This is the simplest fermented hot sauce recipe possible. It requires almost no equipment. The only ingredients are chiles and salt. The hardest part is waiting for it to ferment, since that is the key to the incredible flavor.
To make fermented hot sauce, blend or finely chop by hand or in a food processor, about a pound of fresh chiles. Add 5% salt by weight. Mix well and put in a quart deli container for at least a week or up to three months. You can use the sauce just as it is, or you can add vinegar if you prefer a more sour flavor.
This recipe can really be made with any fresh chiles. It can even be made with bell peppers, although it won’t be hot. I once made a batch with red bell peppers for a friend who didn’t like spicy food. I called it “Not Sauce”.
Habanero chiles make a really delicious sauce but it’s too hot for most people. I like to mix red habaneros with something less hot, like holland or fresno chiles.
While you can mix any types of chiles together, it’s best to mix similar colored chiles together. Otherwise, if you mix red and green chiles you’ll end up with a sauce that’s brown, which doesn’t look that great.
Preparing the chiles
You should rinse the chiles in cool water to remove any dirt. Don’t use any kind of soap or vegetable wash as you want to leave the natural yeasts and bacterias that live on the chiles.
You definitely want to remove the stems before processing the chiles further. If your chiles have a lot of seeds, you may want to remove some of them as well. Don’t obsess about removing all of them. I usually leave quite a few in mine.
The fermentation is fast and consistent when the chiles are chopped finely before leaving to ferment. I use a food processor to chop them finely. You can also use a blender or even chop them by hand. If you’re using a blender it’s fine to add a small amount of water to get them to blend fully. Keep the amount of water to a minimum as the chiles will liquify as they ferment and you don’t want the end result to be too watery. Also, be sure to include the water when calculating how much salt to add.
How much salt?
Salt is what keeps the bad bacterias controlled while allowing lactobacillus to do it’s work. Lactobacillus is the good bacteria that is responsible for all the delicious fermentation for our hot sauce, but also dill pickles, sauerkraut and other fermented foods.
The amount of salt you add should equal 5% of the total weight of the chiles (and any added water.) It’s as simple as taking the weight of your chiles and multiplying by 0.05. The result is the weight of salt you need to add. It’s easiest to do this with your scale set to grams.
If you don’t have a scale, you can estimate the amount of salt you need. After your chiles are chopped or blended, for each cup of chiles, you should add 1 tablespoon of kosher salt, or 1-1/2 teaspoons of table salt. This should get you close to 5%.
Now that you’ve figured out how much salt to use, add the salt to your chiles and mix well. This is called mash.
Storing the mash
I use a 1 quart deli container for storing my chile mash. Ideally you want a container that will allow some air to escape but you can also open the lid every few days to let any excess gases out. A mason jar would work well. You can leave the lid on loosely so the gases escape on their own.
Add the chile mash to your jar and tap it on the counter carefully to remove any large air bubbles. Once you’re ready to store the mash for fermenting, sprinkle a light layer of salt on top of the mash. This will prevent any mold from forming on the top of the mash.
Put a label on your container with the type of chiles you used and the date. You’ll be glad you did! After two months of fermentation it’s easy to forget what was in the jar.
The first few days
The first few days of fermentation are the most critical to watch. You should check the mash at least once a day in case any mold forms. Even with salting the top of the mash, a while mold can sometimes form. This is completely normal and harmless. If this happens, scrape the mold off the top of the mash and salt the top again. If the mold is black, this is bad and you should toss out the whole batch and start over. This has never happened to me, so don’t know what causes it, but I’ve heard others mention this.
After the first week, it’s unlikely you’ll see any mold so you can check on it less frequently. You shouldn’t need to add any more salt either. I give mine a shake every few days just to keep the liquids and solids mixed.
How long to wait?
Some people are happy with their sauce after only a week. I think this is too short, though. The longer it ferments, the better the flavor. I would consider two weeks to be the absolute minimum. I always wait at least four weeks and sometimes as long as eight.
Finish it up
The fermentation process breaks down the chiles into a more liquid form. The longer you let the fermentation go, the more liquid. I find that after a month the chiles have essentially become a perfect sauce without any further blending. But if you prefer a smoother sauce you have a couple of options.
You can blend the sauce to break it down completely. You can also strain the sauce through a fine mesh strainer. You can use one or both of these methods to end up with the consistency you prefer.
The lactobacillus responsible for most of the fermentation produces acid that gives the sauce a sour taste, like most commercial hot sauces. The 5% salt we added at the beginning is just about right for my taste. If you find that your finished hot sauce isn’t sour enough, you can simply add white or apple cider vinegar. You can also add salt if needed. Either way, you can tweak it to your own taste.
I put my finished sauce in recycled glass jars or bottles and store in the fridge.
Simplest Fermented Hot Sauce
- 1 lb fresh chiles any kind
- 5 % salt
- Remove stems from chiles and finely chop in a food processor or blender. Add a small amount of water if necessary
- Add 5% salt by weight to the processed chiles and mix well
- Add chile mash into a glass jar and sprinkle salt over the top to inhibit mold growth
- Allow to ferment for two weeks or up to three months