I have 3 cayenne pepper bushes that consistently put out more peppers than I know what to do with. I’ve been experimenting with different recipes and listening to the bigger hot sauce makers (Dave Hirschkop of Dave’s Insanity fame, Danny Cash, the McIlhenny’s, etc…), and I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to start trying out fermented pepper mashes rather than just using fresh peppers. I ordered a jar of Habanero mash from Leeners (http://www.leeners.com/) as well as 3 other types of mash from Danny Cash (http://www.dannycash.com/). But for this write-up I’m going to detail how I’m making my own out of cayennes. Cayennes fortunately are just potent enough that you can make a respectable fermented mash out of them and not have it spoil. The Chinense pepper family (habaneros, bhut jolokias, scotch bonnets, trinidads, etc…) are typically what people use for fermenting to add a stronger flavor to the peppers to match the high capsaicin content. Peppers lower in capsaicin like jalapenos, poblanos, etc… typically aren’t fermented, but I’m not entirely sure why. Perhaps because the heat level is so low, adding the flavor component that comes with fermentation is maybe too strong? I’ll have to experiment with some and find out.
I’ve already got everything I need for this - blender, peppers, salt, starter, sterilized glassware, warm/dark closet, and time. So here’s how this works… first thing to do is prep the peppers - rinse them off under water and cut off the stems. Shove them all into the blender and blend them up into a pulp. I used only about a 1/2 oz. of water in the blender just so they’d mash up more easily, but if you’re diligent about scraping down the sides of the blender and making sure they’re all going through the blades at the bottom it’s not necessary. In fact you probably don’t want to use any additional liquid during this step if you can help it. Once you’ve got your mashed up peppers spoon them out seeds and all into your fermenting jar and press the mash down so the water from the pods squeezes up the sides. This will let you know you have enough liquid in the jar. If it’s still too dry (i.e. you don’t see the water coming up) you should add just a touch of water. This is so you can press the peppers down into the bottom and the water will cover the top of them ever so slightly and keep the pepper mash insulated from the air. I used wide-mouth Ball™ pickling jar for mine. You want to make sure it’s sterilized first, and an easy way to do this is put it in a ziplock bag with 2 oz. of water and throw in the microwave for 2 min. on high (vent the bag slightly of course). The inside of the bag will steam quite vigorously and your jar will be sterilized. No need to boil on the stove! Nice right? I learned this trick when my wife had to sterilize milk bottles for my kiddo when he was younger.
After you’ve dumped all the mashed up peppers into the jar, you’re going to want a starter for fermentation. Technically the contents will spontaneously ferment from airborne cultures if you leave the jar open to the air for a day or so, but this also increases the possibility of spoilage. For the lactic acid fermentation we’re shooting for I’ve heard you can use live yogurt cultures as a starter - just skim off the white liquid sitting on top of your yogurt and spoon in about a teaspoon full. But I’m going to use a hopefully more reliable method. I’m going to pull my starter from the jar of fermented habanero mash I ordered. In the picture you can see me putting in a dollop of the fermented habanero mash and mixing it in. After your starter is fully mixed into the mash, if you’re making a pickling jar sized quantity, you’ll want to spoon in about a tablespoon of kosher salt.
