How to Make Homemade Sriracha

When I wrote about ways to preserve the pepper harvest, I didn't mention the third option I had brewing away on the counter: homemade hot sauce!

October's brief but terrifying sriracha shortage scare has come and gone, but the hubbub reminded me that we, of course, could make our own. And probably make it better. And definitely spicier. (Our jalapeños are off-the-charts hot this year). 

So I checked the Ball Blue Book for hot sauce recipes and looked around online for ideas about what makes up the magic stuff in the rooster bottle before hitting the kitchen to give it a go. I decided on fermented hot sauce instead of one with vinegar in it. Here's how you do it:

1. Gather up 4 pounds of (red) hot peppers:

Most of mine are jalapeños, but you can see that I also tossed in a few ripe cayenne peppers (for variety) as well as several red bell peppers (to keep the heat in check). In the photo are actually 3 pounds of peppers, but later I added another pound of bell peppers to tone it down. If your jalapeños are homegrown and hotter than hell, I highly recommend the 3:1 ratio of hot peppers to bell peppers. Trust me.

2. Cut the stems (but leave the caps). Cut the peppers into pieces and toss into your food processor:

If you are careful only to touch the outside skin of the pepper, you won't need gloves. 

3. Run the food processor until you have your weapons-grade pepper paste:

It's totally fine to do this in batches. And there's no such thing as over-processing here--you want a mushy, mushy paste.

4. Add 2 slightly heaping tablespoons of kosher salt, 1 whole head of garlic (peeled), and a 1/2 cup brown sugar:

That looks like a lot of sugar, but you really need it to balance out all that capsaicin. Plus the sugar gives all your good bacteria something to munch on during the fermenting process. Blend again until fully incorporated into the hot pepper paste.

5. Now you're ready to jar it up for fermentation. I added a tablespoon of pickling liquid to each quart-sized mason jar first, to inoculate the peppers with our friendly bacteria:

Remember my Swiss chard pickles from the summer? That's where I got my pickling liquid. These jars are still in the fridge and were never canned in boiling water, so all of their lacto-fermenting bacteria are still alive and well in the brine, just sleeping in the fridge's cold temps. Once they warm up on the counter, they are good to go for fermenting my peppers and will help the process go more quickly.

If you don't happen to have unprocessed, lacto-fermented pickles or sauerkraut lying around, you can use the liquid-y whey from yogurt (homemade or store bought) for this just as easily. Same stuff.

6. Add the pepper paste, close the jars up, and keep at room temperature for a week or so:

I like using canning lids and rings for this, because it's easy to tell when fermentation is really going: the "button" in the center of the lids will be pressed up and not give easily when you press on it. That lets you know that your brew is bubbling and the gases are trapped in the jar. It's a good thing, but you need to loosen the ring to let the air out when it happens. It took our about three days to get to that point, and then I was letting air out morning and evening for the rest of the week.

(PS — This photo was taken before I topped off the second jar with an additional pound of bell peppers.)

7. You can also give it a stir to check your fermentation:

See the bubbles? This step is optional, but fun. 

8. Once it's fermented for about a week, it should be bubbling, smell a little wine-like (or like pickles or sauerkraut, if you know what those smell like when they're done fermenting), and taste tangy. Then you're ready to take it from paste to sauce. You're going to need a mixing bowl, a fine mesh sieve, and a wooden spoon:

If you have a food mill, use it. It will be way faster. I didn't think of that until I had already started, though, so you should be aware that the next steps take some time and some elbow grease.

9. Dump a blob of fermented paste into your sieve (which is already over your bowl) and use the back of the spoon to press it through:

This isn't exactly quick work: You’ll have to rub the spoon back and forth over and over and over again. I liked pushing the blob to one side and scraping it down to the center of the sieve in a motion that pulled it toward me. But whatever gets the job done is fine.

10. You're done when you have mostly just seeds and skin left:

That gets composted, and then you just do that over and over until all of your paste is gone, having transformed into a bowlful of delicious sriracha sauce:

12. Stir the sauce well when you're done to even out the lumps and incorporate the tangy, liquid-y parts. Then you're read to jar it up:

This made two half-pints and almost a full quart. Half pints are obviously a more reasonable size, but we don't have many and I was tired, so I figured we'd keep the big one as the "refill" size in the back for when our little serving jars are empty. 

I am keeping these in the fridge, but I guess you could can them in a hot water bath if you wanted to. I'm not a food safety expert, so don't listen to me. If I had to guess, I think I would follow the directions for canning sauerkraut, since neither cabbage nor peppers are naturally acidic foods, but have been fermented. I take zero responsibility for your botulism if that doesn't work, though.

And the sauce? It's really, really good. Super-spicy, but also complex the way that real sauerkraut and pickles are, once you get past the initial punch of heat. If this turns out to be a year's supply, we'll never have to buy hot sauce again!


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