This is a guest post from Paul Griffin, a chef in Charleston, South Carolina. This post came about in response to a recent post I had about Tabasco; it turns out Paul actually makes his own Tabasco-style sauce.
Note from Paul: This recipe is adapted from Linda Zeidrich's "The Joy of Pickling", which is a fantastic book that I recommend constantly to people who are interested in fermented foods, canning, and/or pickling.
This may look a bit daunting, but it’s actually quite simple. The most difficult work you will do is cutting the tops off of your peppers and halving them. So no excuses, alright?.
All you need to do this is:
Peppers. I usually use red (i.e. ripe) jalapenos, preferably from a local farm. Remember, the better the raw product, the better the end product, so get the best peppers you can find.
Pickling salt. It’s very fine so you don’t generally have to boil your brine to get it to dissolve. Don’t substitute table salt or kosher salt because they have different weights for the same volume, your ratio will be off. Also, if you use table salt, you'll be adding iodine to your brine, which you don't want. Furthermore, you'll have a box of pickling salt sitting around, which might be an extra encouragement to get you into doing some canning and pickling!
Water. I'm sure you're familiar with it.
A container (I use a pitcher for large batches) that can hold all of the peppers with some room to spare.
A large ziploc type bag that will reach to the sides of your container. With a 1 gallon pitcher, I find that a gallon-size bag is perfect.
Stem and halve, but do not seed, the peppers. Put them into the container. Make your brine with a ratio of 2.5 Tbsp pickling salt to 1 quart of water. The salt should dissolve with some vigorous stirring. You’ll want appx. 1 quart of brine for each pound of peppers. Pour just enough brine into the container to completely cover the peppers, which should be about half of your brine. Push the empty ziploc bag into the container and fill it with the remaining brine. This will act as a weight to keep the peppers submerged, as well as keeping the surface of the brine from contacting air (yeast will grow on the surface if it is kept in contact with air, which is not what you want). Furthermore, should the bag become punctured, it is full of brine and will not alter the ratio of salt to water in the container.
Label the container with the date and leave it at room temperature. I just leave mine on the kitchen counter.
The next day, make sure the brine is still covering the peppers and add more if necessary (sometimes they can absorb enough brine to swell over the top of the brine).
The brine will probably get a bit cloudy in the next few days, but this is not a problem. What is a (minor) problem is if a scum develops in the jar. This generally means that yeast is growing in your brine. You can check for this by picking up the brine bag and running your finger along the bottom of it. If it feels slimy, rinse it thoroughly with hot water, wiping off all of the scum, and skim any scum off of the surface of the brine in your container with a spoon or small ladle, then replace the bag.
After 3 weeks on the counter, start tasting your peppers (carefully if you used hot peppers. They might be fermented, but they're still hot) and brine. They should be mildly sour. I like the acidity of a really sour sauce, so I usually let mine sit for 4-5 weeks. Once the peppers are as sour as you’d like, strain the brine into a non-reactive (i.e. stainless steel) pan, boil it, skimming any scum (it generally looks like foam) that develops, then cool it completely. You can just pour the brine over the peppers and store them in the fridge at this point, but I like to make hot sauce, so I put the peppers and brine (use less or more brine, depending on how thin you want your sauce. Remember that you can always add more brine if it's too thick, but you can't take it out if it's too thin) into the blender and puree them for a good minute or two.
Strain the puree through a fine mesh or cheesecloth into a bowl. You’ll want to use a spoon or spatula to really push through as much liquid as you can. You’ll have really tasty tabasco-style hot sauce (albeit not aged for three years in a barrel) in the bowl and some spicy hot chile paste in your strainer. I usually put some of the sauce into a cruet and the rest into a mason jar and keep both in the fridge, where it will be good for months and months (but you’ll probably consume it all long before that). Note that after a few hours of sitting, the sauce will separate. This is normal, just shake the bottle before you use the sauce. Most commercial hot sauces use a bit of xantham gum to prevent this separation, but you'll enjoy the shaking because it will remind you that you made this sauce yourself.
For the paste, you can just use it as is, but if you want to go the extra mile, mince as much garlic as you think you’d like, and mix it in with the paste for an outstanding chile paste that is much hotter than the sauce, due to consisting mostly of the seeds and rib flesh, which is where most of the capsaicin resides in a pepper.
Once you feel you've mastered the basic technique, you can start experimenting with adding other ingredients to your recipe. Garlic and onions are obvious candidates. Some people like to add allspice and peppercorns. I have even seen people add charcoal, just to get extra smoky flavor.
Use your imagination, and enjoy!