In any fermented pepper mash you’ll want to use about 5-15% kosher salt. I believe this is mostly to draw out moisture from the peppers for cover since they’re not a vegetable that contains a lot of water (cayennes especially!), but also to slightly slow the fermentation process. I’m not entirely sure how lactic acid fermentation is affected by salt, but from everything I’ve read, too much salt will have an adverse affect on fermentation, as well as make the end result too salty to use in your pepper sauces. You want the flavor of the fermented peppers to come through, and control the salt content after the fact. But salt I believe is certainly necessary to control other less-desirable creatures from infecting your mash (mold, etc…)
Another consideration in fermentation is air contact. Since there’s many nasties floating around out there in the air that can spoil your product, you’ll want to limit the exposure. Having said that, a byproduct of fermentation is carbon dioxide gas, so you can’t just seal up the mash jar entirely or you’re going to have an expanding gaseous time-bomb on your hands. So you’ll want gas to be able to get OUT, but you don’t want to leave the jar open to the air and let all the nasties (mold, etc…) IN. How to do this? Well, in beer fermentation you typically use a special water-chambered air-lock device that lets gas bubble out but doesn’t let any air in. Beer is also considerably more vulnerable to infection than salted pepper mash, so special precautions like this are necessary. With salted pepper mash however, you still want the same effect, but we can achieve this more easily albeit less elegantly simply using a water bag. Simply double bag a plastic zip-top bag, fill it full of water, set it on top of the mash mixture and press it down on the mash so it serves as a weight. The water in the bag will press against all sides of the jar, and will let gas bubble out around the edges of the jar, but will limit the mash’s exposure to the outside air. This method is of course not nearly as precise as using a carboy airlock like you would for beer, but given the more hearty nature of what’s being fermented, it will work just fine. Just make sure you press the peppers down into the jar before placing the water bag and make sure there’s a skim of liquid covering the top of them.
That’s it! Just set the mixture in a dark place, if you can elevate the temperature slightly above room temp., (~75-80 degrees F) even better. Primary fermentation should happen in 3-5 days, and secondary fermentation will take 3-4 weeks after.
I’ll create a follow-up post to this in about a month with the results of my fermentation. fingers crossed
Make a basic pepper sauce using fresh red jalapenos. This one will be similar to my basic cayenne sauce. This is great way to make a fresh tasting hot sauce with all those jalapenos that keep piling up on you.
You take all the peppers, split them, and throw them in the stew pot w/ some garlic, onions, lime juice, and salt. Stew them a little while in vinegar, puree the result, and strain. Heat the strained sauce over VERY low heat to 180 - you don’t want it to boil, then let it come down to room temp. and bottle.
My buddy +Alan McDonald has a high performance liquid chromatography lab and offered to do a measure of the capsaicin levels in one of my hot sauces. I figured I’d try and “Go for the high score” by busting out some super hot peppers and using a few techniques to retain as much capsaicin throughout the assembly.
Reconstitute the dried chilis, add some spice/flavoring agents, keep the vinegar level high by adding it off the heat, keep a thick consistency so it sticks to whatever you put it on, and ship it out to +Alan McDonald.
In this sauce I’m trying to retain as much heat from the ghost chilis and thai red chilis as I can. I started out by stemming the dried chilis, sticking them all in a bowl, and then pouring as little hot water as I could get away with over them to steep. Now given my last experience reconstituting ghost chilis, I did this all outside, turned on the porch fan, and put a lid on the prep bowl I was using.
In the mean time, I ran a knife over a small onion, 4 cloves of garlic, and dumped them into the food processor with some lime juice and salt. I took the reconstituted chilis over to the blender and pulled them out of the liquid and dropped them into the blender. I puree’d the mix together and would up with a thick puree/paste. Now here’s where I think I started going wrong. Figuring that much of the capsaicin leeched out into the steeping liquid, I poured the remaining steeping liquid into the blender as well and would up with what seemed like a super-hot salsa. It’s not a hot sauce yet. At this point there’s not any vinegar in the sauce, but it’s already got the consistency I wanted before straining it. Adding vinegar at this point would just make it thinner than I wanted.
SO… I poured the mix into a saucepan and reduced it down to a paste. I was hoping this wouldn’t affect heat levels, unfortunately it did. The smell however, while it was reducing outside, was the most amazing thing I’ve ever smelled. Using Bhut Jolokias I’m convinced is the superior way to make hot sauces. They have the most amazing, smokey flavor - way more tasty than chipotle peppers I think. What I was left with after the reduction was a thick paste of peppers, onions, garlic, lime juice, and salt. At this point I let the mixture cool, and then stirred in vinegar. At this point I strained the mixture and bottled it - and that’s the finished sauce.
