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The Hot Sauce Project – Interim Update

There have been few recipes in my life that have taken a summer to complete – but that was until I started The Hot Sauce Project.

I had this idea that when pepper season started this summer, I would attempt a four month fermentation to make a traditional hot sauce, or pepper sauce, that contained only three ingredients: peppers, salt, and vinegar. (I may have to adjust that later – see the note at the end.)

I found three pounds of beautiful habanero peppers in May and reduced them to a puree in the food processor to a stage that resembled pesto. Many people ferment whole peppers or only chop him slightly due to the fear of mold that can occur in a long ferment, but I wanted the maximum extraction of heat and flavor so I created a pretty fine blend. Plus, I have these vacuum jar lids that I hoped would reduce the chance of a bad mold.

I weighed out the mash and calculated the salt needed to achieve a 2.5% concentration. I don’t have a true recipe so this was my approach. I’ve certainly used lower concentrations of salt in the past with other ferments, but with hot sauce I felt the additional salt would balance the heat nicely – plus it gave me an additional hedge against a long fermentation going wrong. It probably doesn’t matter what salt you use, but I have always used Celtic sea salt because of the natural minerals found in the salt. I think it adds a complexity that you can’t get with plain table or Kosher salt.

The excess air was removed from the jar and it was left to ferment for two months. During the first few days I added a heat blanket to make sure the natural fermentation would start and within a few days it was showing some bubbles. I removed the heat and it joined us in the kitchen until today – 8 weeks later.

My goal from the start was to do a 4 month fermentation and to introduce the vinegar half way through the process. So today I opened the jar for the first time and the smell was amazing – fresh, slightly acidic – with no off-putting aromas. I tasted the mash and it was hot!

Again, I don’t have a recipe per se, so I divided the 1250 ml of fermented mash into four clean and sanitized smaller jars. This would roughly represent about 12 ounces of pre-fermented peppers. I added about 1 quart of white vinegar to each jar, sealed and labeled, and they will now join us in the kitchen for another two months.

Here is the note on additional ingredient: apparently “homemade” hot sauce runs the risk of separating unless it is totally filtered. I would like to include as much pepper flavor as possible so I want to try to avoid over filtering by adding a small amount of xanthan gum during the final blend.

This is a project and by no means the right way to make hot sauce. I would appreciate your advice or comments or if you have any experience with your own hot sauce recipe. More to follow!

#hotsauce #habanero #ferment #fermentation #peppersauce

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Dan McCoy