I love hot sauce! As someone who eats spicy food every day, hot sauce can really make a dish. For spice lovers, the key to happiness is having a variety of different hot sauces. At least I think so. I've never felt there was a king hot sauce to rule them all. Certain sauces are good for certain things. Having a selection of different sauces is the ticket. Experimenting with variations of fermented hot sauce is the best way to perfect your own. You can be so creative!
This post is related to a recent post that delves deep into lacto-fermenting vegetables and fruit. I recommend referring to it if you care to learn more about this fascinating process. In this example I'm going to make a fermented hot sauce using a variety of different chili peppers and garlic. There's two whole heads of garlic in this one batch! The cloves from one head are fermented with the chilies and the cloves from another are sliced, toasted in oil and blended into the sauce with some of the oil for flavour and texture. This will help you to get an idea of how the process works. I've been busy experimenting with different flavour profiles so I'll share those in this post as well. I hope that this inspires you to try this on your own. It's fun, easy and delicious. All you need is patience and an appreciation for flavour.
For your very first hot sauce, I recommend doing something simple. Once you familiarize yourself with a couple of batches you'll get a better sense of what works and how you can play around with the ingredients. The demo in this post is a perfect way to start. Chili and garlic is a classic combination and tends to make a "good on everything" sauce. You can use any chili peppers you want! Use your favourites. Remember that most of the heat (capsaicin) in a pepper is found in the seeds and the membrane inside. For a pepper like a habanero or a scotch bonnet, the heat is very intense. You can remove the seeds and membranes and still end up with a very spicy hot sauce. It really depends on your tolerance and preference. If you're not sure what you can handle, I implore you to start with a milder batch and use that to gauge how you can improve. I happen to be a fiend for spice and my tolerance and appreciation for it is definitely on the extraordinary end of the spectrum. I happen to keep all the seeds and membrane in my batches. It's your call to make (you're the boss of your sauce). Whatever you do, PLEASE wear protective gloves. When working with this many chili peppers at once, it's not worth the risk. That spicy irritant will spread from your fingers to anywhere you touch including your face, eyes, and you don't even want to think about using the bathroom like that. Trust me on the gloves.
For this sauce I used a combination of different chili peppers varying from very mild to very hot. Among them are scotch bonnets, jalapeño, hot banana pepper, shishito and 2 other varieties that weren't labeled at the market so I'm not 100% sure. Use whatever you like! How much do you need? Enough to fill the jar fairly tightly. So that depends entirely on the contents you choose
For my hot sauce experiments I've been using a ¼ gallon jar (32 oz/4 cups). It doesn't need to be sterilized, but make sure it's nice and clean. Then pack your jar with your peppers and crushed garlic cloves. Roughly chop your peppers to expose their flavours (and make them easier to pack). You don't need to cut them into small pieces. It's all going into a blender at the end.
Next step is to make a brine using 1 tbsp of salt to 2 cups of water. Your salt cannot contain iodine (so no table salt) or this won't work. Kosher or sea salt works great. Personally I prefer to use fine sea salt because it dissolves the fastest. The water you use has to be clean enough to drink safely. So for me, that's tap water. Depending where you live you may want to use bottled water. Let's review:
1 tbsp salt : 2 cups of water
This ratio is important because you need just enough salt to kill any "bad" bacteria present in whatever you ferment but not enough salt to kill the "good" bacteria that makes this whole process possible.
Then top off your jar with the salt-water brine. The idea here is you want to submerge everything in the jar under the brine. But be prepared, it will want to float:
You'll need to add a weight to keep the top of the contents under the brine. If they are left exposed to air then it can spoil and ruin your entire batch. Don't use anything metal as a weight. During the fermentation process the brine will become increasingly acidic and it would take on a metallic flavour in your hot sauce. Avoid using wood either as it's porous and can also spoil. Glass, ceramic or pyrex will work best. I like to use a little ramekin that I fill with brine at the top and that works very well.
I haven't tried it personally but I've read that you can fill a sealable, plastic bag with water and use that in a pinch. If you're really picky, you can even buy fermentation weights online.
Screw the lid on but not airtight. Leave it a little loose but so that no dust or anything can get in.
Voilà! You have your very own batch of hot sauce fermenting!
Keep your jar somewhere out of direct light and at room temperature. Place it on a disposable towel or in a bowl and replace as necessary. As it ferments, tiny bubbles of Co2 gas will develop in the jar. Enough gas in the jar will create pressure. This is why we leave the lid just a little loose. If needed, the gas can push excess brine up through the lid and it will run down the sides and makes a mess (unless you're prepared with a disposable towel or a bowl).
Even with that precaution, you'll still need to unscrew the lid completely to expel all built up gas once or twice a day (although probably not necessary on the very first day). This process is called "burping" and it's important because if you don't, enough gas could build up to break the jar, cause a big mess and ruin your project. So don't skip this step.
At first it will smell fresh and kinda salad-y. After the first couple of days, anything naturally green will dull into a greyer shade. The brine will start to get cloudy (that's totally normal and harmless). The flavour will start to get more sour and this will reflect in the aroma.
You may even see some harmless yeast growth in the brine. So long as your contents are kept submerged under the brine and nothing is poking out, exposed to air, you shouldn't have any mold concerns. Mold tends to be fuzzy, a distinct colour and raised. If you see a whitish film develop on top or inside the brine, that's kahm yeast and it's totally harmless. Sometimes, but not always, garlic will start to turn kind of teal or blue. That happened in this example so you can see. It may seem alarming at first, but once again, that's harmless and natural. I'm not sure how to explain it and haven't had the easiest time looking it up myself. But don't worry if that happens to your batch too. It's all good!
After about Day 10 the Co2 production may start to slow down and you may not have to "burp" the jar as much. This is a good sign that your ferment is almost ready. At that phase the aroma will start to give you an idea of what flavour your sauce will have. There will be so much more flavour than you started out with!