In retrospect I probably could have put the final vinegar/paste mixture back into the blender for a more thorough mixture to fix what I’d done with the reduction. Even better though would be using steam to reconstitute the chilis instead of boiling water. I think using steam I wouldn’t have to worry about capsaicin leeching out into the steeping liquid, and rather would keep most of the capsaicin within the pods. I also wouldn’t have to worry about re-adding the steeping liquid to add the capsaicin back and then having to reduce the mixture for consistency purposes. The less water you add to your base, the more room you have in the sauce for vinegar to serve as the thinning agent. Probably the whole onion added a good deal of moisture too, so maybe I could have sautee’d it to sweat it a bit before adding. The mixture I bottled was much more thin than I’d set out to create, so I had to use the plastic bottle cover to reduce the opening size. It also tastes like much of the capsaicin has left, and isn’t quite as flavorful as I’d hoped. It’s a respectable pepper/vinegar mixture much like Tabasco, and uses Ghost chilis so it has a very earthy, smokey rich flavor.
I’ll go ahead and ship to Alan, but next time I attempt this, I’m going to use slightly different techniques. Oh, you might have noticed, I have a supplier now for real hot sauce bottles, and heat shrink wrapping.
Anyone out there want to make me some bottle labels?
Found this post on Boing Boing and it was too good not to share:Mark Frauenfelder on Thursday, Sep 8th at 8:56am
Chili peppers evolved this defense mechanism because their seeds die in the guts of mammals. Capsaicin is the plant’s way of saying “back off.” (Chili pepper seeds can survive being eaten by birds, which don’t have receptors to feel capsaicin. In fact, chili plants “want” birds to eat them because birds are excellent chili propagation vectors.)Human beings are supposed to avoid chili peppers. The fruit contains a fiery irritant, called capsaicin. It’s so strong that one milligram of the flavorless white crystalline stuff placed in your palm burns like a lighted cigarette, and the pain lasts for hours.
Unlike most mammals, human beings enjoy the burn of capsaicin in their food. And there’s another reason to like it besides its culinary thrill: in large doses, capsaicin causes long-term desensitization of neurons that send pain signals to the brain.
That point was made clear to me a few years ago when I paid a visit to Neurogesx in San Carlos, California. Annika Malmberg, the director of pharmacological research showed me a transdermal pain relief patch containing capsaicin. It was coated with a clear gummy gel. When I reached out for it, she said, “Oh no! Don’t touch,” pulling it away and sticking it on the back of her own hand.
“But you’re touching it,” I said. “Ahh,” she said, dismissively waving her other hand. “I’m completely desensitized.” If I had put the patch on, however, my hand would start to hurt like hell, at least until my nerve cells shriveled up.
Neurogesx was founded by Dr. Wendye Robbins, based on her success in 1997 using capsaicin to treat patients with debilitating nerve pain when she was an assistant clinical professor of anesthesiology at the Mount Zion Pain Center in San Francisco. There, Robbins used a cream containing nearly 10% capsaicin (about 100 times the amount found in over-the-counter arthritic rubs) on HIV patients who had severe chronic foot pain and had been unable to find relief using any other drug, including morphine. Sixty percent of Robbin’s capsaicin patients reported that their pain had been reduced by at least 50 percent, and all the patients reported at least some pain relief. Now with $30 million in venture capital, Neurogesx has a transdermal patch on the market called Qutenza, which contains 8% capsaicin. A single, one-hour application can alleviate the debilitating pain that often follows a case of shingles.Neurogesx is currently running clinical trials to study other uses for capsaicin. Who would have thought that this natural compound, evolved to keep people away from it, would be so alluring?
This post isn’t going to be as focused as the last ones, because it centers around making sauces based on some odds/ends found on a shopping trip; and doing some cleanup on the pepper plants in my garden. I don’t really have super-specific technique goals for tonight’s experiments other than just take some super hots, split ‘em into two sauces, and don’t fuck it up.
I have two commercial sauces that I’m quite fond of these days - Melinda’s Naga Jolokia, and Tears of Joy’s August in Austin. Augst in Austin actually won top awards at this year’s hot sauce festival in Austin. It’s good stuff, check ‘em out if you can - http://www.tearsofjoysauces.com/. So Melinda’s Ghost Pepper sauce is pretty complex. There’s lots of stuff working in there - so that means yes, we’ll be doing some actual cooking. Tears of Joy is pretty straightforward. What I’m going to do is take the two sauces, pull the ingredients list, swap the base-pepper from each, and see what the results look like.
