Have Fun, Save Money: Make Your Own Hot Sauce

You’ll be amazed how closely you can approximate one of the world’s tastiest hot sauces in your home kitchen.
By Roger Doiron
August/September 2011
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The original Tabasco sauce recipe calls for Tabasco peppers, but you can use any type of hot pepper you like. If you’re using homegrown peppers, chances are you won’t have them all ripening at the same time, but there’s no harm in throwing some green ones into the mix!
PHOTO: ROGER DOIRON
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You’ve no doubt seen the iconic bottles of Tabasco sauce at your favorite diner or greasy spoon. Tabasco is the brand name for a hot pepper sauce produced on Avery Island, La. Ever wondered how it’s made?

Although the recipe for the original sauce is top secret and, as legend has it, guarded by an army of 10,000 ravenous crayfish somewhere deep in the bayou, the ingredients list is surprisingly short: peppers, vinegar, salt. The one ingredient that doesn’t appear on the label but should is “time.” Tabasco sauce’s deep flavor comes from its three-year fermentation in white oak barrels. (Vegetable ferments are based on the science that the veggies contain benign microbes that will flourish under the right conditions, and suppress other microbes that cause spoilage.)

While reproducing the exact flavor of Tabasco sauce is difficult to do, you can approximate it in your kitchen using freshly picked hot peppers. The original recipe calls for Tabasco peppers (Capsicum frutescens var. tabasco), but you can use any type of hot pepper you like. I make mine using a jalapeño variety, which is milder on the official Scoville spiciness scale but more than hot enough for most palates.

How to Make Hot Sauce

Spicy peppers can be dangerous (think “pepper spray”). Take precautions to protect your skin, eyes and nasal passages from irritation. With super-hot peppers, you should definitely wear gloves and a mask.

Step 1: Pick Your Peppers 

To make a fermented hot sauce, you need to pull liquid from the peppers in the same way that liquids are extracted from cabbage to produce sauerkraut. This means starting with red-ripe peppers. The experts at Avery Island use a red stick (called a “baton rouge”) to gauge whether peppers have reached the right stage of red ripeness, but as an amateur sauce-maker, you can be more flexible. If you’re using homegrown peppers, chances are you won’t have them all ripening at the same time. There’s no harm in throwing some green ones into the mix. They may bring the spiciness and redness of the final product down a notch, but only enough to be noticed by a connoisseur. You can also use ripe peppers of other colors if you’d like.

Step 2: Make a Mash 

Chop off the stems, then grind peppers into a medium to fine mash with a food processor. Pour your pepper mash into a ceramic crock, or a glass or food-grade plastic container.

Step 3: Add Salt 

Salt does two important things: It helps extract water from peppers (think about what happens when you salt a cucumber) and enhances the peppers’ flavor. The ratio of mashed peppers to salt is not an exact science, but 30:1 — roughly 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt per cup of mashed peppers — should work. Mix in the salt and pack the mash down to the bottom of your container. As the water seeps out it should cover the mash and prevent it from being exposed to air, which is crucial to proper fermentation. If you’re not pulling out enough water to cover the mash, add some salted water.

Step 4: Allow the Mash to Ferment 

Let your mash ferment for at least a month to allow the flavor to become complex and interesting. Store your crock at room temperature and cover it with a towel to keep out dust. Check on it from time to time to make sure the liquid is covering the mash. After letting your mash ferment for 3 to 4 weeks, add white wine vinegar, to taste, and age for about another week to allow the flavors to blend.

Step 5: Strain the Mash 

Straining your sauce removes the seeds and gives it a smooth, pourable texture. Tabasco sauce is quite liquid, but I like my version with some pulp. If you don’t have a food mill or strainer, pour the mixture into a bowl lined with cheesecloth, twist it up into a ball and squeeze until the juice is extracted. (Wear gloves if using this method.)

Step 6: Bottle Your Sauce 

Your hot sauce should easily keep for several months, but it’ll be so good that I doubt it’ll last that long. Store it in the refrigerator or can it if you wish.

Step 7: Enjoy, and “Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler!” 


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Post a comment below.

