Field Notes

Hot Sauce Master Class: Preserving Chilies

We can chalk up the invention of hot sauce to a time before refrigeration. It’s more than likely that the first chili pepper condiments were made as a way to stretch out the summer chili crops. There are two main methods for preserving peppers: fermenting with salt and pickling with vinegar. Fermenting peppers requires a little bit of patience, but it yields exceptional results. Many of the popular brands of hot sauce on the market (Tabasco, Texas Pete, and Frank’s) owe their depth of flavor to an aging process that starts with a pepper mash—essentially peppers that have been fermented with a salt-brine. Another method of putting up peppers is pickling, most commonly with a vinegar brine. Heavily salted liquids like fish sauce, or alcohols like sherry also make excellent brines. The latter is a fixture of Caribbean cuisine, and is the simplest condiment to make from scratch. After the peppers have soaked in the sherry for a few days, you can use both the peppers and the liquid.

Hot Sauce Field Guide: Nam Prik

There is no better example of the balance between sweet, salty, sour and spicy than this Thai condiment. To make this chili jam, dried chilies, shallots and garlic are fried to bring out their flavors, then blended with a mix of brown sugar and dried shrimp paste, and finished with fish sauce. If the idea of shrimp paste freaks you out, you can omit it—the jam will still be delicious.

Yield: 2 cups

  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 2 1/2 ounces dried chilies
  • 25 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 5 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons shrimp paste
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons fish sauce

Add the oil to a skillet over medium high heat. When the oil is hot, add the chilies and fry, stirring , for half a minute, taking care not to burn them. Transfer them to a paper-towel lined plate. Add the garlic to the skillet and fry for about 15 seconds, until barely brown, then transfer to the plate with the chilies. Add the shallots and fry until crispy, about 1 minute. Transfer to the plate with the chilies. Remove the skillet from heat, leaving the oil in the pan.

Place the chilies, garlic and shallots in a food processor and process until a paste forms. Set aside.

Return the skillet to medium heat and add the shrimp paste, breaking it up with the back of a wooden spoon. Add the brown sugar and stir until it dissolves. Then stir in the reserved chili paste, 2 tablespoons water and the fish sauce. Cook for a few minutes until the mixture is combined and slightly thickened. Store in a lidded container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.

Hot Sauce Field Guide: Grilled Peach Salsa

Not exactly a hot sauce but definitely a close cousin, this salsa should be on your summer barbecue rotation. We sprinkle the peaches with ground chili flakes before grilling to lend a second layer of heat and complexity to brightness of fresh jalapeño.

Yield: 2 cups

  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 1 fresh jalapeño chili, stem and seeds removed, finely chopped
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 2 peaches, halved, pits removed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 1 cup mint leaves
  • 1 cup cilantro leaves

In a small bowl, combine the lime juice, jalapeño and red onion. Let sit for 10 minutes. Prepare a medium hot grill (or a grill pan over high heat). Rub each peach half with olive oil, then sprinkle with the cayenne. Arrange the peaches on the grill, cut side down, and cook for 2 minutes. Flip the halves and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Transfer the peaches to a cutting board to cool. When they are cool enough to handle, dice into ½-inch cubes. Transfer to a medium bowl with the mint and cilantro. Add the marinated jalapeño and red onion and their juices. Season generously with salt, and serve.

Hot Sauce Field Guide: Belizean Heat

One of our favorite bottled hot sauces on the market is a habanero-based condiment from Belize called “Marie Sharp’s Belizean Heat.” It’s undeniably fiery, but with a touch of earthy sweetness to balance everything out. The secret ingredient: carrots. Here’s our homemade version.

Yield: 2 cups

  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped carrots
  • 3 fresh habanero chilies, stem and seeds removed, diced
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

In a skillet over medium heat, add the canola oil. When it shimmers, add the onion and carrot and cook until tender, about 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a food processor. Add the chilies, lime juice, salt and 3/4 cup water and puree until completely combined. Transfer to a bottle and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.