Lee’s (not so secret) Pepper Sauce 

It was a Sunday, much like any other Sunday.  What made this different was that I had made up my mind on Friday that it was time for a new batch of fermented pepper sauce.  Much like many of you, I have a bottle of Tabasco in my pantry.  I also have at least 5 other types of hot sauces in the fridge.  about 18 months ago, I found a recipe for a fermented pepper sauce on Tasting Table.  Since then, I’ve played around and developed my own take on it.  Mine is not some watery  heat.  It is complex, deep and rich.  It balances subtle heat with a hint of sweet.

It is never exactly the same, but it is always in the same realm of deliciousness.  Being the callous man I am, I thought I’d share my secret (not secret) and process with you.  Now let’s be honest, I have a secret weapon. Living in the bay area, I can go to Berkeley Bowl and grab more chilies than you can imagine with ease.  I also tend to have 3-5 types of dried chilies in my pantry at any time.  Below you can see my selection for this batch.


Clockwise from upper left:

2 mini sweet red bell peepers

1 Jalapeno

3 Fresno chilies

1 Anaheim Chili

1 medium Shallot

8 or 9 cloves of garlic

1 dried guajillo chili

3 dried New Mexico chiles

2 dried Ancho chilies

2 dried Cascaabel peppers (the little round ones)

5 Habeneros

7 red Thai chilies

1 Poblano Chili

2 long funny named chilies whose name I forgot

Yes that is a mess of stuff.  Highly unscientific.  Many of the dried chilies came from Rancho Gordo, whose products you already know I love.

The dried peppers are roasted for 2 minutes or so at 375 until fragrant.  This deepens their flavors.  The seeds are discarded and stems removed.  then they are ripped up into 1/2″ chunks in a non reactive bowl.

The fresh chilies and peppers are seeded (and veins removed)  and chopped roughly into 1/4″ pieces.  I did not seed or vein the Jalapeno, Habeneros or Thai chilies as I wanted heat.  The garlic was roughly chopped and the shallot was diced.  Everything went into the bowl with the roasted dried chilies.

To the bowl I added 1 1/4 cup of white vinegar, 1.5 Tablespoon salt and 3 Tablespoons of sugar.  Everything was mixed up, laying happily in their bath.  I stirred it every 30 minutes or so for 2 hours, let the marinade help the flavors meld.


After two hours, everything went into my super de duper blender.  I have one of those fancy Ninjas, perfect for Margaritas, smoothies and pepper sauce.  I let it puree on various speeds until it seemed highly liquefied and smooth.  I washed the bowl and then put the liquid back into the bowl, covered with a layer of cheese cloth.  The  bowl went to the corner of the kitchen counter, out of the sun, to ferment.  I like 5 to 7 days.

Nothing terribly exciting about the bowl covered in cheese cloth is there?  I gave it a smell test a few times during the week and could tell the fermentation was in motion.  On Saturday, I removed the cheese cloth and peaked, stirred and tasted.


The evil brew had a brown tinge on top.  It had small fermentation bubbles popping constantly.  After stirring, it looked like this.

img_3912Now it was a deeper red.  It smelled wonderful.  It tasted delicious.  A nice subtle heat that rose steadily after the bite.  Sweet and layers of flavors, staying with me for several minutes. 115 minutes later I still had a delightful afterglow, similar to that morning after smile.

This made about 3/4 of a quart.  Kept in an air tight container, it lasts for a few months.  Probably longer with the salt added, but I always run out before it goes bad.  Honestly, this might be the best batch I’ve made.

I use a few tablespoons in my hummus.  Sometimes it goes in my BBQ sauce when I’m looking to up the mysterious heat factor. This really is a great condiment to add to your arsenal.  All it takes is patience and the desire to make something wonderful.  Go forth and make sauce.



Introducing an Unexpected Villain

English: Picture of Val Beans (Dolichos lablab).