 

rmarrs
10/18/2013 10:19:23 PM
OK, Here's what i did to pack the mash into a jar. You know those Chinese food plastic container lids?? They are food grade. Draw/scratch and cut the circumference to your jar mouth, with your kitchen scissors.... Don't be too perfect cause you still want the water to flow over the lid. Squeeze that lid into the jar(boil it if you want lid sterilized), over the mash. Now get a smaller bottle that will fit thru the jar mouth and fill it with water (for weight (i did this for 1 cup of mash). I had a big empty worcestershire bottle around (again, Sterilize) . This worked well with a Quart pickling jar... I'm still waiting for the final product. So, wish me luck... lol

RUSSELL PAGE
12/31/2012 11:16:19 AM
Hi folks, I know this is an old thread but pour a layer of oil (1/2 inch +/-) on top then set it and forget it. This keeps the floating mash essentially submerged, keeps air out and stops evaporation. Use 6% (by weight) salt. If you go over 10% it might not work.

Regina Smith
9/3/2012 3:08:13 PM
I use a french press coffee make to keep the mash under the water.

EDWARD ALLEN II
7/24/2012 1:50:01 AM
Alright guys, I see everyone is kinda new to lacto-fermented vegetables. I would highly recommend checking out the book, Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods. The idea is to keep everything under the surface. If it's under the surface, it's protected by the live anaerobic bacteria culture and lactic acid they produce. There may be a scum that forms on top, but that's normal. Just skim the surface whenever you want to taste test, and when you've let it ferment to your liking, just skim the surface along with anything floating above the surface that looks suspect and discard to the compost pile. I make green hot sauce with jalapeno's but I don't add any vinegar, just put it in the fridge to slow the fermentation down. The live culture and lactic acid keep it from "going bad". I say it that way because fermented stuff has already "gone bad". It's "rotten", but rotten in a very specific way that makes it very healthy. The bacteria also help "pre-digest" the vegetables and make more vitamins and minerals available for uptake in our digestive systems. I would just suggest to do what I do. I chop the peppers up into small chunks instead of a mash, because chunks are easier to contain under the surface. After fermentation, skim the surface and strain out the peppers while saving the liquid, THEN grind or puree them, then add back liquid until you get the consistency you want. That liquid you have left is a powerful probiotic, and can be used as a "mother" to start other batches of lacto-fermented stuff. Our favorites around here are traditional sauerkraut, kimchi and dilly carrot sticks. Good luck and try experimenting! As long as it stays under the surface, it's safe!

Marc Hutton
10/4/2011 5:23:10 PM
Saw the same issue. I increased the amount of brine which seems to have taken care of it. I have had the formation of the film as well. I sure a couple were mold which I removed but you also need to remember this is a brine so as the solution evaporated it shouldn't be a surprise if a salt film forms especially on the surface of a bit of pepper floating on the top of the surface..

David MacMahon
9/14/2011 12:17:34 AM
I tried a batch with Anaheim's and one with Aji Dulce's. I was able to keep the mash submerged in wide mouth Mason jars by squeezing a screened lid inside. But, both developed a white film on top of the water. Anyone else get that or know what it is. I'm assuming both batches will be getting dumped. Other recipes I've seen just suggest throwing peppers in vinegar from the get go.

Darnell Thomas
9/7/2011 4:45:10 PM
How to Make Hot Sauce? Testing on Mac (safari 5.05)

Heather Reedy
9/5/2011 12:23:47 PM
I had the above issue as everyone else, the mash floating above the brine. I made mine Saturday and it is now Monday. I skimmed the very tiny layer that had been "air-touched" off the top. It still smells "Peppery" not "Sour" as has been described here. I think in any case, default on the side of not giving yourself food poisoning and start again if you don't feel comfortable. I got some cheese cloth and tucked it inside the jar, then weighted it down with rocks from my yard. For the top, I rubber-banded thick cheese cloth ("A Towel") over it. We'll see...

Heather Reedy
9/5/2011 9:21:44 AM
I had the above issue as everyone else, the mash floating above the brine. I made mine Saturday and it is now Monday. I skimmed the very tiny layer that had been "air-touched" off the top. It still smells "Peppery" not "Sour" as has been described here. I think in any case, default on the side of not giving yourself food poisoning and start again if you don't feel comfortable. I got some cheese cloth and tucked it inside the jar, then weighted it down with rocks from my yard. For the top, I rubber-banded thick cheese cloth ("A Towel") over it. We'll see...

Heather Reedy
9/5/2011 9:05:17 AM
I had the above issue as everyone else, the mash floating above the brine. I made mine Saturday and it is now Monday. I skimmed the very tiny layer that had been "air-touched" off the top. It still smells "Peppery" not "Sour" as has been described here. I think in any case, default on the side of not giving yourself food poisoning and start again if you don't feel comfortable. I got some cheese cloth and tucked it inside the jar, then weighted it down with rocks from my yard. For the top, I rubber-banded thick cheese cloth ("A Towel") over it. We'll see...

