Some dear friends of mine have an absolutely beautiful garden, which is bursting with tomatoes, chili peppers and gorgeous flowers (the marigolds seriously glow), not to mention they are beekeepers!!! I'm lucky to have such people in my life, especially when I can leave their kind company with a few pounds of fresh cayenne peppers and a jar of honey. Yes, I am fortunate. The great thing about gifts of surplus garden bounty is that I can stretch my preserving muscles and try something new! The honey went towards a new batch of my Homemade Cozy Granola, with raisins and pecans this time. The cayenne peppers went into a homemade hot chili sauce, which is rocking my world right now.
The sauce is actually still in the fermenting process, and I taste test it everyday to see what's going on--let me tell you, it is astounding! Every day the flavor gets deeper and deeper, and in about four days I will be blending and straining the final product to enjoy over fried eggs with velvety gold yolks, a steaming bowl of creamy grits, cornmeal crusted fried fish, okra, hash browns, basically anything that can go on a plate hot with a spicy bloody mary, I'm putting this hot sauce on. The process couldn't be made any simpler either, which brings me to another point...
Homemade condiments are simple because they generally require few ingredients. However what happens to those ingredients over time either in fermentation, reduction, slow roasting, or slow simmering on the stove creates concentrated and complex versions of the familiar fresh ingredients. To me, this is one of the most rewarding and awe-inspiring experiments in the kitchen. So along with making your own refrigerator jams, chutneys, and granola, I highly recommend you try out this homemade hot chili sauce as a start on your adventures from-scratch. You'll discover a wider range of tastes for your palate, and you will be consuming far fewer processed foods based on preservatives with complicated names (that's a complexity you don't want).
Hot Chili Sauce
20-30 Cayenne or tabasco peppers, washed and stemmed
2 T Kosher or sea salt
1 1/2 C Vinegar (use whatever you have on hand)
Yeah, that's seriously it on the ingredients list, and it makes one helluva kickin' sauce. The magical transformation comes in the fermentation process, first with the salt and peppers, and then with the vinegar added. This trilogy of seemingly everyday ingredients turns into a sauce that has as many purposes as the beloved ketchup...as long as you're brave enough to attempt it.
Step one: Wash the peppers and stem them. You may want to consider putting on gloves for this because the heat from the peppers can get under your fingernails, which becomes a little difficult to clean off immediately...then you touch your eyes or your nose or anything on your face, and let me tell you, it can be a little uncomfortable. If you don't have gloves around be careful not to touch the seeds or the juices coming from the peppers and wash your hands frequently throughout your de-stemming process--and keep telling yourself, "Don't touch my face, don't touch my face" you'll be alright. You can also choose to remove some of the seeds to take down the heat a little bit, they will be strained out later, but this is where the heat mostly resides, so logically less seeds=less heat. It's still going to be hot not matter how many seeds you take out, but it may temper it just enough.
Step two: Put the peppers in a food processor and pulse until you have tiny flecks of pepper in a dry puree. You can choose to process it with the salt in there, but something tells me that's not too great on the blade, so I just stirred in the salt afterwards...it's the same thing. Place the salt and peppers into a mason jar or the airtight container that you eventually want to store your hot chili sauce in. Allow the salt and peppers to ferment for about 12 hours with a lid loosely placed on top.
Step three: Stir in the vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar this time) and practice some patience. This waiting game isn't that bad because you get to try the result every day and really see the depths that these ruby reds can take you. I myself love to see the evolution of food from fresh to end product, so taking care of a hot chili sauce baby is my cup of tea. Give it a stir and taste test every day up to seven days and follow the depths of flavor, see if you can detect the fruit notes that the pepper sans heat has hidden inside. Then, you should blend the three-ingredient mixture in a blender or food processor and strain it with a mesh strainer.
The result? A homemade hot chili sauce that will keep in the refrigerator up to six months! It probably won't last that long if you treat it right (aka eating it on everything), but it is a great way to preserve those glorious peppers through the cold months and into barbecue season once again. The sauce is likely to separate, just like the brand-name sauces do, so give it a healthy shake every time you use it and you're sure to be just as pleased...well, more pleased because you made it!
Also, you could use the strained pepper bits after they leave your sauce. Simply dry them out or store them in a separate container in the fridge and sprinkle them over pizzas, chili, curries, or whatever you use pepper flakes for! Hooray for not letting anything go to waste!
Hope everyone has a safe and fun Halloween!
One of my favorite Halloween reads is The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allen Poe