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Hot Sauce at Home: Fermented Pepper Sauce, Part 2

It ain’t easy. But it can be done. And the results are pretty spectacular.

As you may recall, my first attempt at making fermented pepper sauce began with a trip to the produce terminal on Airline in Houston (also known as the Farmer’s Marketing Association) to find some ripe red peppers from Mexico. I bought ten pounds of ripe jalapeƱos, washed them, chopped them, pureed them and put them in a 7.5 liter fermenting crock with about 150 grams of pickling salt sprinkled on each layer. I left the open crock out in the sun for a couple of hours to make sure some wild spores got into the mix.

The crock comes with weights, which are designed to keep the vegetables submerged in the brine. I put this in place, closed up the crock and added water to the channel in the lid to create the fermentation lock. A couple of days later, I peeked inside. The weights had sunk into the wet pepper mash. Alton Brown suggests an interesting method for fermenting kosher pickles. He fills a ziplock baggie with brine and uses the bag to keep the pickles submerged. I tried this method with the pepper mash, but the baggie sank into the mush and the liquids sloshed all around it.

If you don’t keep the vegetable matter under the saltwater, it will mold. With some fermented products, like sauerkraut, it takes a while for the salt to draw out enough water–you really have to push the weights down to keep the cabbage submerged. With my pepper mash, I had the opposite problem. The ripe jalapeƱos gave off too much water.

The solution was to take all of the wet pepper mash out of the crock and strain it until it was thick enough to hold up a baggie full of water. I strained a total of six cups of pepper brine off of the mash and returned the remaining eight cups of mash to the crock with a water-filled baggie on top. I reserved the six cups of brine in the refrigerator. (Except for the splash or two I put into my tomato juice.) There were lots of bubbles and burbs from the fermenting crock for a few days, then it quieted down. After a week, I opened the crock. The little bits of pepper mash that stuck to the crock above the baggie were covered with white mold. But I could see through the clear baggie that the mash underneath was in perfect condition and bright red.

I divided the fermented pepper mash and reserved brine into two equal batches–four cups of mash and three cups of brine each. For the first batch, I combined the four cups of mash with four cups of vinegar. I used a blend of half Steen’s cane vinegar and half distilled white vinegar.

Next, I strained the mash and vinegar mixture. Then I combined the strained liquid with three cups of the pepper brine to produce my first batch of fermented Louisiana hot sauce. When I compared the end result to Crystal Hot Sauce, I realized that although my sauce tasted great, it wasn’t as thick with pepper pulp as Crystal. I decided this was because the strainer I was using was too fine–I had quite a bit of pepper mash left over.

So I combined the second batch of mash with a half Spanish sherry vinegar, half distilled white vinegar mixture and put it in the crock to age overnight. Then I went to the store and bought a bigger, coarser strainer. The bigger mesh worked a lot better. Nearly all the mash in the second batch went through the strainer. There were a few chunks in the sauce, so I may need to run it through the blender to get it perfectly smooth–but the flavor is remarkable. I added more sherry vinegar, a little at a time, until the sauce tasted just right. My homemade fermented pepper sauce is still much lower in vinegar than commercial brands. I am sure this is because the commercial brands require higher acidity to make them shelf stable. But I am storing my pepper sauce in the refrigerator, so this isn’t a concern.

The flavor of this homemade hot sauce is sublime. The cane and sherry vinegars are much tastier than the white vinegar in the commercial stuff, the peppers are sweeter and hotter, and the salt is just right. It tastes fantastic in a pulled pork sandwich, tomato juice, scrambled eggs, and much more. To quote Edna, the old lady in the Frank’s RedHot commercials, “I put this (bleep) on everything!”

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