Monday, January 25, 2010

Not Your Fiancé’s Hot Sauce

Ed. note: A very special post this morning from Peter! Enjoy.

After I graduated from college (almost five years ago – I can’t decide if that makes me feel old or young) I moved into an apartment in Arlington, Virginia with a friend who grew up in Texas. At that point, I was not an experienced hot sauce consumer. I found spicy foods distasteful. But they like spicy food in Texas, and our fridge quickly filled up with salsas and hot sauces that I never would have bought for myself.

Slowly my palette changed. I began to crave spicy food. Like an addict, the more spicy food I ate, the spicier I needed it to be to get my fix. Today, few spicy things scare me.

Julie and I are not on the same spicy food page. Flavors that I find mild she finds very spicy. Luckily, that is a problem that hot sauce was designed to solve. I like to keep three different sauces in the fridge at a time, so I can vary the flavor according to the dish (that’s not weird, right…?)

For a while Julie has been telling me that I would find it fun to make my own hot sauce. I agreed, but never did anything about it. Last week I was picking up a few things at the market and saw a display marked “hot peppers.” My curiosity was piqued. “I like hot things,” I thought to myself. And they had me. I’m not always the discerning consumer I pretend to be.

I bought twenty serrano peppers even though I didn’t know how to turn them in to hot sauce. I also bought two poblano peppers, because the sauce had to have more than one ingredient, right?

At home I chopped up the peppers and a medium onion and sautéed them with a little oil and salt for around fifteen minutes. Julie got home from work around minute seven, and quickly asked, “Why does our house smell like peppers?”

“I’m cooking peppers,” I responded. I’m also quick and witty.

Julie put her face over the pot of peppers and inhaled, a mistake, as it turns out. It sent her into a coughing fit. “Are you okay?” I asked, trying to conceal my delight that I was on the right track to an awesome hot sauce.

She was okay. She did not smell the sauce again.

After the fifteen minutes, I added around three cups of water. I let it all cook for another fifteen minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally. When the water was almost gone, I took it off the heat and put it in a food processor. I added a little more salt and pepper, and some dried basil. I remembered once eating a spicy green curry at a Thai restaurant that had basil in it, so I copied them. I pulsed the sauce a few times, and then added small amounts of white vinegar until it reached the consistency I was looking for.

That’s it. It turned into a tasty hot sauce. My first taste of it was vinegar (reminiscent of a salt and vinegar potato chip), but that was quickly replaced by heat. It was a good heat, not as intense as I was hoping for, but still, nice. For about four dollars worth of peppers, I made enough sauce to fill up an old pickle jar.

Update: Four days later, the taste of the sauce is coming together. The vinegar taste is gone, and the heat was not so immediate. Instead, it is slower and less intense. It creeps up on you. Right now I’m eating it with tortilla chips, and it tastes like a hot salsa. Definitely spicy, but next time I’d like it to be even hotter. Any tips?

Basil Serrano Hot Sauce

You will need:

20 serrano peppers

2 poblano peppers

1 medium onion

Vegetable oil


White vinegar

Dried basil (maybe fresh would be better?)



Sauté the peppers and onion with a couple splashes of vegetable oil, salt, and pepper. Let them cook until everything gets nice and soft, and inhaling their vapors makes you cough. Add about three cups of water, but I’m not sure the amount matters. Cook it in the water over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the water almost disappears, about fifteen minutes. Remove from the heat and put it all into a food processor. Crumple some dried basil over the top of everything, and sprinkle in a little more salt and pepper as well. Pulse a few times, and then add in some white vinegar, a little at a time, until the sauce reaches your desired consistency.

Put it all in a glass jar that seals well. Store up to six months in the fridge.


  1. I think that Julie and I would fall on the same “spicy food page,” so I will have to pass this recipe along to James to try. I’ll be sure to alert him of my favorite cooking instruction:

    “Let them cook until everything gets nice and soft, and inhaling their vapors makes you cough.”

    I will steer clear of the kitchen should he decide to embark on this culinary escapade. Great post, Peter!!

  2. Thanks for sharing, Peter. Nick will love this!

  3. Sam and Emily: I'm so glad your S.O.'s will enjoy the hot sauce recipe! Just steer clear while it's cooking...

    And Peter, I hope you're up for making a regular appearance here. I love this guest posting thing.

  4. Thank you Sam and Emily! I'm glad James and Nick might like the recipe.

    I would love to post more often - these nice comments will help inspiration strike again.

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