Lacto-Fermented Jalapenos and Hot Sauce

One of the best spontaneous choices I’ve made in recent memory was starting a container garden, and I did it for two reasons: fresh herbs, and an ample supply of jalapenos.

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jalapenos, not long for this world

I use them in guacamole. I sautee them with onions and garlic to season pots of beans. I slice them thinly and they bring crackling heat to a plate of butter-braised shiitakes. And, like many of life’s best things, they get fermented.

Diving into the world of home fermentation freaks some people out, but in fact it’s a very forgiving process. If you do it “wrong,” you’re much more likely to make something that tastes bad than something dangerous. I’d argue that handling raw meat in your kitchen is a more hazardous activity than letting veggies sit in salty water for a few days.

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even if you’re too scared to eat them, they look lovely on a bookshelf 🙂

~1kg green jalapenos, stemmed and sliced

500g clean water

50g whey, or brine from another lacto pickle, like Bubbie’s

25g kosher salt

10 cloves garlic, peeled (or not) and smashed (or not)

3-4 clean pint jars with tight-fitting lids

Pack the jalapeno slices tightly into your jars, alternating a layer of peppers with a couple garlic cloves. For the love of all your sensitive parts, wear gloves when handling pounds of hot peppers. Stir the salt and whey into the water until dissolved-ish, and fill the jars up with the brine. Gently knock the jars against the counter to release any air bubbles. Make sure that the veggies are completely submerged in brine. Loosely affix the lids to the jars and place them in a temperate, well-lit area (UV light is said to prevent mold growth on the surface of your ferments).

Keep an eye on the jars. After the first 24 hours or so, you should see some small bubbles forming — that’s carbon dioxide from the industrious little microbes in the brine. Smell and taste regularly. The jars will go from clean and spicy to tangy and garlicky over the next two days to a week, depending on the temperature of the room. The spice level will fade a little, or at least become balanced by salt and acid. When the pickles taste good to you, screw the lids on tightly and pop them in the fridge, where the colder temps will halt further fermentation.

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see that bubble? microbes did that!

Sliced pickled jalapenos are useful, but hot sauce is life. The chlorophyll in green peppers can lead to bitterness; traditionally it’s balanced out with tartness (tomatillos) and/or sugar. The recipe below uses ripe, red hot peppers to produce either a basic sambal or a smooth, sriracha-inflected hot sauce.

.5kg ripe (red) jalapenos, or any other spicy red pepper, stemmed

4 cloves garlic

2tbsp whey (or brine from another lacto pickle)

1tbsp brown sugar

12g kosher salt

Puree all the ingredients in a blender or food processor (gloves! goggles! safety!). Pour into a clean jar and follow the fermentation instructions above (look! smell! taste!). If you don’t mind a chunkier sauce, it’s good-to-go; for something smoother, puree a second time, then press through a sieve to remove the solids. Funnel into a bottle or jar and use liberally.

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