Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Fermented Hot Sauce: Part 1

I never used to like hot sauce. 

That changed during my first camping trip.  I was 19-years-old.

Traveling to the site with a fellow newbie girlfriend, we brought with us a lot of beer, a 12-pack of hot dogs and a sack of buns.  That was it.  We had no tent, no sleeping bags, no nothing.  Just beer and hot dogs.  We joined a big group of experienced campers.  They had barbecues, food tents, frying pans, cooking sauces, venison, and...

Sriacha sauce.  That lovely fermented garlic hot sauce, you all know it, the squirt bottle with the green lid.  The symbol that you're in a good restaurant.  I mean, come on, Morimoto uses it.

So there I sat by the fire with a nice cold beer in one hand and a hot dog in the other, watching as this beautiful piece of venison was coated in sriacha and grilled over the open fire.  Luckily the guys took pity on my pathetic camping skills and offered me a taste of the venison, with a warning that the sauce was quite spicy.  Never one to make wise decisions, I scoffed at them and dumped more hot sauce on my piece of meat.  As I popped the venison in my mouth they all stared, waiting for my reaction.  I gave them none!  Not only that, but I then put more sriacha on my hot dog.  I mean I couldn't even feel my mouth at that point.  Thank god for beer.

Somehow, this traumatic first experience led to a passionate love affair with sriacha that continues to this day.

Because I am so passionately in love with this sauce, I am embarrassed to admit that I only recently learned that it is fermented when watching a documentary on Chinese food systems (yes the movie was as thrilling as it sounds).  I had tried to make sriacha previously and had never achieved a good result, which confused me but didn't lead to much investigation.  I simply accepted that I must purchase the sauce I love rather than make it.

But not anymore!  Here is mark 1 in my journey to make a delicious fermented hot sauce.

  • A lot of thai bird chilis (maybe a cup and a half)
  • Four bulbs of garlic
  • One tbsp of salt
  • Water
That is really all you need, and a little luck (or a prayer to the fermentation gods, which is my preferred method).


1) Fermenting hot sauce seems to be much like making sauerkraut.  I chopped all of the green tops off the bird chilis and then tossed the red ends into my food processor.  Normally I like to hand chop but I had so many bird chilis and the volatile oils were so powerful that into the food processor they went.

2) Once the chilis were roughly processed they went into a bowl with four roughly chopped garlic bulbs, salt and a just a touch of water. I also added the green tops.

I found a plate that fit over the chopped chilis perfectly and then weighted it down and put it in the corner.  Now I just have to wait a week to see if anything is going to happen!

Before setting and forgetting it, make sure that the salt draws out enough water to submerge all of the peppers so they can brew and bubble and develop.

  • Wear gloves.  Don't even think about working with this many hot peppers without wearing gloves.  You will not be able to wash all of the volatile oils off your hands and you will, I repeat, you will touch your eyes or nose at some point and it will burn.
  • Be careful when you take the lid off your food processor.  Whizzing up that many hot peppers releases a lot of volatile oil and breathing it in will make you cough and choke.  You've been warned.
  • One of the recipes I found called for the green tops to be added during the fermentation process.  It makes a "richer" flavour supposedly.  Meh.


  1. I love hot sauce and spicy food. I once tried to make Indian food for a friend who didn't like spicy, and it was just meh. Not good and not recommended. Never again.

    Did you ever make the carbonara with the guanciale?

  2. I'm with ya! I always think that if I'm going to smell like curry for a few days I'd like to remember the experience.

    I haven't yet but I am planning it. My mom is leaving my father alone in the house while she vacations so that was going to be my father-daughter bonding meal.