One of my closest friends in college was a 6'5" red headed Frenchman named Bruce. He was at one point a member of an organization called Clowns without Borders, and later went on to work for the World Bank. He is an interesting character to say the least. Between existential philosophy, economics classes and theater, Bruce spent his time in the kitchen of my dorm house, crying. These were not tears of sadness or tears of joy, they were straight up tears of FIRE!
Our shared love of hot sauce, coupled with the absolute blandness of East Coast "Mexican" food, drove us to engage in the obscure battle known as a Spice-Off. The rules go like this:
1. Pour as much hot sauce onto your plate as the food will absorb.
3. Lock stares. Hold until your eyes fill up with so much water that they start weeping. Noses are also running at this point.
4. First person to break stare and wipe eyes/nose loses.
Slowly over time I developed a huge tolerance for hot peppers. This has served me well in professional kitchens where my cooks from the Yucatan kept a habanero perched on the side of their plate at lunch. Bite of habanero, bite of taco, back and forth casually and without breaking a sweat. I am not able to do that with as much grace, so I started making my own hot sauce. With piles of chiles of all sorts appearing at market in June, it's the best way to make use of their bounty.
I am rarely exact with my measurements, and never less so than with my hot sauce. The mix of peppers available is always different, and each batch comes out differently. Here is a basic recipe:
1. Make a mixed bag of 1# of hot chile peppers. I try to avoid anything green to get a brighter color. Long red and orange cayennes, habaneros, cherry bombs, and a few red jalapeños if they are available. Yesterday I saw a pile of sweet "Lunch Box" peppers and I threw a few of those in as well.
2. Stem the chiles and pulse them in a food processor. Put this mix, shown in the photo below, into a large container with a lid and salt liberally, using at least 3 TB of kosher salt. Leave covered on the counter for 1 day.
3. Make a brine. In a small pot combine water, vinegar, salt and sugar. It should be 3/4 parts water and 1/4 parts white or apple cider vinegar. Make enough to cover the chiles, approximately 3 cups of liquid. Add salt and sugar to the brine to taste. A good starting point would be:
3 cups water + 1 cup vinegar + 5 TB salt + 3 TB sugar
Taste and adjust! It should not be too strong, just enough so you can taste all of the elements.
4. Cool brine. Cover chiles with liquid (see photo). Continue to let sit out at room temperature for another 5 days. Check it after 3 days to make sure that the fermentation isn't going to quickly, especially if the weather is heating up outside. The mixture may have a few little bubbles in it, but don't let it get many more than that.
5. Puree chiles and liquid in a blender until smooth and most of the seeds are pureed. Taste. I often add more salt at this point. Salt helps cut heat as well, so if it is WAY too spicy this will help.
6. Bottle it, share it, pour it on and have a spice off!