Festival of Chili Peppers – Homemade Hot Sauce, Pickled Jalapenos, and Sriracha

Emboldened by last year’s success turning a couple of pounds of ripe peppers into homemade hot sauce, this year I told my farmer I wanted about 50 pounds. Took delivery of about 15 pounds last weekend and took some time to turn them into something.

With four cords of wood to stack and a gouty, painful big toe that refused to respond to colchicine, I said screw it and spent last Saturday making hot sauces. I made several: the mash for a Crystal-style hot sauce, some pickled jalapenos, and then two kinds of Sriracha sauce. This last was the clear winner of the day.

First off was mash for more hot sauce. Three pounds of red cayenne, 6 TBS white Trapani sea salt, and 6 cups of white vinegar. Peppers chopped (wearing dishwashing gloves—I’ve been there before) and the whole simmered outside for 15 minutes. (Outside because I’ve also been there before–hot vinegar pepper fumes can substitute for mace in a pinch.) Anyway, those got pureed and stored in clean canning jars in the fridge to mellow for a couple of weeks until I strain the mash and add more hot vinegar. I did this before and interestingly, the sauce lost potency as it aged. Still, I am committed to a hot sauce. I had planned to add a couple of habaneros to the mix, but this batch I wanted pure.

I did the same thing for a red jalapeno and serrano mix. These peppers are heavier and you could probably get away with 5 cups of vinegar. Since I’m going to add more vinegar later anyway so I let it go. I’m interested in the differences in the sauces to see whether I can taste anything. I didn’t taste them at this stage, interestingly enough. The day was pretty hot pepper heavy.

Next, I took 2 lbs of green jalapenos, sliced into rings. Those went into pint canning jars with some slices of carrot (love the hot pickled carrots). I end up with 5 jars, but after adding the hot vinegar/salt mix, I only had enough liquid for four. I processed the jars—my first hot water bath canning—and, several burns and a dropped jar later (slipped out of useless canning tongs; what a mess.) I had 3 pints of pickled jalapenos, the lid of each having popped satisfactorily while it cooled. They did have fruit float, however, the slices floating in the liquid leaving about a half inch of liquid at the bottom. Where did all that space come from? I couldn’t pack anything more into those jars.

According to Put ‘em Up, which I’ve been using as my canning guide, fruit float is only an esthetic problem. Vinton recommends turning the jars over every couple of days to keep the slices immersed in liquid. Next time, and there will be a next time, the slices get packed a lot tighter.

By now, I had a bowl of green, semi-red, and odd half-peppers that I needed to do something with. Sriracha lept to mind so I checked the Internet for some recipes. I already had one, which called for dried red peppers, garlic and sugar, steeped in vinegar and then blended. An interesting winter sauce that I hadn’t gotten around to making, but I needed something for fresh peppers. Turns out the best recipe that I found was from vietworldkitchen.com. Andrea Nguyen commented on her experiences using the recipes in Robert Dahni’s Southeast Asian Flavors. I’d met Dahni at a conference and bought his book, intending to use it as a reference for Thai and Vietnamese dishes. I hadn’t noticed the hot sauce recipes. So things come full circle.

Dahni has two versions, a “quick” and a fermented. Since last year’s fermented Tabasco-style sauce was a failure (tho not as bad as I thought—more on that later), the fermented caught my eye. I tried both.

The quick sauce was similar to the mash: ¾ lb chopped peppers, 2 garlic cloves, 1 TBS palm sugar, ¾ tsp salt, and 1 cup water (Nguyen recommended half that and she was right) and some fish sauce. My wife does not like fish sauce, and as Nguyen pointed out, none of the commercial Srirachas list it as an ingredient. She and I both left it out. Simmer for 5 minutes, add ¼ cup vinegar, and blend. Lacking palm sugar or light brown sugar or even maple syrup (my local sweet preference), I used plain white. You push the finished sauce through a strainer to remove the seeds and skins for a beautiful smooth sauce.

The sauce was hot, a little too watery for my taste, and, because I used both green and red, the color was a little olive drab—not good for company, but fine for the family. It had had a good pepper-garlic taste with some nice back-of-the throat heat.

However, that one taste shot me back to my grandmother’s kitchen. Romanian-born, she used to simmer eggplant, green peppers, celery, onion, and garlic in a vinegar and water mix. She called it shulutah, which she said meant salad in Romanian. She’d keep a mayonnaise jar in the fridge from which my sister and brother and I would spoon it directly. My mother, a good cook in her own right, never learned to make shulutah. The pepper-garlic taste cried out shulutah, but of course with that hot pepper heat that grandma never used. (Horseradish was her hot seasoning of choice.)

I used an all red serrano/jalapeno mix for the fermented sauce. Essentially the same sauce as the quick, except that you grind the peppers, garlic, sugar, and salt and put them in a glass bowl, covered with saran wrap for three days. Dahni says to look for small bubbles which form in the mix (hence the glass bowl). Nguyen says to scrape any fuzzy mold that forms off the top. Since that is what happened to last year’s fermented hot sauce, I might have been a little too hasty in tossing the whole batch. After 3 days, simmer for five minutes with the vinegar and water, and push through a strainer.

The bubbles formed. No mold. The finished sauce is smoother and more complex than the quick and that great shulutah taste comes shining through with a good dose of hot pepper heat. Pictures of the finished sauces to follow–these got distributed to various family members too quickly.

I’ve got more peppers coming. Experiments will continue until the frost.

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