Melinda’s Ghost Pepper Sauce (sub’ing in Habaneros for Ghost peppers):
Habaneros, carrots, papaya, lime juice, garlic, salt, onion, vinegar, cayenne, red jalapeno.
I’m omitting the passion fruit because I don’t have any on hand, and couldn’t source any very easily. Putting this sauce together is a little more trouble than usual - you need to chop up the carrots and boil them for the puree, and dice up an onion and sauté it in a pan until it’s nice and caramelized. Because this is a habanero-based sauce, and because the last few sauces I’ve made where I attempt to tame the ridiculous heat from the habaneros still turned out much too hot, I’m going to remove the white membrane from inside the habaneros in an attempt to cut off much of the capsaicin at the source. Into the vinegar boiling pot they go w/ some cayennes to soften them for the puree. To stack the puree this time, I started with the papaya, lime, and carrots. This way I can add the peppers in slowly, tasting it each time until I get the right heat/flavor level. Fortunately with this sauce I don’t think the heat is overkill. We’ll know more tomorrow. The color is a brilliant canary-yellow and the consistency is pretty much perfect. After a few tastings, I feel the flavor may still be a little off, but I’ll know more tomorrow. I’m not entirely sure what kind of food to pair it with yet, but likely island-style cuisine where you need a bright, citrusy kind of firey heat. Jerk pork maybe? I’ll let you chef-types figure that stuff out.
Tears of Joy - August in Austin (Subbing in Ghost Peppers for Red Savina Habaneros!)
Dried Ghost Chilies, Vinegar, lime juice, garlic, salt
August in Austin is a relatively simple sauce, but the key is in the execution. I believe they start with a commercial fermented pepper mash rather than use fresh peppers. This is actually preferable when creating hot sauces - the fermentation process adds a flavor component that’s not otherwise present, and it’s extremely difficult to get right while avoiding nasty things like botulism. The commercial pepper producers have lots of high-tech equipment to prevent this from happening (pressure canning, steam-cleaning, etc…).
Anyway, onto the sauce - for this one I managed to find dried ghost chilis at a local market. The smell from these things when you open the bag is glorious. Very rich, earthy, and almost smokey. Ghost chilis have a sensational flavor despite their astronomical capsaicin content. Reconstituting these is a breeze, just pour boiling water over them and let steep for 15-20 min. Did I mention you want to let these steep OUTSIDE?? The steam coming off of the bowl from the boiling water as they reconstituted definitely pepper-gassed my kitchen. My wife was not amused. At any rate, I’m using the remaining cayennes from the garden as filler to help with the consistency, so after a vinegar bath, into the blender goes the cayennes, salt, lime zest, 3 ghost peppers, and vinegar. After a long spin, strain, and heat treatment on the stove it’s ready for the bottle. This sauce turned out more thin than I planned, probably due to too much vinegar in the blender. I didn’t have any more cayenne peppers I could use as filler and I CERTAINLY didn’t want to try adding more ghost chilis as a filler/thickening agent. Since the consistency is a bit more I had to forego using the tabasco bottle I’d planned for it and opted for a Frank’s Red Hot bottle instead since it has the smaller opening on the screw-on lid.
I tasted these sauces before bottling, and while I’m mostly pleased; it’s always difficult to tell what the end result will be until after they’ve sat in the fridge and cooled down. Also, your palette tends to need a break when tasting various ingredients along the way - especially when said ingredients involve ghost chilis and habeneros. After a few days of melding, the Ghost pepper cayenne sauce tends to taste mostly like my basic cayenne sauce, only the heat doesn’t seem to stop. It lingers… and lingers. Ghost peppers seem to offer a very steady, long heat that doesn’t die down quickly. The papaya/carrot/habanero sauce is good also, but I haven’t really had a chance to use it on anything yet, so I’m going to reserve further judgement for a while.