Eco-Saturday: Hot sauce

Homemade hot sauce makes a pretty gift for the fire-eaters in your family.
Homemade hot sauce makes a pretty — and practical — gift for the fire-eaters in your family.

Ron questioned how homemade hot sauce could be considered beneficial for the environment. The answer, of course, is transportation. Home-canning anything you grew yourself (or even bought at a local farmer’s market) is better for the environment than buying canned goods at the store. Plus when you can at home, you get to reuse the container over and over. And my approach to hot sauce stretches the peppers, so you get two to three times the potential benefit out of a single harvest.

Do it right, and the amount of actual work involved in making hot sauce is less than the effort of driving to the store and buying it ready-made.

Stem the peppers, cut them up, and throw them in a Mason jar with salt and vinegar as you harvest.
Stem the peppers, cut them up, and throw them in a Mason jar with salt and vinegar as you harvest.

Start with a regular quart jar. Every time you go to the garden, pull off whatever peppers are ripe. Bring them in, pull off the stems, cut them into chunks, and throw them in the jar. Sprinkle them heavily with salt (preferably not iodized, as it may discolor them), add enough distilled vinegar to cover them, and put the lid on the jar.

Keep adding to the jar until it’s within an inch or so of being full.

When the jar is full and the peppers have steeped in the vinegar for a while, replace the lid with your blender blades.
When the jar is full and the peppers have steeped in the vinegar for a while, replace the lid with your blender blades.

At this point — assuming you used a standard Mason jar, and not the wide-mouth kind — you can simply screw your blender blades onto the jar, put it on the blender, and process it into a fiery orange puree.

Mmm … hot pepper smoothie.
Mmm … hot pepper smoothie.

Don’t drink it. (Unless you’re me, in which case, feel free to take a swig to clear your sinuses.)

Pureed.
Pureed.

To make a Louisiana-style hot sauce, pour the resulting puree through a standard kitchen strainer. A quart of puree should make about two half-pint jelly jars of virgin hot sauce.

Strain.
Strain.

At this point, you have several options. Your first option is to add more vinegar and salt, steep it another week or so, and strain it again. You can probably get away with this a couple of times before you start to exhaust the peppers’ flavor. Each subsequent batch will be less fiery and flavorful, so keep that in mind. If you’re making this as a gift, make sure the fire-eaters on your list get the first batch.

Your other option is to make sriracha. I recommend this option.

To make sriracha, cover the puree with salt and vinegar again. If you have any more peppers that have ripened, it’s fine to add them at this point; they’ll just make the sauce hotter.

Throw some fresh garlic into the jar and puree again. To make sriracha with pulp and seeds in it, skip the next two steps.

To make sriracha and chili sauce, ignore the puree for another week or so, then strain it again, pour the resulting liquid (about a half-pint) into a jelly jar and add sugar to taste. Transfer the pulp to a pint jar. The sweetened, strained sauce will taste like sriracha, and the pepper-garlic pulp will taste like the chili sauce you get at Chinese restaurants.

If you’re lazy and/or like the idea of a hybrid of sriracha and chili sauce, skip the second straining and just add a quarter-cup of sugar to your garlic-pepper-vinegar mix. Pour it into jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace.

I canned a couple of Red Peter peppers for my little brother, who shares my macabre sense of humor.
I canned a couple of Red Peter peppers for my little brother, who shares my macabre — and frequently immature — sense of humor.

If you’re really lazy, you can skip all these steps and just harvest your peppers into jelly jars, salt them down, and cover them with distilled vinegar. This will produce a nice pepper vinegar that tastes magnificent on collards.

Regardless of which method you choose, you’ll need to can your sauce. Make sure the lid and the top of the jar are clean and free of any bits of pepper or moisture that could prevent a good seal. Screw down the lids tightly and process in a boiling-water bath for 10 minutes.

When I give away hot sauce as gifts, I usually unscrew the band, put a second lid on top, and screw the band back down. The recipient can then use a churchkey to puncture the bottom lid — making a simple dispenser — and put the spare lid on top to keep it from spilling in the fridge when not in use.

Happy canning!

Emily

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