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Make Your Own Hot Sauce

Dec 01, 2010

Tabasco sauce is the brand name for a hot pepper sauce produced in Avery Island, Louisiana.  You’ve no doubt seen the tiny, iconic bottle at your favorite diner or greasy spoon and, perhaps, wondered how this world famous condiment is made. Although the recipe for the original sauce is top secret and, legend has it, guarded by an army of 10,000 ravenous crayfish somewhere deep in the bayou, the ingredient list is surprisingly short: peppers, vinegar, and salt.  The one ingredient that doesn’t appear on the label but should is “time.”  Tabasco sauce’s deep flavor comes from having fermented in white oak barrels for three years.  While reproducing the exact flavor of Tabasco sauce is difficult to do, you can approximate it in your kitchen using your own homegrown hot peppers. The original recipe calls for tabasco peppers (Capsicum frutescens var. tabasco) but you can pretty much use any type of hot pepper you like.  I make mine using a Jalapeño variety which is milder on the Scoville spiciness scale, but more than hot enough for most people’s palette.

Ingredients

  • hot peppers
  • white vinegar
  • salt

Preparation

The pictures and photos below set out the main steps involved.  Before undertaking any project with spicy peppers, be sure to keep in mind that peppers can be dangerous when improperly handled (think “pepper spray”).  The hotter the pepper you’re using the more precaution you need to take to protect your skin, eyes, and nasal passages from irritation.  

Step 1: Timing the harvest.

To make a fermented hot sauce, you need to pull liquid from the peppers in the same way that liquids are pulled from cabbage to produce sauerkraut.  This means starting with fresh, fleshy peppers at the peak of ripeness.  The experts at Avery Island use a stick tinted red (called a “baton rouge”) for insuring that peppers have reached the right stage of red ripeness, but you can be more flexible.  Chances are that you won’t have all your peppers ripening at exactly the same time and there’s no harm in throwing a green one or two into the mix.

Step 2: Preparing your peppers.

You’ll want to chop off the green stems.  If you’re not wearing gloves, be careful not to touch your eyes afterward.

Step 3:  Making a mash.

Once you’ve harvested your peppers and removed the stems, you’ll need to grind them into a medium to fine mash with a food processor or blender.  I place my mashed peppers in a ceramic crock but you can use a glass or food-grade plastic container.

Step 4: Adding salt.

Salt does two important things: it helps pull water from peppers (think about what happens when you salt a cucumber) and enhances their flavor.  The ratio of mashed peppers to salt is not an exact science, but 30:1 should work for most peppers.  Mix the salt in with the mash and pack it down to the bottom of your container.  As the water seeps out it should cover the mash and prevent it from being exposed to the air. If you're not pulling enough water out to do this, you can add some salted water to your container to cover the mash.

VERY IMPORTANT: Be sure to cover the mash with a plate which has a heavy object on it in such a way that the level of the brine is higher than the plate. The brine is the protective buffer that keeps the mash from spoiling.

Step 5: Letting the mash ferment and stabilize.

You’ll want to let your peppers ferment for at least a month to allow the flavor to become more complex and interesting.  Store your crock at room temperature and be cover it with a clean dishtowel to keep out dust.  Check on it from time to time to make sure that there is liquid covering the mash.  After aging is finished, place your mash in a new clean and sterilized container. Add white wine vinegar to taste and age for about another week to allow the flavors to blend together.

Step 6: Running the mash through a food mill or strainer.

Straining your sauce allows you to remove the seeds and create a smooth, pourable texture.  If you don’t have a foodmill or strainer you can pour your vinegar mash mixture into a bowl lined with cheesecloth, fold the cheesecloth up into a ball and twist & squeeze until the juice is extracted. The original Tabasco sauce is quite liquid, but I like mine with some pulp.

Step 7: Bottling your sauce and keeping it refrigerated.

Your homegrown hot sauce should easily keep for several months, but it’s so good that I doubt it will last that long.  

Step 8: Enjoy and “laissez les bons temps rouler!”

