Hello My Fermentation Friends,
Two weeks ago, Ham and I went wild buying all the peppers we could get our hands on. (Read about it here if you want to learn more about each variety.) We stemmed and roughly chopped each pepper, tossed them in 2 percent of their weight in salt, then vacuum sealed them in bags to ferment. After a week, the bags were bloated from all the happy lactic acid bacteria burps.
The combo of salt and a low-oxygen environment prevents harmful bacteria from growing while creating the ideal atmosphere for good lactic acid bacteria to thrive. Over the days, lactic acid bacteria broke down the peppers’ carbohydrates, transforming them into lactic acid and carbon dioxide. We knew the peppers were ready when they smelled sweet, fruity, and acidic. If it ever starts to smell like alcohol, the fermentation has gone too far.
Now let’s turn our tart and funky peppers into (hopefully) the best hot sauce of 2021!
First up, we blended each pepper variety with just enough white balsamic vinegar to get things smooth and saucy. White balsamic is the current vinegar VIP in our kitchen (sorry, apple cider vinegar). It’s made from Trebbiano grapes grown in the Modena region of Italy. It has a similar acidity to white wine vinegar while being less harsh, making it perfect for perking up our hot sauce.
Sugar Peach Rush Pepper Sauce: We thought this would be the mildest of the bunch and dove in spoon first. But oh boy, it’s surprisingly spicy and burns at the tip of your tongue. It has a fresh, bell peppery taste with an apricot/stonefruit finish.
Numex Suave Pepper Sauce: This one crept up on us, starting out sweet like mango (fooling me into a second spoonful) before stinging the back of our throats. Two sauces in, and my stomach is already bubbling up. The things we do for hot sauce.
Aji Rico Pepper Sauce: Thank god, this sauce is sweet. The bright color scared me, but it tastes like raisins and dried stone fruit—similar to guajillo but with more heat.
Birds Beak Pepper Sauce: I was scared of these little guys, which look a lot like mini, bulbous Thai chilies. Instead, this sauce has a deep savoriness, almost as if the pepper plants were watered with bone broth. It has an enjoyable lingering heat too.
(Not) Habanero Pepper Sauce: I don’t even know why we are tasting this. You know it’s hot, I know it’s hot. What is even happening anymore. As soon as we tasted it...we knew we had made a mistake. This sauce was super mild and flat after everything we’ve been through. Pretty sure we switched the Numex Suave with the Habanero. Look above for Habanero notes.
Fatalli Pepper Sauce: Really hot on the whole tongue. It’s so hot I feel it in my ears, my sinuses are clear, I hate it here. The heat never ends and instead keeps growing a raging fire on my tongue and throat. I had a whole bottle of drinkable yogurt, and Ham was rubbing ice on his tongue. This was a terrible idea.
THE FINAL BLEND
Okay, we took a minute to recover. The fatalli pepper sauce destroyed my body. I’m pretty sure months of taking probiotics have been wasted and I need to rebuild my stomach lining. Needless to say, we won’t be including the fatalli pepper sauce in our blend. I’ll save that one for my enemies.
Our final blend:
2 parts aji rico sauce—sweet and tastes like dried fruit
2 parts bird’s beak sauce—savory and mild
2 parts sugar peach rush sauce—fresh, tingling, stone fruit vibes
1 part (actual) habanero sauce—spicy mango situation
We blitzed it up with a few garlic cloves, more white balsamic vinegar, sugar, and salt to taste. A final buzz with a sprinkle of xanthan gum keeps the hot sauce emulsified and gives it a slather-able body. (Don't overdo it, xanthan tends to thicken as it sits.)
At the end of this journey, I do believe the stomach scars were worth it. We've made a perfectly balanced hot sauce. It's got an excellent lingering medium-level heat, offset with a subtle sweetness, and both fresh tropical and dried stone fruit aromatics. It's a truly unique blend that we'll probably never be able to replicate. There's something cool about saving this summer in a bottle and knowing that once it's gone, it's gone.
Now excuse me while I go eat some saltines and yogurt.