On a recent trip to St. Augustine, I bought some fresh datil peppers at a local market. A cousin of the habanero, the datil starts out sweet and fruity -- and then goes in for the kill with its heat, averaging about 200,000 units on the Scoville scale. These little peppers are widely grown in the nation's oldest city. In fact, this pepper that packs a lot of heat is celebrated with an annual festival.
I tweeted a picture of the peppers and almost immediately got a message from chef Todd Erickson, asking if I could pick some up for him. I did and promptly delivered a bag to Huahua's Taqueria. When I asked what he was going to do with them, he replied, "I'm going to make hot sauce." When I asked if that was difficult to make, he said it wasn't. In fact, he offered to write step-by-step directions for Short Order readers.
The chef, who now offers a line of his signature Tailwagger hot sauces ($6.99 each) at Huahua's, did just that and even went one step further to include safety tips and pictures. Because datils are hard to come by in Miami, his recipe uses dried chipotles and fresh jalapeños.
Make Your Own Hot Pepper Sauce
By Todd Erickson
My love for fiery foods began young and has followed me throughout my culinary career. Living in Arizona, California, and Texas has also given me an appreciation for different chili varietals, flavors, and spices. I have always had a nice collection of different hot sauces in my fridge at all times -- sriracha, Tabasco, Tapatío, sambal, Larry's Hot Pussy Juice. I own them all and appreciate them for their heat, flavor, acidity, and creativity.
As much as I enjoy other people's hot sauces, the chef in me said, "I need to be making my own!" The results of my dabbling have been pretty remarkable, in my opinion, and in those who have volunteered their palates to my little experiment.
In just a few steps, you too can become a hot-sauce maker. The quantities I have been making at the taqueria would not be realistic for the home connoisseur; however, the steps I have taken can easily be dialed down to accommodate the appropriate amount for your household. But first a few rules:
When working with these sassy seasonals, it is very important to be aware of where you are putting your hands after touching these peppers. One misplaced inappropriate scratch while handling any of the spicier peppers could have you contemplating a trip to the free clinic waiting room and wondering how the hell your junk caught on fire. I strongly recommend the use of latex gloves and some sort of eye protection. Eye protection isn't as important in the beginning of the process as it will be during the purée step of the process. That's when things can become explosive.
Pick Your Perfect Pepper
Depending upon the time of year, access to fresh chilies can be abundant or sparse. Varieties that are readily available throughout the year tend to be jalapeño, habanero/Scotch bonnet, and serrano. I opted to use the dried and smoked jalapeño, AKA chipotle pepper, which is readily available at most grocery stores and every Latin market I've ever been to. Blending different varieties of peppers can also be a fun way of making your personal stash of bespoke hot stuff extra-special, but for this exercise, chipotle it is.
Get Your Tools Ready
In addition to the already mentioned latex gloves and stylish protective eyewear, you will need a medium mixing bowl, two small cookie sheets, a four-quart pot, a blender, a ladle, tongs, a fine sieve, and a couple of mason jars with lids.
Once you have these steps down, making your own hot sauce becomes simple. You can begin to experiment with different pepper varietals, fresh or dried. Grilling peppers adds a great depth of flavor, while different vinegars can bring several different flavors and acidity levels into play. Feel free to experiment -- mix flavors and cooking techniques to arrive at your ultimate pepper sauce. Once you've got your special sauce down, be sure to drop one off at Huahua's for me to sample.
Chipotle-Malt Hot Sauce
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- 12 oz. chipotles, dried, stems removed
- 16 jalapeños, stems removed, sliced lengthwise
- 2 lbs. onion, Spanish
- 12 garlic cloves, peeled
- 1/4 cup cumin, ground
- 1/4 cup coriander, ground
- 1/2 cup oregano, dried
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 6 oz. agave nectar
- 3/4 cups kosher salt
- 3 quarts malt vinegar
- 2 quarts water
- Peel and rough-chop the onion in about one-inch chunks, and toss in a medium bowl with jalapeños. Add three tablespoons of olive oil and toss to coat.
- Scatter the onions and jalapeños on a cookie sheet and place in a 450-degree-plus oven.
- Add the garlic to the bowl previously used for the onion and toss with one tablespoon of olive oil to coat evenly.
- Put the garlic on a second cookie sheet and place into the 450-degree-plus oven.
- Roast onions and garlic until both become golden brown. The onions can become almost charred on the edges and be perfectly good to use, whereas the garlic should not get too dark because it will become bitter and lose its sweet caramel notes.
- While the onions and garlic are roasting, combine the dried chipotles, water, and cider vinegar in the four-quart saucepan and bring to a simmer.
- Once onions and garlic come out of the oven, they can be scraped directly into the pot of simmering chipotles. This is also the time to add the agave nectar, cumin, coriander, and oregano.
- Let the mixture simmer covered for an hour, and up to two hours to develop flavor. When time is up, remove the pot from the heat and allow to cool on the counter for about a half-hour.
- Once cool, it's time to purée in the blender. I recommend cooling the chilies prior to blending because hot liquids tend to explode once the blender is turned on. Seeing that we're dealing with spicy-hot stuff, it is best to avoid flying hot sauce at all costs.
- Do not fill the blender more than halfway. Purée starting on the lowest speed and work your way up. Purée until completely smooth.
- Pour through the fine sieve into a large container and reserve. Repeat this process until all peppers have been puréed. Season the pepper purée liberally with salt to taste.
- Depending upon the peppers and how much liquid evaporated from simmering, you might need to thin the purée with either water or more cider vinegar. This is where it becomes a matter of personal taste. Adjust the salt and acidity to what you like.
- Pour hot sauce into mason jars and refrigerate. I like to let my sauce hang out in the fridge for at least two weeks before anyone gets to taste. This allows all of the flavors to develop.
- After two weeks, it's time to re-inspect your handiwork and adjust seasoning once again. At this point, you have a hot sauce that is ready to go. You can keep your personal stash in the refrigerator for six months easily, but I'm pretty sure once you decide to share with friends, it won't last anywhere near that long.