Home-made cayenne pepper mash follow up
This summer, I had way way way more cayenne peppers than I knew what to do with. So after doing a bit of research, I decided to try my hand at making a home-made pepper mash as a base for an upcoming hot sauce. This would likely be a Louisiana-style sauce, but really could be anything.
Wild fermentation of peppers takes roughly 8 weeks to fully develop. Unlike beer/wine fermentation which uses yeasts, vegetable fermentation involves lactic acid from cultures in the air, or from starter cultures like you’d find in Yogurt, cottage cheese, or Kefir. Peppers don’t have much sugars to feed on, so it takes a little while to get started, which means you have to add salt to keep other more nasty bacteria from developing while you’re waiting for lactic acid fermentation to take hold. The salt has the added benefit of drawing the liquid out of the crushed up pods. As pepper mash fermentation takes place, you want as little contact with the air as possible, so people use weights to keep the mash down, and the liquid on top to form a water seal from the air. Occasionally you’ll get yeast growing on the top of the liquid, but it’s harmless and can be scooped off.
So after 8 weeks of setting my cayenne pepper mash off on its voyage of fermentation, it was finally ready. After removing the lid and giving it a stir, the smell was amazing. It smelled like hot sauce already, and I hadn’t even done anything to it. Let’s make a proper sauce of it shall we?
We start by emptying the jar of fermented mash into the food processor, adding two cloves of garlic, a smidge of salt (which as we’ll see later should NOT have been done), and a bit of water. No vinegar.
After getting the mash to puree nicely, we’d need to cook it. There’s active yeast that grew in the mash as it fermented, and unless you bring it up to temperature, will remain alive. Not what you want.
As I started the puree, the smell was fantastic. Easily best I’ve made so far. However, I was reluctant to give the mash a taste before I brought it up to a simmer on the stove to sterilize it. Definitely didn’t want a trip to the ER from botulism poisoning or anything. As it started to cook, the smell permeated everything. Important to note, at this point I’ve used no vinegar. I’ve found vinegar has a much lower boiling temperature than water and is the first to evaporate if you cook with it. You’ll never taste it in the final product unless you add it at the end.
Well after it came off the stove and cooled a bit, I gave it a taste. ACK!!! Entirely too salty. What a bummer, had to throw out the batch. In retrospect I forgot the mash was already salted, and didn’t need added salt the way I normally do with fresh pepper sauces. It was a hard lesson learned because I waited 8 weeks for this jar of mash to finish, and was teased with a fantastic aroma only to botch it by making it too salty. Will definitely NOT be making that mistake again.
HOWEVER! The real payoff here was that my attempt at pepper mash fermentation worked successfully. I now know how to set it up properly, and what to look out for when making a mash. So even though the sauce was a bust, this is a big breakthrough for me.
The other thing I’ve learned is it takes a LOT of peppers to make a sauce from mash. Much more than I have room to grow myself. For the peppers I grow myself I’ll be able to make sauces out of them easily, but only in small quantities. For production purposes under the Pablo’s Hot Sauce™ brand, I’ll have to buy mash from a distributor. Fortunately I found http://lapepperexchange.com/which do exactly this, and will scale up nicely from a gallon, to 55 gallon drums, to entire shipping containers full of mash of all different sorts. They even do blends. Sweet!