If you’ve spent any time on this website (or just hanging around the grill), you’ll know the deep reverence for and alarmingly heavy-handedness we grilling fanatics have with hot sauce.
Bottled hot sauce is good. Homemade hot sauce is better. But when you introduce fermentation to hot sauce (you know, the process that transforms cabbage into sauerkraut and fresh sausage into salami), you produce a hot sauce with complex umami flavors—a condiment worthy of your best grilling.
Which brings me to Chicago barbecue fanatic Lou Bank. I met Lou at a book signing for Man Made Meals at the Old Crow Smokehouse near Wrigley Field. Lou was, er, ablaze with excitement about a new hot sauce he recently concocted that owes its intense complex flavor to fermentation of the pureed chiles. Yes, that’s the same process used by the McIlhenny family to make Tabasco sauce, and by Thais to make the uber popular sriracha.
So I asked Lou to write a guest blog post on home-fermented hot sauces for BarbecueBible.com.
Incidentally, here’s how Lou, a writer, activist, and marketing expert, describes his path to barbecue and hot sauce enlightenment:
“As a teenager, I learned to love barbecue by ordering through bulletproof glass on the South Side of Chicago. In my forties, I finally learned to cook barbecue by reading Steven Raichlen’s Barbecue! Bible.”
And now, that blog post.
If you like heat, keeping a variety of store-bought hot sauces on hand is probably enough for you. But if you love heat—if that burst of sweat on your head brings a grimace of pleasure to your face—then you won’t be satisfied until you make your own. And there’s no satisfaction as great as fermenting your own hot sauce.
When you ferment a hot sauce, you’re basically converting the sugars of the chiles into alcohol, which then converts into acetic acid—vinegar. Like Gene Wilder in the movie Young Frankenstein, you’ll scream, “It’s alive! It’s alive! It’s alive!” when you witness the first sign of bubbles in your blazing brew. And when you taste it, you’ll be amazed by the depth of flavor—unlike anything you can purchase commercially.
Here’s a simple way to start fermenting your own hot sauce:
After you’ve made your first basic hot sauce, you’re going to want to play around with it. Remember, your basic process is converting sugar to alcohol to vinegar. So adding chopped fruits to the chiles is a natural combination. I particularly like pineapple and plum, because they ferment like crazy! Throwing garlic in will make you realize why so many people love that stuff with the red rooster on the front (Thai hot sauce, sriracha). And using wine, rum, mezcal, apple cider, carrot juice, or some other alcohol or fruit juice in place of saline solution in that fourth step will add yet another layer of flavor to your Frankensauce. You can also add an airlock jar lid or weight the chiles down beneath the liquid level to instigate an anaerobic, lactic fermentation. Play with it and have fun!
Clear Glass Hot Sauce Dasher Bottles