garlic Sauce (with the signature rooster on the label). It can be made and enjoyed immediately, but the fermented sauces take a bit more time and preparation. On the plus side, the fermented ones also keep for a long time, so a little effort up front is well rewarded.
I’ve tried two different ways to ferment the peppers, both producing good results. One involves cutting the stems off the peppers, then using a food processor to chop them up into a fine mash. Then I weigh the chopped peppers, and add sea salt at the rate of 10% salt by weight and mix it all up together. I pack the salted peppers into a glass jar, cover loosely, then leave to ferment for at least a week. For my early efforts at making hot sauce I added dairy whey to the peppers, but I found it really isn’t necessary and I no longer do that. The lactobacillus bacteria are already present on the peppers, and will multiply readily without a jump-start from the whey or other starters.
For the other method I remove the stems from the peppers and cut them lengthwise, and place in a stainless steel mixing bowl. I use a potato masher to bruise the peppers slightly, then add sea salt at the rate of 5% salt by total weight of the peppers. If you don’t have a kitchen scale, that works out to about a heaping tablespoon of salt for each pound of peppers. I mix the salt in well, then leave the bowl of peppers to sit overnight. The salt causes the peppers to start releasing their juices to make a brine. In the morning, I remove as many seeds from the peppers as I can, wearing gloves to protect my hands. Then I pack the peppers and brine into a glass jar, cover loosely with a lid, and leave it to ferment for at least a week.
One big difference between the two methods is the amount of salt used. Since chopping up the peppers before fermenting makes them more prone to mold growth, more salt is required for that method. And once they are chopped up there is no way to remove the seeds, though you can remove some before chopping if you like. With the second method, it is actually fairly easy to remove many of the seeds, and since the peppers stay intact during the fermentation, less salt is required to keep the molds suppressed.
There is really no set or standard amount of salt to add to the peppers. Though most sources agree that chopping them first makes them more prone to mold developing, the amount of salt called for ranges from 2% to 10%. Even though the mold is harmless and can be scraped off before processing the peppers into sauce, I generally err on the side of caution and use the higher end of the recommended range of salt. I do think that fermenting the peppers before chopping is probably my preferred way, since you have a few more options in terms of how you use the pepper mash once it is fermented.
There is also no consensus of opinion about how long to let the peppers ferment. In the Art of Fermentation, Sandor Katz recommends letting them go a full month or longer. However, in The Hot Sauce Cookbook by Robb Walsh, the author calls for a one to two week fermentation period. I’ve made sauces with anywhere from a one week ferment up to a full month, and to be honest I can’t really tell the difference. I think the type of peppers used matters more than how long they ferment, but it is fun to experiment, and I would urge everyone to do their own taste-testing and see what they think!
I’ll be back when the peppers have fermented and talk about what I do with the pepper mash to turn it into homemade sauce creations. Until then, Happy Growing from Happy Acres!
For more information and recipes for making your own hot sauce:
- Homemade: No-Rooster Chili Garlic Sauce
- Homemade: Sriracha-Style Hot Sauce
- Homemade: Fermented Hot Sauce
- Have Fun, Save Money: Make Your Own Hot Sauce (Mother Earth News)
- Brine Recipes (The Probiotic Jar)