English: Picture of Val Beans (Dolichos lablab). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lima beans have always mocked me.  There is no gilding that lily.  As an adult I more than avoid them; I run screaming from them.  As a bit of a foodie, I see them on menus as an accompaniment  and immediately eliminate that entrée from the range of possible solutions.  Even now they influence my worldview and limit my choices. Yes, I am scarred.

Growing up my mother made vegetables every night.  Well, not every night.  There were no veggies when we had spaghetti or pizza.  Or omelets for that matter.  Whatever.  Most of the time we had frozen vegetables.  I liked peas.  I liked peas and carrots.  My sister hated peas, so we didn’t have those two as often as I’d have preferred.  We never had asparagus; daddy hated asparagus. (My mother calls him daddy.  I call him Pop, but I refer to him as Dad.  Sorry to digress.)  My mother often chose the mixed vegetables, frozen of course.  We didn’t eat canned vegetables nor do I recall fresh veggies, other than carrots and corn.  No, I will not be hearing arguments that corn is not a vegetable.  It was when i was 10 and it still is now.  Mostly.

In retrospect, I’m glad we didn’t eat canned vegetables. Let’s be honest, they basically suck.  I often keep a few cans around for emergency pantry meals, but as I have gotten older even that bothers me.  I like my vegetables fresh.  No, I am not going out of my way to eat a ton of vegetables.  But I eat some.  Celery, carrots, bell peppers and root vegetables often find their way on to my table.  I make a mean butternut squash soup and Lambchop often requests my brussel sprouts.  Yes, they do happen to have a fair amount of bacon hidden in the bowl.  No one will accuse me of trying to force vegetables on my spawn, but I try to maintain the illusion.

But I digress. My mother fed us the house brand frozen vegetables from the store she shopped at.  Safeway? Lucky? Nob Hill?  Doesn’t really matter, does it?  What I recall is that the peas and carrots in the mix were fine.  The stunted string beans were weird and there was an over population of  lima beans that tasted like dry bat guano.  I hated eating those.  Ok, hate might be a bit of an understatement.  They mocked me as I was forced to eat them.  I could not get them down.  I tried. I failed at least as often as I succeeded.  Do you think that encouraged my mother to not buy those vegetables?  Of course not.  I think once or twice she even made “just” lima beans.  At least she only made liver and onions once.  The same with “salmon burgers.”  Canned salmon sucks, period, especially to a 12-year-old.

The details are fuzzy, but I recall some bits.  I must have been somewhere between 8 and 11 — maybe younger.  When dinner was done, I had 10 minutes to finish those vegetables that mocked me.  How do I know I had 10 minutes?  There was an egg timer.  Seriously.  I often tried to wash them down with milk.  Two problems with that solution.  One, they were too big for my petite throat to swallow whole.  Second, I was not allowed a second glass of milk.  This might not seem like much to you, Gentle Reader, but to my fragile psyche it was the seventh circle of hell.

I might have left out a few salient points.  If the timer had been set, my father was already pissed.  How dare I not eat the vegetables my mother bought with his pay that he labored for!  At 10, I didn’t do well with pressure.    I’m sure you are thinking, fine so there is a timer, it’s just vegetables — it is not like it was Edgar Allan Poe‘s “The Pit and the Pendulum.”  You’d be wrong.  The bell would ring, my very large father would yell and I’d be ushered off to bed, crying at my failure.  I’m sure it was 6:30 or 6:45 at the latest. Being early, I would be wide awake, reminded of those mocking beans; a telltale heart continuing to echo my incarceration and impending doom.

Clearly you realize that this blog is cheaper than therapy, not that I really need it. My upbringing is reasonably rich history from which to pull ideas and topic.  On the other hand,  I’m sure that many you know I make sure my parents don’t forget about lima beans the egg timer.  Or the preferential treatment my brother got.  I think he’s appreciative that I took those 9 years to break our parents in for him.

And just like that mediocre independent film, this post just ends, leaving you wanting more.  But no more lima beans please.