Fiery Enough for You? Introducing the “Frankensauce”
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:
- Wash, stem and finely dice 100 grams (about 3-1/2 ounces) of your favorite chiles (fresh, not dried). Remove the seeds for a milder sauce. For the batch pictured here, I used eight ghost peppers. Ghost peppers (bhut jolokia) are one of the hottest peppers in the world, so if you prefer a mild sauce, start with red jalapeños or serrano chiles. (Always remember to wear kitchen gloves before handling hot chiles.)
- Drop into a sterilized wide-mouth pint (2-cup) Mason jar, and add non-iodized kosher salt or sea salt (iodine interferes with fermentation), anywhere from a healthy pinch to a teaspoon or more, depending on your tastes. Salt not only adds flavor, but draws liquid out of the chiles and inhibits the growth of mold.
- Mix well with a sterilized spoon. Cover the mouth of the jar with two layers of cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band. Leave undisturbed in a warm dark place for 24 hours.
- The next day, you’ll see that the salt has drawn out liquid from the chiles, but probably not enough to submerge them completely. So you’ll need to supplement the liquid by adding enough saline solution to cover the chiles, preferably a solution that is 5 percent salt and 95 percent distilled water or spring water by weight. (Other liquids—see below—can be substituted for the salt water.)
- Keep the chiles moist. The salt will inhibit—but not completely prevent—the growth of mold, so stir the chiles twice daily. I make this part of my morning and bedtime routines.
- After a week of fermentation, puree the contents of the jar. You can use an immersion blender directly in the Mason jar, pour the hot sauce into a blender jar or food processor bowl, or go old school with a molcajete.
- When you’re happy with the flavor, you can leave the sauce as is (what’s sometimes called a pepper mash) or remove the solids and thin the texture by putting it through a strainer, chinois, or food mill. Transfer the liquid to a small lidded sterilized container. The remaining solids can be dehydrated in a food dehydrator, and once dried, ground to a powder for tangy homemade chili powder.
- Taste! It’s probably already good to go, but will continue to ferment. So…
- Put the cheesecloth back on, and go back to your twice-a-day stirrings. In somewhere between 2 and 6 weeks, all of the sugars will have fermented, at which point you’ll want to refrigerate the 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