By Nancy Sweet, director, culinary programs and operations, LLCC
Hot sauces are booming. At the grocery store, it’s normal to see 12 to 15 different brands, from the traditional Tabasco, Frank’s and Crystal to more regional, local producers. At specialty stores, the number might be even higher, with some specialty stores focusing on just super “hot” products.
I like hot sauces. But, I also like to taste what I’m eating. A little heat is great – it can brighten up stir fries, eggs, fried chicken wings, even pizza. But when all I can do is reach for a glass of water and not even taste anything I’ve eaten, then that hot sauce is too much for me. In my opinion, the hot sauce should complement or elevate the food, not overwhelm it.
Though I will often pick up a new hot sauce in my travels to test it out, I also like to experiment with making hot sauces at home. This allows you to really play around with the ingredients and create something that works for you. And, once you find the recipe that you love, share it with others. Small glass bottles are available cheaply on amazon.com. Bottle your sauce up and give it to others. It makes great holiday presents or hostess gifts.
Hot Sauce Basics
First, consider what type of chili pepper to use. The spiciness of peppers is rated on the Scoville scale, with each pepper having a certain amount of “Scoville units.” This heat comes from capsaicin, a chemical compound in peppers.
For example, bell peppers rate at 0 Scoville units, jalapenos rate around 6,000, and the Carolina Reaper, currently the world’s hottest pepper, rates at 1.6 million Scoville units, on average. Interestingly, the Scoville unit is created subjectively by having people actually taste the peppers or their capsaicin compound to determine where it falls on the Scoville scale. So, the sensitivity of each taster’s palate is factored in.
Next, determine if your sauce will be raw or cooked. Raw vegetables and peppers may create a brighter, fresher tasting sauce whereas a sauce that has onions, garlic and peppers stewed for several hours may have a deeper, more complex flavor. Additionally, some type of acid is critical in order to create a balanced-tasting sauce to cut through the spicy peppers. Play with different ones to see what works for you, such as various vinegars, ciders and fresh citrus fruit juices. Aromatics play an important role, too, such as onion, garlic, carrots, tomatoes, herbs or even alcohol. Finally, seasoning is critical too, so don’t forget to season with salt.
One last word of advice: buy a box of disposable gloves to handle the peppers. It’s amazing how long the spicy oils of the peppers can stay on your hands and with that, everything else that you touch.
This paste is excellent as a meat marinade or stirred into Southwest-style soups, stews or chilis.
*Assorted mix of about 4-6 dried chilies, such as ancho, New Mexico, chilies de arbol, cayenne, habanero, guajillo.
*2 tsp cumin
*1 tsp dried oregano
*2 sprigs fresh thyme
*2 garlic cloves
*1 bay leaf
*1 tablespoon white vinegar
*2 tablespoons salad oil
*1 teaspoon salt
Remove seeds and stems from the dried peppers (and wear gloves). Cover with boiling water and let soak to soften for about 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Drain chilies, reserving ¼ cup of the water. Process peppers with all remaining ingredients in a food processor to make a thick paste. Thin with reserved water or oil to desired consistency.
*¼ pound fresh red jalapeno peppers (red just keeps the color a nice heat – substitute others if you like), stems removed. Remove seeds if you prefer a smoother sauce.
*¼ pound red bell peppers
*3-4 garlic cloves
*½ cup apple cider vinegar
*2 tablespoons tomato paste
*2 tablespoons honey
*1 tablespoons fish sauce
Add all ingredients in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth.
In a saucepan over medium/high heat, add the blended sauce until it boils. Reduce to a simmer and cook 10-15 minutes. Taste and seasoning with any additional vinegar/honey/fish sauce. Will keep for about 2 weeks in the fridge.
Basic Hot Sauce
*1 tablespoon salad oil
*1 garlic clove, chopped
*1 small onion, died
*½ cup carrot, diced
*1 cup water
*3-5 hot peppers, such as habanero or scotch bonnet, stems and seeds removed, chopped
*2-4 tablespoons white vinegar
*1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
*1 teaspoon salt
Heat oil in saute pan over medium heat. Add garlic and let cook about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add onions and carrot. Let cook about 4-5 minutes. Don’t brown the vegetables. Add water and cook until water is almost all cooked away – you want carrots to be pretty soft.
Remove from heat and add to food processor or blender and let cool about 5 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and blend until totally smooth. Taste for seasoning, specifically more salt or vinegar. Will keep in fridge for 1 month.
Jalapeno Hot Sauce
*10 jalapenos, stemmed and chopped
*2 cloves garlic, diced
*½ cup white onion, diced
*1 teaspoon salt
*1 cup water
*½ cup white vinegar
In a medium sauce pan, combine jalapenos, garlic, onions, salt and oil on medium high heat. Sauté for about 3 minutes. Add water and turn heat to low. Simmer about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and allow mixture to cool until about room temperature.
In a food processor, puree mixture until fairly smooth. With the processor running, pour the vinegar through the tube in a steady stream. Add sauce to jars and refrigerate.
Want to know more?
Lincoln Land Community College offers associate degree programs in culinary arts and hospitality management and academic credit certificates in culinary arts and baking/pastry. For more information call 217-786-4613 or visit LLCC Hospitality and Culinary Arts.