As the weather gets cooler, it’s time to crank up the heat in the kitchen. From the fiery flames of Caribbean pepper sauce to the thick red sauces found across Asia such as gochujang and sriracha, the world is truly your pepper. Here are the best ways to work with chiles, and a simple home-style Mexican hot sauce recipe to make your own sauce to suit your taste.
Heating Things Up
When it comes to chile peppers, it pays off to pay attention at the grocery store — similar looking peppers may have very different heat levels. A chile’s heat comes from its capsaicin concentration, and is measured on the Scoville scale, ranging from the mildly sweet bell pepper at zero, to over two million units for the searing ghost pepper (bhut jolokia) or the Carolina Reaper. The list of potential peppers around the world is lengthy, but some common peppers available in Canada include green jalapeños (in their smoked form, they become the ubiquitous chipotle), Thai bird peppers (tiny and extremely spicy), thin-skinned serrano chiles or milder green cubanelles. Habaneros and Scotch bonnets look very similar (they resemble rounded mini bell peppers) and, like many peppers, these cousins can increase in heat as they ripen from green to orange, red and yellow.
When handling very hot chiles, it’s crucial to remember that the seeds, oils and residue can have adverse effects. Rubber gloves (or the thin medical kind sold in drugstores, which may be easier to navigate for those with smaller hands) are a wise precaution — avoid touching your eyes or face and keep your hands off of your phone until those gloves are removed. Remember that those oils can transfer as well, so use caution around children and pets. Work in a well-ventilated area with a range hood, and consider a mask, fan or open windows when roasting or frying chiles, as they may create vapors that can cause a burning sensation in your eyes and throat.
Filled with fear at the idea of a blazing, spicy sauce? Removing the seeds and the ribs (the white interior of the pepper) will go a long way in cutting the heat quotient, but keep a glass of milk or chocolate nearby when tasting this recipe in case your hot sauce is hotter than expected.
We’re going to start with a basic sauce adapted from a recipe from Chuck Hughes, and add flavours and textures as we go.
Home Style Hot Sauce
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total: 45 minutes
Makes: 5 cups
12 Scotch bonnet peppers (substitute for habaneros or a mix of Scotch bonnet and cayenne peppers)
2 onions, peeled and halved
6 cloves garlic, peeled
1 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped
1 cup white wine vinegar
1 orange (optional)
1 tsp sugar (optional)
2 to 3 tsp avocado oil (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 400 °F. Remove seeds and ribs from chiles if desired (if leaving them whole, add a few punctures with a fork in each chile to avoid explosions in your oven). Lay chiles, onions and garlic on baking tray lined with parchment paper. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt. Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes or until vegetables have a nice char. Remove stems from the chiles.
2. Transfer the vegetables into receptacle of food processor, and reduce into a coarse purée with cilantro through intermittent pulses. Can substitute cilantro for another leafy green herb such as parsley or basil for a delicious addition. Add vinegar and season with salt to taste.
3. For those who like the sweeter things in life, a fruity kick can be added to this sauce by stirring in zest and juice of one medium-sized navel orange (or more traditionally, a couple of limes) and 1 tsp sugar to counter the heat. Pouring a dollop (2 to 3 tsp) of avocado oil adds a rich texture and glisten to finished sauce.
4. Pour into sterilized containers for your fridge to add some heat to your everyday life.
Enjoy the fruits of your labour with chicharrones (pork cracklings), served with homemade tortilla chips, spooned into salsa, enchiladas or queso for some extra heat, used in a marinade for chicken, or even to add a spicy kick as a dip for sliced pineapple.
Looking for more heat? Here’s 10 Canadian Hot Sauces You Need to Try.