Hi Roger This is one of the best yet. I have wanted to make this for a while now. I have a problem with step 5 though. What temperature would you let the mixture ferment at? Does the mixture need to be sealed away from air as per sauerkraut. Will it go bad if just left for a month. Regards Glenn
Good questions Glenn. I've added to the description above.  It is quite similar to the making of sauerkraut in that you don't want the pepper mash exposed to air. I leave mine at room temperature, but the cooler temperature of a cellar would also be fine.
Yessir, let the good times roll!  Roger, this is the best hot sauce recipe/tutorial I've seen.  Been making it for years with various chiles, but have never fermented it.  Mine always separated and required vigorous shaking, but tasted good.  My next batch will be fermented as you tell and show in this tutorial.  I've kept hot sauce in the refrigerator for months without ill effects.  We have a Zest Fest in Fort Worth each year where hundreds of vendors show and sell their wares, along with cooking demonstrations.  A winner is declared each year.  Plenty of red faces, heavy sweat, and gasps for breath to go around.  Thank you. Stay natural. David
Sounds like great fun, it is a shame I do not use hot sauce.
I've been making my own hot sauces for years, but do it differently. Everyone loves it. I started doing it with tobasco peppers, which is everyone's favorite, but add other kinds to the mix, which changes the flavor. I've never fermented it, and I've kept it in the refrigerator for nearly a year. With my recipe, I use red wine vinegar. I tried white, apple and others, and like the red wine the best, as do all my friends and relatives who have tried it. I also like the pulp, but as you said, add more vinegar if you like it thinner, as it doesn't change the flavor. I use about one part tobasco to one part (or more) red wine vinegar, spinkle in some granulated garlic, onion powder and add some liquid smoke. Blend it well and pour into bottles. If I want more heat, I add a habanero or two. In the past, I've used Hanoi Red, Thai peppers, jalepeno, or what ever I grew that year. They all taste different. I use a blender for all of it.
Hello, How do I see the rest of the post. The recipe and such. Thanks
Yesterday I picked the last of my scotch bonnet peppers and made some pepper sauce this morning. Alone with the peppers, salt and vinegar I added 3 garlic cloves, an onion some rosmary, mint and dill. I blended all together and then freeze them. This last me through the winter and early spring.  I have never fermented my hot sauce before.I will have to try this recipe.
Hi Lemongrass, it is good to here from you. How is your greens doing this winter?
Loved the recepi, I will have to try it! This was my first year farming and I really enjoyed it! I'm learning as I go along and all these great tips and recepis are very useful.
I chopped up some chiles and left to ferment, while I went away on holiday.  I suspect I did not have enough liquid as there was mould growing on the top.  My chiles are tiny - birds eye - but I mixed in a  few jalapenos so suspect they did not create as much juice as yours did. Would you add salted water at this stage to keep the chiles well covered?
add some salted water at this point. It's important that they remain protected from the air. You can always skim off mold "blooms" from the water, should they occur.
Thanks Roger for that advice - no I just did a small amount so will toss that out and start again with salted water to cover
Finished my first batch of fermented hot sauce.  I didn't have red jalapenos, just green that were mild on the hot scale.  I chopped them finely in a food processor to make the mash with non-iodized salt at about 30:1 as suggested in the recipe.  After the first 5 days I had to add salted water to cover the mash completely.  After a month I skimmed some foam off the mash as you sometimes need to do with kraut, added vinegar by sight, about equal amount, and left it for another week.  It was delicious, but a bit strong with vinegar.  Added a bit more salt and it's even more delicious.  This is a killer recipe, and I'm looking to late summer to harvest more chiles for eating fresh, pickling, and making more fermented hot sauce.  I'll probably experiment with various combinations of chiles for different flavors. Next time I will add vinegar by taste instead of sight.  As an aside, I'm truly enjoying jalapenos pickled with carrots, onions, garlic, and small green tomatoes. Stay natural, David
There is a recipe button at top of page or search box top right of page.
Yes. I have gone there and clicked on the recipe, and on the Read more link both of which bring me right back to this page. Can you access the recipe? I like the idea of this site, but it is terribly disorganized.
