by Cynthia Graber
My palate loves a kick. I own seven or eight different kinds of chile powder or flakes, another two or three different whole dried chiles. There's a bottle of spicy sesame oil in the fridge.
And, of course, hot sauce.
I bought my latest fire-truck red offering at the Ferry Market in San Francisco, from a farm that specializes in beans and chiles. It has serious zing. But I took a look at the ingredient list: basically chile, vinegar, and salt.
Chile, vinegar, and salt? That's all? Shouldn't I be able to concoct something that has only three ingredients?
I was pondering that existential question when the New York Times' Melissa Clark came to my rescue. Lately I feel as if we're food soul-mates, as if she's been reading my mind, or my refrigerator. (See my previous post on tomatoes, and her delectable tomato/yoghurt soup.)
Melissa - we're on a first name basis, right? - suggested adding red peppers to give the sauce a touch of sweetness. She also suggested four red chile peppers. I bought a half-pint container at the market that contained more than a dozen sunburst ones. They were small, so I threw in six instead of four.
I chopped the peppers and the garlic up roughly, added the vinegar, and let the pot simmer, covered. She suggested avoiding the fumes, as they'd sting. I didn't find them particularly unpleasant, though, as long as I didn't stick my face in and take a deep yoga breath.
Here's one mistake I did make, which I suggest you avoid: let the mixture cool before you pour it into the blender. If it's hot, you'll have to remove the little plastic piece in the top to let air escape, so the blender doesn't explode. The sauce will turn the towel you place over top bright red. If the mixture's cool, there's no need to sully a towel.
When I finished, the sauce was thick with peppers and garlic, like the sriracha sauce that inspired her. And remember how I threw in a couple of extra peppers? I should have listened to the expert. This hot sauce slams a wallop.
I still had plenty of peppers left, so I figured another batch of hot sauce was in order. This time, though, I was out of garlic. I cooked it anyway. The resulting sauce was thinner, more like my traditional hot sauce.
They're both great. And now I've answered that epic question of burning important. Can I make hot sauce at home? Why yes, I can.
Melissa Clark's Hot Sauce, with an optional modification
- 4 hot red chile peppers
- 2 sweet red peppers
- 5 garlic cloves
- 3/4 cup distilled white vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
Many people say to wear gloves while chopping chiles. I didn't have any, so I just chopped them. If you do that, wash your hands carefully, and be careful not to touch your eyes. In general, roughly chop the chiles, the red peppers, and the garlic, and toss it into a small sauce pan. Add the vinegar and the salt. Cover and simmer for about 10 minutes, until the peppers and the garlic are soft.
Cool the mixture, then puree it in a blender. Add it to a jar, tighten the lid, and let it sit in the fridge for a few days for the flavors to blend. Or, if you're like me, use it right away.
And if you have extra peppers and no garlic, you can make the exact same sauce without the garlic. It'll be a little thinner, but still snappy, bright, and burning. Perfect to kick up any dish.