Everyone is familiar with the famous hot sauce of Louisiana. Hint, the name starts with the letter “T” and ands in “basco”. I was always intrigued with the idea of making a fermented hot sauce, but toning down the vinegar content to highlight the fermented character of the sauce. I also like a bit of garlic, so I wanted that in my sauce. Last, I wanted to bring more heat!
I ran quite a few experiments on this over the years, and got the recipe and process pretty dialed in. I make about two gallons of this sauce per year, and that is enough for our home use and to give some away as gifts. I bottle my sauces in glass woozy bottles and add labels and shrink bands so they really look nice as gifts.
Back in 2010 when the Washington Post did its feature on me, their photographer got a nice shot of my sauces. One of those was my “Wacky T#######” sauce. The photo was right there on the front page of the Food Section. A few weeks later, I got a rather testy call from Avery Island, from the CEO of the company, insisting that I change my label. Well, while I was on safe legal ground, I felt it was best to make nice with a billionaire with endless resources to make my life miserable. With my conversation with him fresh in mind, I relented and changed the sauce to “Crazy Cajun Hifallootin’ Hot Sauce.”
|Photo from Washington Post
In the end, we made up, and all is well. I respect their brand, of course, and I understand their concern even though I am small potatoes.
I grow a lot of chiles in my garden. The basis of this sauce is serrano chiles, and heat is provided by red Scotch Bonnets, Red Savina Habaneros, and a few red Bhut Jolokia. You can mix the peppers to suit your own tastes. I once made a batch way too hot, so I started another crock with red bell peppers to ameliorate the heat.
My “Yucatan Firestorm” sauce pictured above is made with a similar process, but includes carrots and onions and is finished with a touch of lime juice.
As chiles start to ripen and turn red in my garden, I harvest them and store in the freezer until I have enough to mince. Later in the season, weekly harvests easily produce several gallons of red, ripe chiles.
I get the fermentation going with 1-2 gallons of red chiles. I stem them and mince in a food processor, scoop them in a bowl, and then add 2 tsp coarse sea salt to each gallon of whole peppers. Put the salted minced chiles in the fermentation crock (I use a 10L Harsch crock), lay a sheet of plastic wrap over the top of the salted chiles, and then lay the weights that came with the crock on top of the plastic. The next “feeding of the crock, I add 2-3 large heads of garlic into the minced content. Repeat with more peppers and more garlic until the crock is full. Once the crock is near the top, you no longer need to use the weights. Don’t fill all the way to the top since the contents do expand a bit as they ferment. Keep the lid on the crock, and keep the water channel filled and fresh. I keep the crock on my kitchen counter, but keep it on a towel in case it bubbles over or seeps out the bottom. Change the towel if it gets soiled. Resist the urge to open the crock, but since it is pretty much topped up, there is very little air space.
After at least two months, the fermentation is done. I scoop the contents out and process in batches through a spiral strainer or food mill to remove seeds and skins. I run the pulp through the mill twice to get all of the goodness out of it.
I collect the sauce in a large stainless stock pot, and emulsify it with a large stick blender. Taste and adjust the flavor with a small amount of good apple cider vinegar, and more salt if you think it needs it. At this point, I used a two gallon mason jar to do a bit of bulk aging.
The sauce may stratify a bit. If this happens, I draw off the clear “elixir” from the top of the jar using a turkey baster. I add this elixir to my NC barbecue sauce or to pots of beans, etc. It adds a delicious fermented note to any dish. The remaining sauce, uniformly red, is bottled with a turkey baster into sterilized 10-12 ounce woozy bottles. I use an orifice reducer on the bottles to allow folks to shake out just like the “brand name” folks. If the sauce separates in the bottle, just shake it up, or pour off the elixir and use as above.