Get creative with hot sauce – make your own Hot Pepper Mash
Ever since the Spaniards discovered them in the new world, and the Portuguese disseminated them throughout their trading routes in the Tropics, hot peppers became one of the most (if not the most) prevalent spices in dishes from the warm regions of the world. I am always trying new hot sauces in the market, with variations of ingredients which provide all kinds of different sensory experiences. Often times I am looking to get the basic unadulterated taste of different hot pepper varieties as well as different levels of heat, and an opportunity to experiment. Lately I have turned to creating my own pepper mash, a simple process which requires some great peppers, a food processor or blender, a pinch of salt, a large jar, and patience.
I like to experiment with different varieties I can find in the market and keep tasting the mash as it naturally ferments. As an example for my previous batch I found beautiful and fresh Cayenne and peruvian Ají in one of the local markets. These gave me a good balance as Cayenne are pretty hot (I used the Carolina Cayenne variety) and Ají are milder and with a nice, somewhat citrusy taste. I processed them separately into a mash with a small dash of salt, two pounds of each, and let them ferment in a cool dark kitchen cabinet. I kept using as the mash in different dishes throughout 5 months, as the taste mellowed becoming less sharp but keeping the heat. After the 5 months I decided to process the remaining mash (about 50% of the original) into sauce to lock in the taste (see below for the recipe).
For my latest mask project I chose two varieties equally high on the Scoville scale of heat: Red Habanero and Rocoto. Although similar in heat I find they differ substantially in taste, with the Habanero having a fruity yet dry flavor, and the Rocoto being more fruity and aromatic, somewhat reminiscent of a red bell pepper. The Habanero is more commonly known, being native of the Mexican Yucatan Peninsula, Central America and the Caribbean, where the Spanish discovered it early on. Rocoto’s origin is in the andean regions of Peru and Bolivia and has not been widely propagated elsewhere. I expect with the recent advent of Peruvian cuisine this variety will become more popular, being a mainstay of Peru’s kitchen.
Rocotos and Habaneros can be easy to spot, with Habaneros having an elongated and wrinkled shape and Rocoto being more reminiscent of an apple (hence the alternative name in Peru and Bolivia: Manzano after the word for apple in Spanish). Another clear differentiator are Rocoto’s black seeds.
I started with 2 pounds each of Rocoto and Habaneros, washed well and discarded the the stems. I processed each separately, seeds and all, adding about 3% salt by weight, until they were finely chopped. I then transferred to large jars, making sure the mash did not fill the jar more than two thirds in order to allow space for the mash to grow during the process of fermentation. The jars were stored in a cool and dark area, a kitchen cabinet with these conditions works. After 3-4 days I could see the mix rise as bubbles form from the fermentation process.
In this particular case, I let the mash ferment for 6 weeks and then processed into my sauce to lock in the flavors.
Simple pepper sauce:
- 2 pounds pepper mash, fermented
- One medium brown onion, coarsely chopped
- 3 large garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
- 2 tbs olive oil
- 2 cups (500 ml) vinegar (you could use plain white, or experiment with other options. In this case I used organic banana vinegar to add a more fruity and sweeter taste)
In a 2-3 quart pot heat olive oil on medium heat, then add the onions and garlic and sauté until they start to caramelize, about 2 minutes. Then add the pepper mash and vinegar and bring to simmer, turn heat to low, cover and allow to simmer for 20 minutes. Once done turn the heat off and allow to cool down. In the meantime make sure you wash the jars used for the mash thoroughly. Once the mash has cooled down, pour into a food processor or blender and blend until it becomes a smooth paste. Transfer to the jars, or if you prefer into smaller containers, and refrigerate. And voilá, your homemade pepper sauce is ready to add flavor to your favorite dishes.