My earliest memory of hot sauce was the small bottle of Tabasco my mom kept in the cupboard; the red liquid had turned brown due to its infrequent use. To my knowledge, the only time it was ever used was a drop or two during cooking on those rare occasions we had chili. I’m not sure when I eventually tasted it on its own, but it was the beginning of a long love affair with hot sauce.
While I’ve tried several varieties of hot sauce, my favorite has always been Tabasco; the ingredients are simple—peppers, vinegar, and salt—yet the aging process gives it a complex flavor. There are hotter sauces out there, but I don’t like hot, just for the sake of being hot. And, as a minimalist, I’m not a big fan of sauces with more than a handful of ingredients, especially when they include fruit, nuts, or too many spices. I’m a purist, a traditionalist: I like my pepper sauce plain and simple.
Well-versed in the lore of Tabasco—the pepper mash, the Avery Island salt, the three-year aging process in oak barrels—I was intrigued and daunted by the process of making my own hot sauce. I knew I had neither the equipment nor the time to make a Tabasco-esque sauce, so any peppers grown in our garden were relegated to drying and crushing into red pepper flake.
When I came across this very simple hot sauce recipe recently, I was ecstatic: not only was it something I was capable of doing in my kitchen, it coincided with the first batch of cayenne peppers ripening in our garden. I collected the ripe peppers and began my first batch of sauce (I have since made a second batch, making some minor additions, as noted below):
- Dice the peppers and place in small, non-reactive pan. (In the second batch, I added garlic and a reconstituted ancho pepper for flavor.) Add a few pinches of sea salt or kosher salt.
- Fill pan with just enough vinegar (I used white vinegar in the first batch and apple cider vinegar in the second batch) to cover peppers and simmer until soft. I found I had to add additional vinegar throughout the process as the liquid reduced.
- Pour contents of pan into blender and blend until smooth.
- Run mixture though sieve and place in a glass container. I used a Frank’s RedHot bottle that I had thoroughly cleaned and sterilized; its opening is large enough that you can pour the sauce into it with relative ease. I did add more vinegar at this stage as the sauce was a bit thick for my liking.