The Hot Chili Harvest

A mix of the last hot chilies of the year, picked two days before our first frost.

My husband is a hot sauce lover. I learned to like hot sauce while traveling in Mexico, and have been slowly liking it more and more as the years go on. As I’ve mentioned on here more than once, I LOVE growing chilies, and grow a lot of them. We dry our own paprika (smoked and plain), jalapenos (for pickling and for dried/smoked chipotles), and our own cayenne. We also do a lot of Hatch style green chilies for both roasted green chilies (on everything from eggs to pork stew to burgers) and dried when ripe for red chili sauce. Cool chili fact. Hatch is the name of a place in New Mexico, not an actual variety of pepper. Hatch peppers can be any number of varieties. This year I grew Joe Parker and Big Jim. They are all in the Anaheim group. I like serranos for Indian food of all kinds and occasionally added to a Mexican dish for extra bite. And of course, we make gallons of salsa every year.

Pot of Hot Chilies

Chopped and ready for the stove. Note: This pot is 5 gallons. Yup. That’s a lot of chili.

So, with all this chili growing going on, it wasn’t long before I started researching making our own hot sauce. It’s a subject that the “official” food safety testing recipe sites like the Ball Blue Book, Extension Publications and the National Center for Home Food Preservation are strangely silent on. Internet searches turn up recipes for fermented brews trying to mimic tabasco to quick concoctions thrown into a jar in the refrigerator, but little is ever mentioned about how much vinegar is needed to ensure a safe botulism free shelf stable condiment. Yet you read the ingredients on a typical hot sauce, and it generally contains peppers, vinegar, spices and maybe some citric acid to bring down the acidity even further. Not that complicated. Something that home cooks should be able to do safely.

Chili Food Mill

Food mill. In this case I didn’t blend them first. Process in batches of about 2 cups each. Again, WEAR GLOVES.

Hoping to remedy this lack of decisive information, I purchased the book “Hot Sauce! : Techniques for Making Signature Hot Sauces” by Jennifer Trainer Thompson. I figured if the book was going to teach you how to come up with your own recipes, it must discuss minimum pH/vinegar amounts. Turns out, not so much. While the book is a fun read and has some inspiring recipes from many culinary traditions, and the author is the originator of one of my all time favorite bottled hot sauces, “Jump Up and Kiss Me“, it is quite nonchalant about the details on making something shelf stable. The book basically says, store in the refrigerator, or if you want to can it, water bath can for 20 minutes. I actually took the time to email the author and ask her for more detail, and she said that she had outsourced her hot sauce bottling to a “professional bottler”, also called a copacker; in her case, Dave’s Gourmet, and they ensure it meets all the safety requirements. So, no help there.

I know that peppers are around a pH of 5.5. Perhaps a bit higher for the hot chilies vs the sweet chilies. For the resulting sauce to be shelf stable and safe, it needs to be a pH of 4.6 or lower. Most food safety people feel much more comfortable with a pH of 4.2 or less. Somewhere in my recipe perusing, I arrived at a ratio of 1 cup vinegar to 4 cups pepper puree. We would use this ratio, and then water bath can the resulting hot sauce, and then store it in the refrigerator for extra safety, not knowing for sure what the end pH was. When I eventually bought a pH meter, the pH of this mixture was around 3.3, well into the safe zone, so we stopped refrigerating it.

The left overs

The left overs. Yeah, its a lot. But when you start with 5 gallons, you really don’t care. The chickens love the left overs.

This is not really a recipe per se, its more of a guideline for making your own version of Awesome Sauce, adapted to your own tastes. We’ve been making this for three years now, originally inspired by a bumper crop of chilies at the end of the 2013 season. It’s akin to Sriracha sauce, but with much more complexity, as Sriracha (at least the most famous one, Huy Fong, with the rooster on the bottle and the green top) is made with only jalapeno peppers. It’s actually not “blow your head off” hot. It’s just a lovely warm burn that goes well on just about anything.

By the way, if you like documentaries, I highly recommend Sriracha. It’s a really fun film about the history of this iconic condiment that is made in, and has always been made in, wait for it, California.

Awesome Sauce

  • Mixed Hot Chilies – any amount, but I’d say start with at least a pound. Ours always contains Hatch, jalapenos, serrano and cayenne, and depending on the year, Thai chilies, habaneros, and whatever other hot peppers we have on hand. The more different types, the better.
  • 5% vinegar – white, apple cider…whatever you think will taste great. We tend to alternate between white and apple cider from year to year. 1 cup per 4 cups puree.
  • Salt – start with 1 teaspoon per cup of puree.

Optional ingredients

  • Sugar
  • Garlic Powder
  • Cumin
  • Smoked Paprika
  • Chipotle Powder
  • Onion Powder

Rinse peppers. Cut off tops of peppers, and roughly chop into about 1 inch pieces. Don’t bother to seed. Wear gloves unless you want to enjoy your fingers burning and realizing how many times a day you put your fingers into your eyes for a day or so.

Place chopped chilies in heavy bottomed pot large enough to accommodate the volume. Add a cup or two of water to the bottom of the pot so that the peppers don’t scorch before they begin to release their juices. Place over low heat and stir about every 15 minutes until the heat has reached all of the peppers and they have cooked/collapsed. Your pot will be juicy. That’s a good thing. This can take from 30 minutes to an hour depending on the volume of peppers and your stove.

Awesome Sauce in da Pot

The finished sauce. About half the original volume.

At this point you can either hit the pot with a stick blender to break the chilies down further (the seeds will not break down – they are too hard), and then put the resulting mix through a fine meshed food mill, or just run them through a food mill without blending first. The first will give you a bit more volume and thickness, because the skins will be blended into the mix. I can never remember what I’ve done from year to year, and so have done it both ways. They both result in a tasty sauce.

Measure your resulting puree and make a note of how many cups you have (toss out the left over skins and seeds). Put your puree back into your cleaned out pot, and add vinegar and salt based on how many cups you have (see above).

Homemade Awesome Sauce

We canned about 18 pints of hot sauce this year. A ridiculous amount. But two years ago we did go through 14 pints of the stuff!

Now, here’s the tricky part. You’re gonna need to taste it. It helps if you have a partner who has a high tolerance for hot. Solicit opinions of anyone who is willing to throw in. You don’t have to taste much. Just a drop on the tongue. Is it salty enough? Does it need a smoky note? Some garlic?  A bit of sweet? We tend to do about 1/4 tsp garlic powder per cup of sauce, about the same amount of cumin (we’re big fans of cumin), and a similar amount of something smoked (be it paprika if it already seems plenty hot, or chipotle powder if its pretty tame). Our peppers are usually dead ripe, so we don’t generally need any added sugar, but your tastes may vary. Be sure to let it sit for a few minutes after you add the spices to give them a chance to rehydrate. Then taste again. Is it enough? If not, add a bit more of whatever you think it needs. Remember, you can’t take it back out, so go easy. Better to add in several times than to add too much and ruin all of your work.

Once you have it where you want it, reheat the whole mix and simmer for 10 minutes. Then, follow standard canning practices, bottle, and water bath can for 20 minutes per half pint or pint container.

Miles Away Farm Blog © 2015, where today, the weather hasn’t gotten above freezing all day, and its foggy and bleak outside, and we’re happy to have a pantry full of Awesome Sauce to warm us up!