Making a better hot sauce
September 23, 2015 10:34 AM   Subscribe

I tried making a hot sauce a little while ago. While it was tasty, it felt like the heat and the flavor were 2 different things. I'm hoping to make them come together.

I apologize if my descriptions are hard to understand, I am not a professional cook and I'm not sure if there are better descriptive terms I'm missing. The recipe involved habaneros, carrots, tomatoes, garlic, onions, vinegar and some other things. The problem I had was that unlike the sauces you buy in the store, the heat did not kick in until after you swallowed. It basically tasted like the non-spicy ingredients until you swallowed it and the habaneros hit your throat. Not sure why the heat only hit then and there and only after the initial flavor.

I'm hoping someone can shed some light on why the flavor and heat seem to be experienced at different times, why this doesn't seem to happen with store bought hot sauces, and what I can do to tinker with homemade until I get it right.
posted by Hoopo to Food & Drink (11 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Use multiple kinds of peppers.
posted by michaelh at 10:36 AM on September 23, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: seconding michaelh that you need a variety of heat sources for a balanced heat. habaneros do tend to creep on you, try a more forward heat to supplement (like maybe a serrano or cayennes)
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 10:38 AM on September 23, 2015

Best answer: Can't say for sure, but you definitely should try a mix of peppers. To me, habaneros don't add much flavor. A couple years ago, I entered and won a local hot sauce competition and my mix included mostly cherry bomb, serrano, and jalapeno, all of which I tasted a small bit before putting them in the mix to gauge what was being added.

I think cherry bomb adds some really nice flavor. Jalapeno adds a kind of gunpowder tone. Serrano is somewhat fruity. Habanero is just plain hot.

Also consider using some fruit in there. Stone fruit complements the heat nicely.
posted by plinth at 10:40 AM on September 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The trick is oil (I'd suggest peanut). Or butter. Or a combo of oil and butter. That'll bring the flavors together. If you don't mind the extra work, clarify the butter first (or buy ghee from an indian market)
posted by Quisp Lover at 10:45 AM on September 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Seconding the fruit: mango or papaya.
posted by scruss at 10:58 AM on September 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Definitely try a mix of peppers.

I'd also cut down on the other ingredients, those can definitely dull the flavour a lot. In my books, the best hot sauce is a mix of hot peppers, sliced, mushed up a bit, with 2% salt by weight added and then allowed to ferment for about three weeks. If you are talking about Tabasco-style hot sauces or any of the ones that come in a little bottle like Tabasco, they are generally all or mostly hot peppers, plus perhaps a little vinegar depending.

Can you give an example of a hot sauce that you would like to make a similar sauce to?
posted by ssg at 12:49 PM on September 23, 2015

Best answer: Yep, the answer is fat to carry the capsaicin and flavours together.

I make chilli oil using fresh hot peppers and dried bird's eye flakes. Stab loads of fresh peppers with a knife a couple of times each and warm slowly in a pint of so of neutral oil until they're just bubbling. Leave them to cook uncovered for about an hour until shrivelled, then add a good few tablespoons of the hottest dried chillies you can find. Simmer for 5 minutes, leave to cool and strain through muslin. Use this to add widespread chilli heat and flavour to any chilli sauce recipe, and also for pizza and cooking and stuff.
posted by howfar at 1:50 PM on September 23, 2015

Response by poster: You guys are good. ssg, no sauce in particular, I was just a bit disappointed with my results from the one that i tried and wanted to figure out what went wrong. Probably too much carrot, not enough variety of hot peppers, and not enough fat it sounds like. Also fruit.

I'm going to take a crack at this on the weekend, thanks all
posted by Hoopo at 2:20 PM on September 23, 2015

Fermenting the peppers can add a lot more flavor and increase the intensity of the spice.

It sounds more adventurous than it is. All you need to do is dice the peppers, bruise the peppers, and salt them. The salt will bring enough liquid out of the peppers to make a brine. You pickle them in their own juices.

The things you need to control for are just that the veggies aren't exposed to air, and that the brine is at least 5% salt. I did mine by putting them between drinking glasses that stack. Then you just leave it on a counter for a week or longer.

Try it with something simple like banana peppers or jalepenos, and do the pickling on the raw peppers -- not the sauce.
posted by cotterpin at 7:27 AM on September 24, 2015

Oil will definitely carry the hotness factor forward. If you want something quick 'n' easy, adding dried chili powder/flakes to your sauce will do the trick. For a more complex flavour, you could soak whole dried chilies in oil and use the chili-infused oil in your cooking. That will save you having to reduce everything on the stove for ages in order to get that immediate intensity. And adding some of the seeds from dried chilies seems to make everything wayyy spicier.
posted by sweetshine at 8:41 AM on September 24, 2015

Best answer: It's not always the oil that's the solution. In many cases, it's the need for an umami component. Some oils and fats can fill this role, but I think oily hot sauces tend to end up tasting either like the chili oil at pizza joints or wing sauce without a lot of room for subtlety in between those two poles.

When we make hot sauce, we tend to integrate a couple of common umami sources: a few tomatoes (for their glutamic/fruity umami) and, near the end of cooking, a bit of miso paste (fermented/heavy umami). I'm a big fan of Aedan (country) miso for this purpose, but a small dab of any kind will do.

A happy medium here would be to use an oily umami source, like ground peanuts or peanut butter. You get as much oil as you're willing to consume into the recipe with a thick base of protein carrier to mellow out the heat and complement the flavor of your peppers.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 9:58 AM on September 24, 2015

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