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Greetings, all, and happy almost-fall!
Rumors of my blog’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. It definitely went on unofficial hiatus while the month of August put on steel-toed boots and kicked me a few times in the head, but here we are again.
If you’ve seen my Instagram lately, I haven’t been idle, despite the lack of posting here. In fact, I’m excited to share one of my current project favorites, along with the resource I chose as a primary reference and the new tools that have improved my overall end products.
With all of that out of the way, who likes hot sauce? 🙋♀️
Ever had a food that you adored, but could rarely have? Allergies and/or food sensitivities can be a real bear like that. As a result of my intolerance to all things allium (onions, chives, leeks, and the like), this eliminates most categories of salsa from my diet.
Of course, numerous recipes exist in the world for flavorful sauces that don’t require the use of an onion. In fact, fermenting a basic pepper mash can create an unbelievable depth of flavor with few ingredients, a bit of time, and a couple of basic steps.
Last year, I attempted to make fermented hot sauce based on the advice and guidance of a friend and neighbor. Unfortunately, thanks to the “curse of knowledge,” his super-basic-anyone-can-do-it recipe fell short in my case because I ended up with an icky, moldy mess after two weeks or so.
In fact, the result of that first batch produced a reeking stench so foul I immediately had to take the bag out to the dumpster and air out my apartment for over an hour with open windows. My heart — and my nose — were broken. Dismayed, I didn’t bother trying again until last month, thinking the process too difficult or otherwise beyond my reach.
A note about the curse of knowledge: it comes from the idea that once you learn something so completely it becomes second nature, you assume that everyone else can do it just as easily as you. It’s nothing I blame my friend for at all — on the contrary, I neither knew what questions to ask nor when to ask them.
Want to know more about the curse of knowledge as a cognitive bias? Click here for an article at MIT’s Sloan School discussing it.
Fast forward to early August of 2022. I’ve always loved hot peppers and adding them in different permutations to my meals — they’re really healthy for you, after all! While at the farmer’s market, I noticed that pepper season was in full swing, so on a whim I grabbed a full bag and went home to stare at them for a while, considering my options.
Did I dare try making hot sauce again? It would make for great Christmas gifts, and I’d never have to worry about ingredients if I made it myself.
Heck, I could design a sauce that fit my palate perfectly!
But how to go about it?
Perhaps predictably, I started with online sources. A few recipes all mentioned a book with oodles of historical, scientific, and cultural research behind various peppers, fermentation methods, and the stories behind the sauces themselves. Thus intrigued, I bought the book, and from there spent a full weekend diving into the world of Fiery Ferments*.
Far from a disappointment, the book instead fired me up (so to speak) to try making a one-week pepper ferment.
With the simplest of ingredients and supplies, and only needing to “burp” the jar once daily to rid it of carbon dioxide, I had some lacto-fermented peppers ready for saucing in only seven days.
Then, all I needed to do was toss the peppers with some vinegar and brine from the jar into a food processor to mash it up, and finally pour the lot into a saucepan to simmer for 15-20 minutes to stop fermentation completely.
For only a week, I was surprised at the difference fermenting the peppers made, and I felt inspired to try letting a second batch go for a lot longer. Maybe two or three months?
Perhaps needless to say, but Fiery Ferments offered me success on the first try. The table of contents doesn’t limit itself to hot sauce, though — pickled ginger, mole, kimchi, chutneys, and even empanada recipes can be found inside its pages. There’s even a whole chapter on spicy cocktails that I’ll be bringing to any holiday party I happen to attend this year. 😍
Here’s a sneak preview of my second batch of peppers, slightly upgraded with a new, dedicated fermentation lid that adds a one-way valve. The valve allows for a release of carbon dioxide while blocking anything like oxygen or ickiness like mold spores from entering the closed environment. Using this means I don’t have to “burp” the jar every day — good thing, too, because I can be forgetful!
I should also note that I’ve added pickle weights to my kitchen toolkit, which have helped with ferments by keeping everything safely under the salt brine and away from rot-inducing organisms and bad bacteria. Fiery Ferments discusses other options at various price points in their earlier chapters, and the glass weights have worked well for me in the wide-mouth jars.
Far from the only fermentation project I’m attempting thos season, be sure to subscribe to this blog to learn how the others have fared thus far. See you then.
Welcome back to Seeking Continual Flavor! With winter close at hand, preservation and long-term storage are the themes of the rest of the year. Fermentation, dehydration, and more to come in later posts.
Want to contibute to the fun? Check out the donations page to learn about how you can help bring my projects to fruition and share the knowledge with others.