October 31, 2016

If you like it hot, you probably already have a favorite hot sauce -- but why not try your hand at creating your own signature sauce? There are a million ways to concoct hot sauce, but every hot sauce recipe is based on chili peppers -- there are scores of varieties -- aromatics like garlic and onions, acid (usually vinegar of some sort), and salt. Go to any restaurant or grocery store, and you'll see a staggering range: multiple kinds of hot sauce with names such as Satan's Blood, Pain is Good, or Ultra Death.

Making hot sauce is not a precision exercise, it's a time to experiment. Once you've mastered the basic formula for combining the foundation ingredients, you can start playing with flavors and spice levels (and maybe come up with a clever name to slap on your home-brewed sauce). Here's all you need to know to create your own signature hot sauce.

Pick the Right Peppers

To start, you'll need to choose your peppers. Either fresh or dried is fine, and there's no rule saying the chili peppers have to match: It's totally OK to blend scary hot ghost peppers with mild aleppos. In fact, it might even be a good idea. They can vary in ripeness, too: If you're picking peppers from the garden, consider harvesting a mix of red and green chili peppers.

While it's easy to prepare hot sauce in big batches, many popular recipes call for just a dozen or so peppers, which you can turn into just a few bottles.

Add Some Salt, Vinegar, and Aromatics

Along with your dozen or so peppers, grab a few cloves of garlic and half an onion. Chop up all of the ingredients, and then add them to a saucepan, along with a healthy glug of white vinegar--a tablespoon or two should do--and whichever kind of salt you like best. This is a great opportunity to use smoked or flavored salts that don't necessarily make sense on the dinner table.

Hot sauce in bottle with Red chili pepper isolated on white
Hot sauce in bottle with Red chili pepper isolated on white

Turn Down (or Up) the Heat

Tomatoes will slightly sweeten the sauce; carrots can have a similar effect. To make the sauce even milder, a teaspoon of sugar should do the trick. Simmer the mixture until the peppers are very tender. Mashing will suffice if you prefer a chunkier sauce, but it's ideal to use a hand blender or standard blender if aiming for a smoother final product.

Bottle it Up

Another helpful contraption at this stage is a funnel, which makes it much easier to fill the thin-necked glass bottles that traditionally hold hot sauce. Should the sauce seem too thick, it's OK to thin it with water.

Stored in the refrigerator, bottled sauce should keep for three or four months (bottled sauces make great gifts). But, really, don't have to wait that long to make another batch. Maybe next time you'll be inspired to try a combination of ingredients that takes the flavor in a completely new direction.