Southwestern Sriracha

Yes, I know, these days it’s sriracha “everything,” but stay with me here. This one goes back way before the current craze.

I used to have those bottles of the “Rooster Sauce” on hand at all times. When I really got into growing my own peppers, I made several attempts to replicate it at home. It’s really not that hard to make, and it’s delicious. It’s mainly just a fermented mash of minced peppers with salt like the mix that goes in the crock for my fermented Louisiana-style hot sauce.

I’ll leave out the details of one very early experiment from about 20 years ago where, in the interest of “extreme safety,” I decided to pressure can the sauce in small single use jars. The jars were intended for this purpose, and I thought these fancy hexagonal jars would make great gifts. The canning went late into the night, so on the last batch, I hurried the canner in de-pressurizing by running it under cool water. When the pressure seal popped, I removed the lid and started moving the jars to a rack to cool until morning. That’s where things went wrong. The quick change in temperature and pressure caused the thin-walled decorative jars to catastrophically fail. Glass and hot sauce showered the kitchen. I had quite the clean up to do, and fortunately only one small glass puncture in my hand. Enough of that.

I stopped pressure canning sauces and instead began to focus on making sauces shelf stable and able to be packaged in woozy bottles that I sterilize in boiling water before either filling with sufficiently heated sauce or sauce with very low acidity due to fermentation or addition of vinegar. Either way, the sauce has to have enough acid to make sure it will not spoil of ferment in the bottle and make hot sauce grenades.

Around that time, my homemade barbecue, The Porkulator, was new. I used it to smoke excess peppers at the end of the season. I call these peppers “Porkulated.” I decided that a hot sauce of half garlic and half smoked peppers was a good idea. I filled a jar halfway with garlic, topped it up with smoked, dried serrano chilies, covered with vinegar, added some salt, and stuck it in a sunny window for a few weeks to age. At the end of the aging process, I just blended the contents of the jar, and VoilĂ !

Over the years, I made some modifications to this basic sauce. I like a bit more heat, so I added some chocolate habanero or Scotch bonnet chilies. You have to cut them in half or puncture them so they will fill with the vinegar and not float. I also like some more savory seasoning to the sauce, so I added black pepper, Mexican oregano, and tomato powder. I make tomato powder by drying either small cherry tomatoes or the skins and residue from canning tomatoes and then grinding this to a powder in the blender.

To smoke the peppers (I prefer serranos for this, but you can use what you like), I just lay them out on a rack and stick them in the smoker. This works when I am cooking barbecue and the temperature is about 250F in there. I let the peppers get a thick layer of smoke over about 2 hours. I thin finish them in the dehydrator (you can do this in the oven, too.) Sometimes I put peppers in the smoker when I have it set up for cold smoking (e.g., when I am smoking bacon or cured sausages.). In this case the temperature is under 100F, and the peppers can be in there for a very long time, even overnight. Either way, finish them in the dehydrator or oven until they a fully dried.

For the sauce, I have been using a 2-gallon mason jar for this. Yes, two Gallons. Fill the jar with a gallon of peeled garlic cloves. Wash the garlic well in water, and remove any dark ends. Next, I add the chocolate Scotch bonnets or habaneros. Poke a hole in the side of each one and pull off the stems. Fill the jar the rest of the way with the smoked, dried peppers. Add 3T kosher or coarse sea salt, 6 cracked black pepper corns, 2T Mexican oregano (fresh if you have it), and 3T tomato powder (or tomato paste if you lack powder). Top the jar with good apple cider vinegar. Cover the top of the jar with plastic wrap, and then put the lid on. This type of jar does not make a tight seal, so the plastic minimizes any air getting in, but will allow gases to escape.

You’d think that this would not ferment in the jar because of the acidity of the vinegar, but the garlic takes advantage of the acid environment to ferment much like the garlic honey I posted about last year. For this reason, you need to leave about an inch of head space when filling the jar. You will see the bubbles rising from the garlic in a few days.

Let the jar sit on the kitchen counter, preferably in a sunny spot, for at least three weeks. You may need to open the jar once or twice to push the peppers down due the activity in the jar. This will keep the jar from overflowing. Set the jar on a dish just in case!

At the end of the waiting period, blend the sauce with a stick blender or in a conventional blender in batches. Add water and salt (if needed) to taste.

I use a polycarbonate turkey baster to fill woozy bottles that have been washed and then sanitized in boiling water. Top with sanitized caps.

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