Last year was the first time I smoked my own chilies to add to my yearly fermented hot sauce. This year, I wanted to do more with smoked chilies and cherry tomatoes, but I didn’t know exactly what. Should I always include smoked chilies in my yearly sauce? Should I include smoked cherry tomatoes, or would that dilute the spicy kick too much? What about using only smoked chilies?
Time for some experimental batches.
Smoking the chilies and tomatoes
- 450g chilies, stems removed
- Korean, Szechuan, Cayenne, Habañero, Espelette
- 600g cherry tomatoes
- Vesuvius, Honey Drop, Cherry Ember, Dancing with Smurfs
Chilies and tomatoes sliced in half to expose innards to the smoke. Smoked for 6 hours at about 93°C/200°F.
- chilies: 308g (32% weight loss)
- tomatoes: 370g (38% weight loss)
Dehydrated further at 57°C/135°F for 12 hours.
Post dehydration weights:
- chilies: 112g (75% total weight loss)
- tomatoes: 68g (88% total weight loss)
Tomatoes were vacuum sealed and put in the freezer because I still don’t trust them not to get moldy. The chilies were stored in a plastic tub with silica gel.
Initially I was going to do just 3 batches, but I added a 4th at the last minute with additional smoked chilies I still had from the previous season.
- Control: fresh chilies only
- Fresh + smoked chilies
- Fresh + smoked chilies & tomatoes
- All smoked chilies & tomatoes
I reconstituted the smoked chilies by adding back the water that they had lost during smoking & drying by letting them soak a bit and then blending into mash.
For the first 3 batches, I had:
- 678g fresh chili mash
- 450g reconstituted smoked chilies
- 306g half-reconstituted smoked tomatoes (using half, 153g)
Dividing the total (1281g) by 3 gives us 427g per batch. I did some math to divide it all up evenly:
- 427g fresh chili mash
- 167g fresh + 260g smoked
- 84g fresh + 190g smoked +153g tomato
To each of these batches, I’ve added:
- 10% fresh garlic: 42g
- 5% amazake: 22g
- 3.5% salt: 17g (taking garlic and amazake into account)
- 1 Tbsp/15mL active brine
For batch #4, I used the other half of the reconstituted tomatoes with a separate batch of smoked chilies.
- 115g smoked dried chilies
- 268g water
- 153g half-reconstituted smoked tomatoes
- 5% amazake: 26g
- 3.5% salt: 19g
- 1 Tbsp/15mL active brine
All 4 of the batches were sealed in vacuum bags and placed in my rather cold basement on a seed mat.
1 month check-in
The bags look a little odd—did I accidentally blacken my chilies?
Interestingly, the bag right below this one is not dark in the same place, so I think this might just be some settling. I had these directly on top of the seed mat for a while because I needed the aluminum pans for something, but I’ve placed them back into the pans set on top of the mats.
What were you doing on Christmas Eve? I was tasting hot sauce.
Before putting through the food mill, I wanted to give each batch a taste:
#1: My standard, fresh and tangy, not too hot.
#2: Very smoky, more than I had expected.
#3: Also pretty smokey but tempered by the tomato. Getting into barbeque sauce territory.
#4: So smokey it’s on the verge of acrid.
At this point I was worried I’d messed everything up. All of them were too smokey, aside from the one without any smoked chilies! I should have focused only on the chilies and different ratios of fresh to smoked in each batch instead of throwing tomatoes in the mix.
But here we are. What now?
Salvage, or Serendipity?
Luckily, more chilies came off the plants after I put together these batches. Many were frozen but some were still good in the fridge. A thought began to crystalize:
Why not add fresh chilies?
Of course, just adding new chilies to fermented ones would just result in more fermentation, which you don’t generally want much of after you bottle it. However, add enough vinegar and it will preserve the chilies. I usually add vinegar to finish my hot sauces anyways to lower the pH and stop the fermentation.
- 722g fresh (and frozen) chilies
- 360g distilled white vinegar
- 32g salt (3%)
I added enough vinegar to equal half the weight of the chilies to make a “fresh” hot sauce.
I then blended together batch 1, 2, and 3, and added vinegar equal to 1/3 of the chili weight.
- 1500g blended chili mash
- 500g distilled white vinegar
I combined the fresh hot sauce and the mixed batches together, and… Yep. Yea, this is the one. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
After mixing these together, the whole thing was put through the food mill, slowly, resulting in 2.25L of red gold. And we’re still not done!
For each liter of sauce I like to add 1/2 tsp of xanthan gum for body and homogeneity. Also, if you weren’t aware, it’s way easier to get xanthan gum mixed in properly if you first mix it with an oil, and I realized recently that oil can totally be truffle oil.
- 1 tsp xanthan gum
- 1 tsp MSG
- 4 tsp truffle oil
After blending and bottling, I decided on the name “Ash & Ember”, after the hourglass twin planets from Outer Wilds. Later while tasting it, my cousin Nick AKA Fragnum Opus, composer of the Crock of Time lofi album, recited this from memory from the Kingkiller Chronicle:
Maple. Maypole. Catch and carry. Ash and Ember.Elderberry.Woolen. Woman.Moon at night.Willow. Window.Candlelight.Fallow farrow.Ash and oak.Bide and borrow. Chimney smoke. Barrel. Barley. Stone and stave. Wind and water. Misbehave.
You may be wondering, “but Cory, what about batch #4?”
Ah yes, the cursed batch. The sauce that went too far.
First, I added vinegar at the same 1:3 ratio as before. This did help tone down the soot flavor a little.
- 540g smoked chilies mash
- 180g vinegar
I got about 550mL of sauce after putting through the mill. To that, 100mL of the Ash & Ember sauce went in because it didn’t fit in the jar, and then the xanthan gum mixture:
- 1/4 tsp xanthan gum
- 1/4 tsp MSG
- 1 tsp truffle oil
This sauce is “Old Smokey”. No particular reference this time, I just think it’s fitting for a smoked, fermented chili sauce. Yes, it’s too smokey for my taste as it is, but I think it will make a great barbeque sauce just with the addition of some molasses.
Previously I thought I wanted to try shorter fermentation times, but this is not compatible with my absent-minded habit of forgetting about things.
However, a new option presented itself that I’m not sure I would have considered otherwise: adding fresh chilies at the end. As long as the pH is low enough (below 4.6), helped a long by the vinegar, you can add fresh ingredients that would otherwise start additional fermentation processes.
I may not have accomplished what I set out to do, but I did end up learning what I was hoping to: what proportions of fresh and smoked chilies do I like in my hot sauce? And further, I added a whole new dimension to the equation.