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Cooler weather means it is time to heat things up with peppers.
I can feel the cool weather in my knee. An old college injury, nothing glamorous, but the telltale sign lets me know we are nearly done with summer, and by the time you read this I will have pushed my bedtime back late enough to feel the first real dip into the 50s. Deep into football season, I confess to having already made a decent pot of chili, but there will be more to come. Fall greens, winter soups and many other cold weather dishes that arrive during flu season beg for (as does my stuffy nose) hot sauce. This year I am making my own.
It was an easy decision to come to. My friend Nick Holmes (the rockstar architect) and his lovely wife, Ginger, presented me with a bag of orange habanero peppers and I had no other use for them. This, coupled with the fact that Mr. Bubble made some excellent sauce from his jalapeño crop a week ago, gave me the confidence to give it a whirl.
I’m a minor enthusiast when it comes to hot sauce. As a food editor, as you might imagine, friends (and sometimes strangers) give me all kinds of hot sauce, from exotic flavors to the, dare I say, mundane. Everyone of them is around for a reason. It’s not about finding the right hot sauce for the dish, the task is rather finding the right dish for the sauce.
I think the first person to give me Sriracha was guitar picker/longtime friend John McCook, who since then has turned me on to a handful of stellar sauces. In the year 2000 I found myself in California where Cliff Fulkerson, founding member of Fat Man Squeeze, showed me the ways of Dave’s Insanity Sauce. We thought it was the hottest thing ever. I’ve since had some that dangerously put it to shame. Those are worthless to me. After a certain point it’s not fun anymore.
I do eat hot sauce daily so I stick to the mainstream stuff. Tabasco, Crystal, Louisiana Red Dot, Sriracha and a new bottle of Pappy & Co. — aged in Pappy Van Winkle bourbon barrels — are in my current rotation. None of those lasts too terribly long around here.
I was impressed enough with Bubble’s hot sauce and expressed how it was so much better than his previous attempt (also good), mentioning I wanted to use his method. I’m certain it’s something he got off of the internet, as he’s not one who might employ the same techniques passed down from generations of monks who sold their batches of artisanal hot sauce to fund their centuries-old monastery — he’s too progressive of a thinker. By the way, can we please stop using the word “artisanal”? I’m not even sure how to pronounce it, but of all the ways I’ve heard it spoken there is no way to not sound like a pompous jackass. It’s as useless as the phrase “classically trained.”
Anyway, Bubble obliged and told me his simple method. Boil the peppers in vinegar with salt and a little garlic, process them in a blender and strain them into a bottle. Easy enough, right?
There are some precautions you must take. The oils from the peppers can burn your skin or irritate your eyes when cooking. My first step was to wait for Katie and the boys to be out of the house. She took Henry to see his grandparents and the other two had school, so I took advantage of the free time.
The second step was getting gloves. Most kitchen supply places and even some grocery stores sell them cheap. You could also get your favorite bartender/waitress or chef to swipe a pair from work but that wouldn’t be right. Hospitals have the good ones you can blow up into balloons. No matter how you get them, just make certain you don’t do this barehanded. Jalapeños can burn bad enough at 2,500-8,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHUs) so you can imagine an orange habanero could do some real damage in the 150,000-325,000 SHU range. Don’t worry — the sauce won’t be nearly that high, but we must take care when preparing it.
I was fearful I’d have too much heat so I made two separate batches, one hot and one sweeter. Of the 19 habaneros, I used five for the first batch, tops removed and halved but not seeded. I’m an onion freak so I measured a half cup of diced white onion, two cloves of garlic, a half teaspoon of salt and a cup and a half of vinegar. For sweetness I added half of a red bell pepper, diced. Following Bubble’s directions I boiled it for about 10 minutes, cooled it and processed it in the Vitamix.
Batch number two was certain to be a beast. The remaining 14 peppers were cut the same way and I used identical amounts of onion, garlic, salt and vinegar. This time I prayed it wouldn’t melt the Vitamix, but when I opened the lid to start straining I had to cover my nose with my shirt. It was powerful. I’m sure I was a sight to behold standing over my sink in a filthy shirt covering half of my face, plastic gloves that don’t fit and tears staining my cheeks while I tried different sieves, hoping the next would be faster than the previous one.
I’m not sure if you can smell Scoville units, but if you can I would guess of the possible 325,000 of them, we were pushing 326k. It translated as much milder in the sauces. The “sweet” version has more heat than your average hot sauce but is very usable in moderation. The crimson color and flavor is great for egg yolks and sausage. The yellow, hot version is more than just hot. I can’t wait for it to spice up a chili or a dash in some salsa. It was a successful first attempt.
Soup, casseroles, ballgame wings, knee don’t fail me now. I want the cold weather here. I need the cold weather here. I have just the remedy to make it hot.
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