I’ve meant to do this experiment for a few years and I’m glad I finally got around to making this hot sauce with fermented dried peppers. Any dried peppers would do but I specifically chose Morita peppers because they are smoke-dried. Known as the poor-mans chipotle, Morita’s are simply smoke-dried red jalapeno. If you don’t have access to them, don’t fret – any dried pepper will work in the fantastically easy recipe.
Before discussing the recipe, let’s spend a few minutes discussing the process in which vegetables (including tomatoes and hot peppers) are dried. This section is a little geeky and you can skip the entire thing (just start after the next picture) if you’d rather:
- Sun-dried. This is the most traditional and the cheapest for home preservers as it requires no specialized equipment. Ironically, its one of the most expensive formats when producing large amounts of product (as many big food companies do) as it requires manual intervention, checking and can take a lot of space to spread the product across. This might seem odd to think about but imagine trying to sun-dry multiple tonnes of vegetables at the same time.
- Machine-dried. This often requires a special oven or dehydrator that can dry items. Although some people use their stoves, most stoves won’t keep heat under 200 degrees and a lot of drying is done between 90-165 degrees. It’s important to note that when food raises above 120 degrees for a prolonged time, it’s enzymes die. Food dried in a 200 degree oven may preserve but will not have the healthy enzymes it would have kept if it was dried at a cool temperatures.
- Smoke Drying. There are two approaches to this: cold smoking (generally considered 68-86 degrees) and hot smoking (126-176). Food generally stays about 20 degrees under ambient temperature (at it’s hottest), so hot smoking would generally kill any food; though I’m not certain what the smoke in cold smoking would to the enzymes.
- Chemically dried; often referred to as ‘pre-drying.’ Most people aren’t aware of this but many sun-dried tomatoes include salt or sulfur dioxide as a ‘pre-drying’ process. Manufacturers will claim that sulfur dioxide is to preserve color. It’s bad crap generally associated with smelters and utilities and is known, in high volumes, to contribute to “breathing problems, respiratory illness, changes in the lung’s defences, and worsening respiratory and cardiovascular disease. People with asthma or chronic lung or heart disease are the most sensitive to SO2. It also damages trees and crops. SO2, along with nitrogen oxides, are the main precursors of acid rain. This contributes to the acidification of lakes and streams, accelerated corrosion of buildings and reduced visibility. SO2 also causes formation of microscopic acid aerosols, which have serious health implications as well as contributing to climate change.” (Source: Ontario Ministry of the Environment).
I know that smoke-drying isn’t overly beneficial to my health either; most of the dried goods in our house are also made in our house for this reason. In the case of the morita peppers, they were store purchased and didn’t note sulfur dioxide as an ingredient.
If you know how you’re peppers were dried (especially the temperature), you’ll be able to be more creative than I was. If the food was dried under 120 degrees Fahrenheit (measured by the temperature of the food; not the air), you could theoretically ferment them without adding any bacteria (since your food would still be living).
If you’re not sure how the product was dehydrated, you’ll need to add some bacteria (I used whey but you could use brine from live sauerkraut if you wanted) to get the ferment going.
The final result is a dark-red color and the sauce is hot with a great smoke profile, similar to the sauce you get when you purchase chipolte in adobo sauce. It’s hotter than I expected it to be but don’t let that scare you; the sauce is thin and a small amount will easily spread flavor through an entire dish. If you’re worried about it being too hot you could strain the solids out (most of the solids are the seeds ,which contain a lot of heat) and/or add vinegar which most commercial hot sauces do. The consistency is thicker than the liquid sauces and probably similar to salsa. I really like it straight up.
Salt is added to most ferments for several reasons; in many cases it’s to help water leech from the vegetable it’s fermenting (it can also help slow fermentation as well as prohibit some bacteria but it is possible to ferment without it). Because most of the water has been pulled from the hot peppers, salt’s not really needed here.
Lastly, using water that is free of chlorine or chloromine is needed. Chlorine can be boiled off while choloromine isn’t so you’ll have to use purified water if your water supply adds it.
FERMENTED HOT SAUCE RECIPE – INGREDIENTS
- A handful (or more) of dried peppers. I used about 1.5 cups of them.
- 2 tablespoons of whey (you can strain it off yogurt that have live bacteria culture).
- Warm water to cover the peppers (don’t use boiling water – you can kill the whey).
- 1 quart (liter) wide-mouthed mason jar, 1 0.5-1 cup conventional mason jar.
- Cheesecloth, a rag or reusable coffee filter.
FERMENTED HOT SAUCE RECIPE – DIRECTIONS
- Place the peppers in a clean jar (the larger one).
- Cover in water, add the whey.
- Clean the small jar (in and out), place on top of hot peppers.
- Cover with cheesecloth, cloth or coffee filter (to keep flies out). Place in a warm spot in your kitchen out of direct sunlight.
- Check each day. If mould forms, do your best to scoop it off (mould is a reality of many ferments).
- Taste the brine each day. It will start slightly sour and become hotter and slightly more sour. There’s no magic timing and you will likely see small fermentation bubbles. I stopped mine after 5 days as the mould was becoming a pain to clean.
- On the last day, do the following:
- Assuming you have mould (if you don’t, skip this): strain the brine through a fine filter and into a bowl (you’ll need it). rinse remaining solids to remove mould and add tinsed solids back to the brine.
- Use a hand mixer, food processor or blender to combine the solids and the brine into a consistent sauce.
- Add vinegar if you wish.
That’s all there is to it!
Here’s a few other links that may be of interest:
- If you’re curious about the opposite approach, here’s a link we did to another related experiment: dehydrating fermented hot peppers.
- Whey-fermented hot pepper slices (from fresh hot peppers)
- A quick link to our Hot Pepper recipes
- Hot Pepper Love – an archive of hot pepper posts including our guide to 12 kinds of hot peppers we bought in Kensington Market.
We’d love to hear your results if you try it! Has anyone else had experiences fermenting dried foods? We’d love to hear that too!