Fermented Hot Sauce 

Fermented Hot Sauce 

After starting with this basic recipe, you can change the pepper varieties and other ingredients to stock your fridge with a wide array of hot sauces.

3.2 oz. (90 g) chili peppers 
1⁄2 Tbsp. sea salt
1⁄2 Tbsp. honey
Splash of apple cider vinegar

Step by step
While most hot sauces sitting on grocery store shelves these days are vinegar-based, fermented hot sauces are actually a lot more common than you may think. Fermented condiments in general have been around for a very long time, probably as long as any fermented food. Even today, a few popular brands like Tobasco and styles like sriracha are still made using fermentation, rather than vinegar. While vinegar hot sauces can be bright and punchy, fermented hot sauces unsurprisingly tend to play up the funk and complexity.

Fermented hot sauce may be my favorite ferment to make at home, simply because of how versatile and forgiving it is. Both managing fermentation and winging a recipe on the fly are simple tasks, and the resulting flavors can be unlike anything you’ll find in the average store. Even better, fermented hot sauce lasts a long, long time — I’ve had half-empty bottles that stayed vibrant and flavorful for years. 

The recipe given here is bare bones, because as with most fermented foods, you can modify the recipe to push it in just about any direction you want. For a first attempt, however, I recommend a mix of habanero and serrano peppers. Not only are these readily available in almost all grocery stores, they’re easy to find fresh at farmers markets, and make for a hot sauce with good flavor and a moderate but manageable heat level. With any hot sauce, the heat can always be dialed down by blending in a bit of bell pepper (use whatever type of bell pepper best matches the color of the rest of your peppers). Peppers, like hops, are a lot of fun to mix and match, and testing out an obscure rare pepper variety on its own in a hot sauce can be every bit as satisfying as a single-hop IPA. 

As for the process, I like to keep things simple. Blend the peppers, salt, and honey until they are the consistency of salsa, then pour into your fermentation vessel. Top off with a splash of apple cider vinegar so that the liquid level is above the solid veggies. Allow two weeks to ferment, then blend again, to create a finer, more sauce-like consistency. Additional vinegar or salt brine can be added if the hot sauce is still too thick. A dash of extra salt can also ensure that the hot sauce keeps for a long time. At this point, you can pour the sauce back into the same vessel, or you can even transfer to hot sauce bottles at this stage. While the hot sauce should now be ready to consume, I usually prefer to age my hot sauces at room temperature for several months before I begin to use them. The flavor will continue to develop, and the heat mellows and integrates with the flavor of the sauce over time. For the first month of aging, however, be sure not to tighten the lid of the jar or bottles all the way. More CO2 will be released as the ferment continues to condition. 

Issue: September 2022