Getting an early start on a slow fermented hot sauce
The first pint of peppers to start off Batch 22 of my fermented hot sauce
Author’s Note: Every year since 2001, I’ve made a slow fermented hot sauce from a Cayenne/Thai-cross hot pepper we grow here. The hot sauce takes around six months to finish and, like wine and other fermented foods, each vintage is a little different from the other. Sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s bad, so I write these notes to track the progress and hope I learn how to produce more good than bad.
I made my first batch of lacto-fermented hot sauce in the year 2001 as a way of using up a bumper crop of Cayenne peppers. I made several types of hot sauce that year, but they were all pretty pedestrian red pepper flavored vinegar sauces. Hot and vinegary, but not much else.
The fermented batch on the other hand was a crazy delicious complex of flavors and aromas that changed from one thing up front to an entirely different one on the back. That was Batch 1. This year I’m starting Batch 22.
This is a slow fermentation so the hot sauce will take anywhere from four-to-six months to finish. Warm weather speeds it up, cool weather slows it down. I prefer the cool weather because I think the longer fermentation makes the flavors deeper and more varied. (The warm weather stuff is good too, just more abrupt and “in your face” IMO.)
As with last year, I’m using 100% Hidden Lake Hot, a Cayenne/Thai cross I’ve grown here forever. But, instead of harvesting the peppers from plants I seeded this year, I’m going to get them entirely from pepper plants in the ground since the Spring of 2020 and now on their third fruiting season.
These older peppers have grown shrubby and woody over the past couple of years, and their peppers aren’t as large as they were a couple years ago — they actually look more Thai than Cayenne now — but there’s a lot more of them.
I don’t know if that changes the flavor of the fruit, but I’m interested to find out. Maybe they’re like wine grapes and get more complex as they get older.
Fresh Peppers, Rest and Fermentation
The process usually kicks off in late August or early September, but these older plants had an early start out of the gate, so we’re starting in early August.
Each week I add a pint or two of fresh peppers to the fermenter and top off the brine until the peppers run out or it’s November (whichever comes first).
The first batch of peppers added to the brine to start fermentation
Once November rolls around, I add some toasted oak staves to the fermenter and move it in a cool corner of the garage to age over the winter.
By March of the following year, I’ve got several gallons of a unique and tasty sauce ready to bottle and consume.
Every batch turns out a little different, spicy — sometimes funky, sometimes grassy or sweet, sometimes hot up front and/or on the back — but always surprising and delicious.
Fingers crossed for Batch 22.