Hot sauce can be as simple as whirring up a few peppers in the blender, but the best Louisiana hot sauce involves live fermentation, just like pickles. If you've never done fermentation before, hot sauce is a good first project. As always with hot peppers, use gloves, don't touch your eyes or any sensitive skin, and scrub well afterward.
What peppers to use? Hotter than you can comfortably eat. I like Serrano, Criolla Sella or Korean peppers. They are spicy but not lethal, and don't increase in heat after the initial burn. Jalapenos vary wildly in heat, so taste before choosing. Joe's Long Cayenne, is luscious, both hot and sweet. A mixture is fine.
Prepare the peppers:
Rinse and drain your peppers. Using gloves and kitchen shears, chop them into a bowl, discarding the stems. If you like a fruitier hot sauce, you can split and deseed the peppers before cutting them in pieces. (I discard the seeds I can get easily, and leave the rest.) The Korean peppers in the photo are in rings 1/2" to 3/4" thick.
Now pack the pepper pieces into you clean crock or jars, along with the garlic. You want them to be tightly packed. Leave room for the weight, but not a lot of extra room. Finish off each jar with peppers that are not chopped but instead opened out flat and deseeded. These will help hold down the smaller pieces to keep them from scooting up past the weight. You could also use half an onion for this final layer, as in the photo. Smash down the peppers, try to spread your top layer so little pieces can't get past it, and put the weights on. Believe me, you don't want to try to put the weight on after the contents are floating in brine! Add the whey or pickle juice if using.
For the brine:
To make a quart (4 cups) of brine, whisk 3 tablespoons of salt into a quart of water. This is enough to do 2 quart jars of peppers.
Depending on how warm the room is, fermentation should start in 1-3 days. You will start to see bubbles. Check every other day for white scum and skim it off if any appears. It is a normal part of the process and no cause for alarm. (Save any extra brine to top up.) I would recommend fermenting for 2-3 weeks. When the brine is cloudy, the peppers have softened, and the jar has a nice slightly sour smell, you can stop fermentation and bottle. (Professionals go 4-6 weeks until the mixture is so sour that fermention stops. I don't.)
Blending and Bottling
If you have multiple jars of peppers, you don't have to bottle them all at once. I still have some jars of fermented peppers in brine in the fridge, useful for adding to salsas and salads. They keep very well in their jars, in the fridge, like pickles.
To make the sauce, drain most of the brine off of the peppers into a bowl or cup. Don't throw it away! Put the peppers into the blender or food processor, and add just enough brine so that you can blend it up. (A hand food mill or a tomato-sauce machine would make a nice seedless product if available.) When the sauce is as smooth as you like it, it is ready to use. Thin with the brine to your favorite consistency. Refrigerated, it will keep for a year.
To Make a Table Sauce:
To make a hot sauce to keep on the table, (unrefrigerated) you need to add more salt and some vinegar. I generally do this with the clear liquid that separates out after the blended hot sauce sits for awhile. For every cup of the thin sauce, add a 1/4 teasp of salt and 2 Tblsp vinegar.
That's it. One more blow for self-sufficiency.
Jamie Chevalier lives and gardens on a river in the Coast Range of Northern California. She has gardened professionally in Alaska and California, as well as living in a remote cabin, commercial fishing, and working with seeds. She is the proprietor of Quail Seeds.