It is all there now. I see that perhaps the site is not fully up and running yet. Please forgive my cranky-ness. Thanks for the post. I made a batch with green Jalapenos today. I added a bit of whey from plain yogurt to start the fermentation a bit quicker. My brother in law makes fantastic hot sauce, I am looking forward to see how it comes out.
I've made a couple of batches of hot sauce this year, and they are great. I fermented mine for a week and the flavor was wonderful.
I appreciate the photos, but the one point you say is most important, covering the mash with the brine is not depicted. I'm trying to figure out how you cover the mash with a plate inside that crock, and how long should it take for the juice to be extracted in amounts great enough to cover the mash before you resort to adding salt water? Thanks.
I don't have a photo of that because I didn't use a plate. My mash stayed at the bottom on its own without help, but some others have told me that theirs didn't hence the note. You just want to find a plate that's just a bit smaller in diameter than your crock. I added water (brine) immediately so we didn't wait for the juice to be extracted.
Hello Roger - Thanks for posting, I am hoping I have this right. I created the mash, put in a glass jar, there is a thin layer of water on top of the surface, I just don't know how to cover the jar? I assume if I seal the cap on tightly it might explode? Can I just leave the cap on loosely? Or do you recommend covering the top with a paper towel or two and rubber banding it on there securely so it can breathe?
Hey Chuck. You're right about not covering it with anything too tight. A dish towel or paper towel and a rubber band would do the trick. Good luck.
Hi Roger, I just read your recipe and was wondering if I could use habanero peppers instead of jalepeno. Also, could you specify how much salt & vinegar to use? I am not so good with the whole ratio measurements :) Thx, Jessica
You can use habaneros, Jessica, but do be careful as their vapors and oils can do a real number on your eyes, nose, throat and skin. With the salt, I'd estimate 1-2 tablespoons for one quart of chopped peppers. For the vinegar, I'd say "to taste" and "to desired consistency." Tabasco-brand sauce is quite runny compared to many other hot sauces. The vinegar allows you to alter the consistency and doesn't affect the taste too much because the dominate flavoring agent is the spicy.
In list of ingredients it says white vinegar. In the directions it says white wine vinegar. Is one better than the other, flavor-wise or fermentation-wise? Thanks. I want to try this with Ring o' Fires.
I don't think it will make much of difference to be honest. The dominant flavor will be heat!
Hi, Roger. What do you do with the liquid (on step 5 ) that is on the mash. Also, you mention that " After aging is finished, place your mash in a new clean and sterilized container. Add white wine vinegar to taste and age for about another week to allow the flavors to blend together", is the clean container cover as the first one. Thanks for your site.
Mine has been fermenting for about a week ... covered in brine ... however, there is a skim of what looks like scum on the top of the brine. Does that mean it is going bad?
That's normal to have that film. You can just skim it off.
Hi, Roger...please excuse my ignorance as i only really can make steak in the kitchen!!!!!! what happens if you don't ferment the chillis and just add salt and vinegar and mix the ingredients
Steak is good...goes well vegetables! My uneducated answer is "i don't know." You might get something that works just fine. To use an analogy, you can make "refrigerator pickles" just by adding cucumbers to a diluted vinegar brine without having to ferment them. If people ferment things, it's partly for taste and partly to preserve them for longer term storage. Refrigerator pickles, for instance, are best eaten within a month of bottling.
Thank you..great site by the way
you don't need to cut the stem. It just breaks off. No need to make it more difficult.
I have never done anything like this, so bear with me. How do you set it up to ferment, you said to keep it away from air and at room temperature, where exactly is that place without air?
I make Hotsauce all the time, but never aged it. So, I'm looking forward to trying this. My question is: After the peppers ferment, what do you do with the brine? Discard it? Or does it become part of the hotsauce, too? Thanks.
It becomes part of the sauce. Be sure to have enough brine to cover the peppers and use a weighted plate or something to keep the peppers from rising to the surface.
Thank you, Roger. That was quick. :>)
Thanks Roger! A couple of questions...what is the proportion of vinegar to the pepper mash and at what point to you add the vinegar? When you're making the mash or at the final step?
I add the vinegar as a final step. As for the proportion, it sort of depends on how much liquid you have to start with in your mash and how liquid you want your sauce to be. Tabasco brand sauce, for example, is very liquid and vinegar-tasting, so to achieve something like that you might need to go 1:1.
