Not that crazy “it’s so hot it has to be stored in a liquid nitrogen cylinder” stuff, but the spicy, complex kind that delivers a wave of interesting flavors as well as heat. For me, fermented hot sauces are the best at delivering that combination.
Fermented hot sauce, like yogurt, sourdough bread, Kosher pickles and other fermented foods, gets its unique flavor from a naturally occuring microorganism called lactobacillus. These little critters consume sugar and convert it to lactic acid which both helps preserve the food and creates unique flavors. Based on the type of pepper, the variety of lactobacillus in your surrounds, and the temperature and length of fermentation, you can make sauces that range anywhere in flavor from hot pineapple and vanilla to tangy curry and lemon grass.
Every year I make a batch of fermented hot sauce that takes nearly six months, but you can actually produce a pretty dang good batch in just a week. Even over a period that short, the fermentation process will convert the sugars in the peppers into new flavors and aromas you just don’t get with fresh sauces.
If you haven’t ever tried making your own, you definitely should. Here’s my basic and advanced recipes:
These are simple lacto-fermentation recipes using brine. Basically we want a brine salty enough to prevent bad bacteria from taking up residence, but not so salty it prevents the lactobacillus from fermenting the sugars in the peppers.
The proper proportion of salt to water is ½ tablespoon salt for every 1 cup water.
The water should be filtered, not tap, and salt should be iodine free to prevent off flavors or colors. Just remember to keep to those proportions you can scale to larger batches with no problem.
Basic Fermented Hot Sauce Easy, 15 minutes prep, 7 days ferment, makes about 1-½ pints of hot sauce
1 pint ripe hot peppers chopped or sliced (I like the cayenne varieties)
1 pint filtered room temperature water
1 tablespoon (non-iodized) salt
Make the brine by mixing the water and salt until the salt is dissolved
Place the hot peppers in an empty quart-sized jar
Add the brine to the jar and stir to remove air pockets
Cover the jar loosely and put in a cool place out of sunlight
Stir every so often to prevent white mold from forming on the surface (if it does appear, just scrape it off with a spoon)
In a few days the mixture should become cloudy and the pepper mixture should have a slightly sour aroma (this is the lacto doing its work).
On the 7th day of fermenting, pour your pepper mixture into a blender (or use a stick blender) and puree the mixture until smooth.
Transfer the sauce to clean bottles and cap.
The hot sauce is ready for use.
Because we haven’t stopped the fermentation by heating the sauce or adding a stabilizer like vinegar, this hot sauce will continue to ferment (though more slowly) in the bottle, gradually mellowing the sharp notes and changing the heat profile.
As long as you don’t open the bottle it should keep just fine at room temperature for several months. Once you do open the bottle, just keep it refrigerated.
Long Ferment Hot Sauce Easy, 3-6 months ferment, makes about 1 gallon of hot sauce
I make one batch of this hot sauce every year. I start it in mid-September and finish in mid-March which provides an extended period of fresh pepper additions followed by a long, slow fermentation period over the winter.
Because of the long fermentation, the heat profile on this moves it from an upfront peppery hit, to a lower, slower build with lots of spice, grass and vanilla flavors followed by a smooth, hot finish that really sets the sauce apart from others.
I use my favorite hot pepper (an accidental cayenne/thai cross from 20 years ago), picked fresh from the garden, but you can use whatever variety or varieties of hot peppers you like most.
Ripe hot peppers (you’re going to add about 4-6 ounces each week)
Week 1: Place a handful (4-8 ounces) of whole peppers in a large, non-reactive container (I use a 1 gallon pickle jar). Add enough brine mixture (water and salt at the 1 cup to ½-tablespoon ratio) to cover your peppers. Cover the container loosely and place in a cool dark place.
Week 2: Scrape off any white mold that has formed on the surface and stir the mixture. Add a handful of fresh whole peppers and enough new brine to fully submerge the peppers. If the peppers float, use pickling weights (or a zipper baggy filled with water) to keep them submerged. Again, cover loosely and return the container to a cool dark place.
Week 3: Repeat the steps in week 2, but add two whole cloves of garlic as well.
Week 4: Repeat the steps in week 2. If it’s fermenting well, the mixture should be cloudy and yellowish.
Four weeks of fresh pepper additions has fermentation going well
Week 5-11: Repeat steps in week 2 for as long as you have fresh peppers to add. Cold weather usually kills mine off in late Autumn, so I can add fresh peppers until mid-December. If your season is shorter, just skip to the next step (week 12).
Week 12: Scrape any mold from the surface of the pepper mixture and stir thoroughly. Add your two hardwood staves to the mixture, making sure they’re fully submerged. Return to the cool, dark place.
Toasted oak ready to be added to the pepper mixture
Hot Pepper sauce with oak wood added and ready to return to aging.
Week 13-24: Now we’re just going to let the mixture continue to ferment and age. Each week take the mixture out, scrape off any mold and stir before returning to the cool, dark place.
Week 24: Let’s bottle!
Pour your pepper mixture into a large bowl or pot.
Fermented Peppers in the pot (click to watch)
Remove the hardwood staves from your pepper mixture and use blender to puree it into a semi-smooth sauce.
Using a stick blender to puree the peppers
Place a colander on a large, non-aluminum, pot and pour the pepper slurry through the colander to filter out the seeds, stems, and pepper pulp.
Straining the pepper pulp and seeds through a colander
Pepper pulp after straining through a colander
Add 1 cup of white vinegar to the pot of sauce and slowly heat and stir it until it begins to boil. Reduce the heat and allow the sauce to simmer for 10 minutes (we’re stabilizing the sauce so it stop fermenting).
Allow the bottles of hot sauce to cool, then place them in a cool dark place to rest for a couple more days before enjoying.
Batch 19 of Sage’s Fermented Hot Sauce
Because this hot sauce has been stabilized, it will keep for months (possibly years) at room temperature even after the bottle has been opened—no need to refrigerate to prevent fermentation from starting again.
From the beginning
Check out these posts for the progress on the hot pepper sauce beginning with its start back in September 2019.
I’m just a guy with nearly an acre of dirt, a nice little mid-century ranch house and a near-perfect climate. But in my mind I’m a landscaper survivalist craftsman chef naturalist with a barbeque the size of a VW and my own cable TV show. I like to write about the stuff I build, grow and see here at Sage's Acre.