Heather Reedy
9/5/2011 9:02:20 AM
I had the above issue as everyone else, the mash floating above the brine. I made mine Saturday and it is now Monday. I skimmed the very tiny layer that had been "air-touched" off the top. It still smells "Peppery" not "Sour" as has been described here. I think in any case, default on the side of not giving yourself food poisoning and start again if you don't feel comfortable. I got some cheese cloth and tucked it inside the jar, then weighted it down with rocks from my yard. For the top, I rubber-banded thick cheese cloth ("A Towel") over it. We'll see...

Heather Reedy
9/5/2011 9:02:12 AM
I had the above issue as everyone else, the mash floating above the brine. I made mine Saturday and it is now Monday. I skimmed the very tiny layer that had been "air-touched" off the top. It still smells "Peppery" not "Sour" as has been described here. I think in any case, default on the side of not giving yourself food poisoning and start again if you don't feel comfortable. I got some cheese cloth and tucked it inside the jar, then weighted it down with rocks from my yard. For the top, I rubber-banded thick cheese cloth ("A Towel") over it. We'll see...

kristy hicks
9/3/2011 9:48:24 AM
i used serrano peppers. i have moved my mash into a casserole and covered it with a plate. i hope this works. my mash was beginning to smell a little sour.... is it too late?

Nate
9/2/2011 12:20:30 AM
Thanks for these instructions. After many years of dehydrating hot peppers for a nice shaker, I hoped this might help so I dont have to buy vinegar based hot sauce, with the added bonus of the local peppers. I started my mash on Wednesday August 30 after going picking at my favorite farm. I have one mash of red ripe jalepanos, one of green ripe poblanos and one of cherry bomb. I used 2 pyrex bowls and one small casserole dish. Total amounts were about 2 cups of the jalepanos, 2 cups of poblano and 1 cup of cherry bomb. First I snapped/cut the tops off the peppers, then threw them in my hand food processor. A minute later, they were mash and I added salt at roughly 30:1. All of the peppers proved to have enough liquid to cover, but as other posters have said the mash went to the top, exposing some of the mash to the air. I just left it and covered, now I am really glad that I read these comments so I can hopefully save them before souring. I will try the suggestion of having something push the mash below the liquid, though Im not really sure where to look aside from plates (mine are not the right size). If I can recall, I will post a follow up in a few weeks.

MICHAEL LONGO
9/1/2011 10:30:35 AM
What kind of peppers are you all using? I have a bunch of habaneros, but they will be way too hot, right? Was thinking 20% Habenero with 80% Jalepeno? Roughly how many peppers - again about 1/5 cups? Thanks!

kristy hicks
8/31/2011 1:41:45 PM
my pepper mash is in a mason jar. not big enough for a plate to cover the mash. i will add more water/salt as to cover the mash. should i put a lid on the jar or just a towel? thank you! ps. what should my mash/pepper sauce look like today on day 4? i notice that there is a very thin layer of white/water over the mash and it seems to be bubbling a bit.

hhunt
8/31/2011 12:40:56 PM
From the author, Roger Doiron: @Kristy and @Britni Maureen's suggestion is a good one and one I should have included in my article. The best, surest way to make sure that your fermented peppers stay covered with brine is to place a plate that is just a tiny bit smaller than your fermentation container in the container and put a weight on top of it so that the peppers stay at the bottom under a layer of brine. If you don't have enough brine to do this, you can add some more water and salt, if necessary.

kristy hicks
8/31/2011 12:01:41 PM
mine has been mashed up and sitting in a jar for 3 days. there isn't much liquid at all. i covered the top of the mash with some salted water. should i cover the jar with a lid of just a towel? not quite sure what it's supposed to look like at this stage. how much water should there be on top of the mash? i could use some information. thank you.

Maureen Devine
8/29/2011 6:00:52 AM
As with sauerkraut you might need to put some sort of weight on the mash to keep it below the level of the liquid - like a saucer or something.

Britni @ Our Eventual Homestead
8/28/2011 8:08:20 PM
I tried to follow the recipe but something went wrong. All of the solids floated to the top and I could never get them to stay below the liquid to ferment. The whole thing just ended up smelling really sour and we threw it out. Anyone have any suggestions?








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