Brendan McGill’s Lacto-Fermented Hot Sauce
Any quantity of organic, freshly-harvested hot peppers
Well, spring, or filtered water
Sea salt (3 percent of the total mass of peppers and water)
Optional: a splash of juice from a raw lactic fermentation, like organic & raw (not pasteurized) sauerkraut
You’ll need a fermentation crock. I really like the TSM products available via Sausage Maker or Amazon. A wide-mouthed one-gallon jar would work as well, although you’ll have to find weights that fit inside the mouth of the jar to keep the peppers submerged in the brine, as well as some sort of cover that you can burp occasionally
- Measure the mass of the peppers you plan on fermenting; record. Wash your peppers and put them into your crock, filling to 3/4 full.
- Fill a pitcher with spring, well, or filtered water. Be sure not to use treated water (the chlorine is harmful to the fermentation).
- Fill a clean a measuring pitcher to an even quantity, like 2L. Pressing the peppers down with one (clean) hand, pour the water over the peppers until they are almost submerged. Record the quantity of water you used. Thanks to the metric system, the volume of the water is equal to the mass of the water, so if you added 2L of water to 4K of peppers, we know the total mass of our fermentation is 6K. I try to do these things in nice round numbers as to make it easy on myself.
- Calculate 3 percent of the total mass (in this example, 180g), scale that much sea salt and add it to the fermentation. It will find equilibrium eventually, but feel free to mix it around a little with your hand (it always makes me feel better).
- Add that (optional) splash of raw-fermented brine (from sauerkraut, or a previous batch of hot sauce). This will behave as a starter and assure your fermentation’s success. It’s not entirely necessary, since good peppers should be crawling with lactobacilli — but 4K of organic peppers will cost you close to $100, so it’s best to be sure.
- Use your crock’s weights to evenly press down the (almost) submerged peppers. After 24 hours, the peppers should be entirely submerged in brine. The salt and pressure from the weights breaks down their structure a little bit, and they kick out whatever water they were retaining, which adds to the quantity of brine.
- Pour some water into the water seal of your crock, so that CO2 released from the fermentation can burp out, but the fermentation won’t have too much fresh oxygen in the chamber (which can feed molds).
- I let my hot sauce ferment for one month in this environment at a warm room temperature. You can get a good result in shorter time, but we want a nice, acidic hot sauce, and the longer it ferments, the more sour it becomes. Check it weekly, skimming any white molds that grow on the surface of the brine with a ladle.
- When it’s done, tie a bandana around your lower face, and wear eye protection (you don’t want this in your eyes) and pour carefully into a 5 gallon bucket. Use a Vitamix or immersion blender and thoroughly puree, then strain if you like. We reserve the dregs from straining, dehydrate, and grind them into delicious fermented chile powder.
This sauce keep in the refrigerator for at least one year. I usually get through my annual batch just in time to rotate to the new crop. It’s fun to serve to people and cite its age: “Here’s your fermented pepper sauce, 2014 vintage.”