i have made a few of these and never strained so I have more of of a spread, which goes great on everything. I have seeds and all
I just started my hot sauce on Saturday wish you could see pics . I did about 45 ghost peppers which have this unreal aroma and flavor as well as a "little heat " lol. And as well did a habanero with jalapeños . Some questions , I added ( and instead of saying 30to1 ( which also you don't specify as to which is the 30 and which is the 1, though most should understand its peppers to salt ) should be like a 1 Tbs to 30 peppers ) about a table spoon and a half of salt . Wasn't very liquidy after the first day. So I added salt water to cover . But it doesn't seem to cover as the mash seems to float . My question is are keeping all the salt liquid as well as adding the vinegar . And if it's to salty would I just keep adding vin to cut the salt ?
And does it have to be submerged I saw you told someone you could spoon off the mold and it still be fine ?
So I used a salt bath and I didn't have anything to fit into the containers to hold down the mash . the mash floats . the mash spoiled . I have to redo it . I need help .
I'm sorry to hear about your misadventures. You absolutely must find a system for keeping the fermenting vegetables covered with brine. There are specially made crocks and weights for this purpose you can buy (see: http://amzn.to/15OLufa) but they're not cheap. With a little creativity, you can invent your own system. Good luck.
I've got a new harvest and I'm going to try again this weekend I'll let you know.
I found a solution for the fermentation vessel. I took two plastic gallon vinegar jugs (with handles). On the first jug, I used a box knife to cut all around below the handle, making a large cylinder (like a coffee can). The other jug I carefully cut out the bottom, just a little smaller diameter than the inside of the first jug. I placed my chopped Korean hot peppers in jug#1 with salt, placed the plastic disk from jug #2 inside and on top, then placed a clean quart jar filled with water and lidded on the center of the disk to press down. Covered the whole thing with a clean dish towel. After 6 weeks, there has been no mold at all, and a wonderful hot sauce smell. Last weekend I emptied the pulp and juice into a clean bowl while I thoroughly cleaned my fermentation vessel. Added some more salt and vinegar, and repeated the setup. I will wait another week and bottle this. Thanks for the recipe!
Ok so I've started again I puréed the ghost peppers with some of the salt water I used a china cap seperated the pulp . Put into a bowl used a lid to a smaller bowl of the same type . Pressed it down tight added the liquid pulled back the lid just a hair so that the liquid would saturate the pulp . Added a ceramic bowl to weigh it down Then added the rest of the salt water . The ceramic bowl is now surmersed as well . I loosely topped with plastic wrap . I hope this works I still don't see how the liquid that's on top wouldn't get mold on it but we will see . My hands eyes and noise are on fire so I'm going to go get cleaned up lol . Smells good at least . If anyone else has any other ideas let me know .
So it's like day two I saw pellicle on the top so I just threw in the fridge idk what else to do
Dogma, maybe you live in a hot moist environment? Or there are a lot of mold spores? I don't know. I followed the instructions, and left the ferment vessel in my somewhat warm (~75 degree) dark office, with no mold whatsoever forming. I forgot to mention that I did add just a tad of slightly salted distilled water twice, when the level dropped down near the cover.
I've made many a fermented item in my house. hell I brew beer for a living . So I know sanitation . And I've made sauce before . But never with a salt brine . And never had a problem . I am really at a lose as to what is going on here . I can still have the same effect here with fermentation with my fridge . It will just take much much longer . I just don't understand . maybe I had some that latched on to the peppers after I cleaned them idk. Makes me sad :(
I used Thai chilies and made two batches one red and one green as I had purchased a small bundle at the farmers market and ended up with more than I needed. As for my mash I did it differently but believe I attained a similar result. I covered my mash with a good layer of salt to keep out contaminants and it worked fine. No mold, no problems and the mash smelled great! My next batch I will use a brine to ferment. I read a blog where someone suggested using a French press coffee maker to hold down the mash below the brine. Anyone try this method (?) looking forward to trying this with other peppers. Great recipe. Thank you Roger!

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