Fermented hot sauce, fiery and explosive with flavor, is fun to make in the late summer and early autumn when gardens and farmers markets are brimming with jalapenos, cayenne peppers, serranos and other chilies. Fermented hot sauces are easy to make, and don’t take much active time in the kitchen beyond tossing a few hot peppers into a jar, waiting, and then blending them up to make hot sauce.
Traditionally, all hot chili sauces were prepared through fermentation – and many of the world’s most renowned and well-loved sauces are still prepared through this time-honored technique of combining hot chilies with salt and allowing them to sit in vats and ferment. Both Tabasco sauce and sriracha are traditionally prepared through lactic acid fermentation, before they undergo further processing.
Fermentation is a magical and transformative culinary technique that not only helps to preserve foods that might otherwise spoil, but it also gives foods a complex and rich depth of flavor. It’s the beneficial bacteria that proliferate during the lengthy fermentation process that gives this hot sauce its unique and vibrant flavor.
Choosing Chili Peppers for Fermented Hot Sauce
Any hot pepper will work in this recipe for fermented hot sauce. The heat of the pepper will influence the heat level of the final sauce. Blending two or more pepper varieties adds nuance, flavor and can balance the heat of single varietal hot sauces. Choosing a single variety of chili pepper at uniform ripeness, and color, can be fun, too, because it will result in bright and vividly colored hot sauce.
Cayenne peppers work well, as do Scotch Bonnets, jalapenos, serranos, poblano, Fresno and cherry bomb peppers. If you need to temper the heat of the peppers, you can always add a few sweet peppers, like Bell peppers, to the jar, too.
Making Fermented Hot Sauce
To prepare a good fermented hot sauce, you need just three simple ingredients: chilies, salt and time; however, the addition of garlic provides the sauce with depth and balance. You can also add other flavorings including herbs, spices, ginger, onion, scallions or sugar, which can temper the heat of the sauce.
Chili peppers, like other vegetables, are prone to contamination by mold if they aren’t fermented under optimal conditions. You don’t want to spend the time and expense of fermenting hot sauce only to have it not turn out, so ferment the chilies in an airtight container.
Optimally, that container will allow the carbon dioxide that builds up during fermentation to escape without letting oxygen, which can foster the growth of mold, in. A mason jar with a tight airlocked lid is both optimal and affordable.
Keep in mind that chili peppers, like cucumbers, are prone to the formation of Kahm yeast, a benign yeast with a dusty white appearance. Kahm is often confused for mold, but, unlike mold, it never takes a fuzzy appearance and typically appears like a thin and dusty film on surface of the fermenting chilies. It also lacks any aroma, while mold will typically smell acrid. Keeping your ferments in a tightly sealed jar, fitted with an airlock, will help to prevent the formation of mold.
Storing your Fermented Hot Sauce
Fermented hot sauce is a living food. It is rich in food enzymes and in beneficial bacteria. Once you puree the chilies and bottle your sauce, it will continue to ferment. Storing your fermented hot sauce in the refrigerator will help slow down the fermentation process; alternatively, you can can the hot sauce and it will become shelf-stable, but any probiotics created during fermentation will be destroyed.
Fermented Hot Sauce
- 2 pounds fresh chilies
- 6 cloves garlic
- 3 tablespoons fine sea salt
- 4 cups warm water
- Remove the tops from the peppers, and split them in half lengthwise. Pack a quart-sized mason jar tightly with the peppers, leaving about 1-inch headspace. Drop in the cloves of garlic.
- Whisk the salt into the warm water until it dissolves. Pour the brine over the chiles and garlic.
- Place a weight over the chiles and garlic so they remain submerged beneath the brine. Seal the jar tightly with an airlocked lid, and allow the chiles to ferment at room temperature 2 to 3 weeks, or until they smell and taste pleasantly sour.
- Strain the brine and reserve it. Transfer the chiles to a high-speed blender. Add 1 cup of the reserved brine to the blender, and process until smooth. Strain the pulp through a fine-mesh sieve, and bottle.
- Use right away or store in the refrigerator up to 1 year.
In addition to garlic, you can also add, onion, lime, turmeric, ginger or other herbs and spices.