I got tired of paying 3.99 for 5 oz bottles of habañero sauce, so I made some of my own. I have also been very interested in fermented food and drink for the health benefits. Win-win.
I really, really like hot sauce, and I especially like really hot sauce. But even more, I like hot sauce that tastes good. I think Habañeros have just about the best flavor of any hot pepper, and fermenting them yourself adds a dimension of flavor and freshness that just can't be found in store-bought sauces.
Added Health Benefits
Hot peppers have significant recognized health benefits, including improving blood flow and balancing blood sugar levels, neutralizing free radicals, fighting bacterial causes of ulcers, enhanced libido, and others. Fermented vegetables and fruits also have a wide variety of recognized health benefits, some of which are included above, but also fermentation enhances the availability of minerals contained in the foods, adds the benefits of the lactobacilli, removes or reduces toxic compounds, and does not destroy or degrade heat- and oxygen-sensitive vitamins and nutrients like vitamin C which hot peppers contain in abundance.
The lactic acid, and overall low pH, of fermented foods acts to delay and slow spoilage, letting you store your fermented foods for extended periods without the need for high levels of vinegar or pasteurization which destroy nutrients and probiotics. If you refrigerate the finished product, it will keep many months. If you add a small amount of vinegar, it will keep even longer, or without refrigeration (though I prefer to leave the vinegar out).
Step 1: Clean Equipment and Workspace
This is a basic process, but cleanliness cannot be over-stressed. Surfaces, utensils, containers, and hands really should be sanitary. I like to clear my kitchen table, wipe it down with a wet rag, and follow that with a clean rag or paper towels, before assembling my various utensils and containers with plenty of clean space to work in. That being said, the only real equipment you need is a blender of some sort. An immersion blender seems to work best for me because there is a relatively small volume of food to be blended, the puree does not need to be transferred, and there is less clean up.
1/2 or 1 tsp.Measuring Spoon
Measuring Cup capable of measuring 1/2 cup (approximately)
Cutting Board or Mat
Food Processor, Blender, or ImmersionBlender (Immersion Blender preferred)
1 1/2 pintWide Mouth Canning Jar, or other similar-size non-reactive (preferably glass) vessel
Coffee Filter, Muslin, paper towel, small clean rag, or other means of loosely covering the fermentation vessel. An air lock and lid or Pickle Pipe type apparatus will work if you have one.
Step 2: Assemble Ingredients
Higher quality ingredients produce the best sauce. Organic is better, especially with peppers. Get the ripest, freshest peppers you can find. Grow them if you can (I didn't). Try a recipe or two, then switch it up. Add more or less of any of the main ingredients to get the flavor you like. I rarely go without garlic in my hot sauce, but sometimes I don't want much, or I don't have any. I might still make sauce.
Salt and vinegar additions should be consistent for a given weight / volume. It is important to use non-iodized salt, like a sea salt or Himalayan pink salt (my favorite). If you don't have non-iodized salt, it is probably better to leave it out entirely. This recipe uses very little anyway.
1/2 lb (preferably organic) Habañero Peppers (any spicy pepper will work, but these are my favorite)
1/4 to 1/2 of a Red Bell Pepper (count, not weight) Optional. This is primarily for moisture, but adds color and a slight sweetness. I have noticed that Habañeros alone seem to produce a much lighter color.
0 - ? cloves GarlicOptional. Add none or as much as you like. I like to add 4 - 8 large cloves per batch.
1/2 up Whey Raw, cultured whey, either drained from a fresh batch of yogurt, or separated from purchased yogurt.
1/2 - 1 tsp Salt Non-iodized, unrefined
Step 3: Wash Peppers
Rinsing is more like it, but they should be free of dirt and grime. I just rinse the peppers with some warm water, shake, and I'm ready to start chopping.
Step 4: Prepare Your Peppers
* Remove stems and the small leaflets that hang around the base (I have read these can be used to create a type of yogurt, but my first attempt at this was a failure).
* Cut out any questionable portions. I rarely throw any away, but I often find spots I missed when purchasing the Peppers.
* Seed and slice the Bell Pepper.
* Chop everything, but not to the point of mincing unless you don't have any kind of blender.
* Keep the seeds of the Habañeros unless you don't like much spice. Feed the Bell Pepper seeds to your chickens, or whatever.
Step 5: Blend
Keep some space between your face and the peppers, and wait to smell it until well after blending is complete. Many recipes advise to wear gloves. I don't wear them, but the peppers are hot, and if you have sensitive skin, or kids, or don't like the sensation, then maybe gloves are for you. Other than that, this is pretty straightforward. You might have to work the immersion blender a bit to get the peppers started, but once you have a spinning slurry / puree, you just have to hold it steady.
* Chopping the peppers first makes this step significantly easier
* Adding the liquid before blending also helps, but I like to reserve a little to use to rinse every bit of peppery goodness off my immersion blender and into the jar
* Blend until you get some whirlpool action, and any visible chunks are quite small. The seeds should be the largest chunks in the mix. I stopped filtering my sauce, blending thoroughly and fermenting with ample whey.
* Add any other ingredients- like Garlic, salt, and whey- at this point. Horseradish might be interesting, but I haven't tried it yet.
Step 6: Cover, Set, and Don't Forget About It
Cover it with something. I usually use a small piece of muslin, but it was being used, or was dirty, or I couldn't find it- and a rubber band. A lid with an airlock is less work, and keeps more stuff out, but a paper towel, clean rag, etc. will get the job done. Place it in an out-of-the-way spot, a cabinet, pantry, or something, and be aware of the temperature. Under 60º F and you will be waiting a long time. Over 70º and it will sour (and mold if you don't watch it) rather quickly. My shelf stays on the low end of 60 - 65, and I find it takes a minimum of 2 weeks before the smell entices me to take a sample. I usually continue to sample while it ferments from this point for another week or two before it gets divided and moves to the fridge. Sometimes it doesn't last that long.
* Stir or swirl regularly. If any of the slurry remains exposed to air for long, mold / yeast / gross things will grow on top. It isn't harmful, but it tastes bitter or requires precious hot to be scraped off and tossed out or worse, costs you the entire batch if you really let it go. From experience, don't let it go for more than a couple days without turning or at lease checking the surface. Once every day is better.
* Give it a sniff when you do check it. It will begin to lose the "green" smell, and gain a sour edge as it ferments. This will happen more quickly when you use whey.
* Taste it after about a week (or when you feel like it), and every few days until you either like it, or you can't wait any longer, or you've tasted it all and the jar needs to be refilled.
Step 7: Enjoy
I don't strain anymore, as to me it seems like a waste of sauce, but sometimes I do thin with a small (<10%) amount of vinegar. If you want to you can run this through a sieve, or some butter muslin, or cheese cloth to remove the seeds and pulp.
Hot sauce makes just about anything better, and it goes very well with fresh sauerkraut.