Homemade Hot Sauce: Spicy Perfection Made Easy

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What makes a taco tantalize, a plate of pad thai perfect, or an omelet um… very… tasty indeed? Hot sauce! That’s what. Adding just the right amount of spice to your meal helps accentuate all the other flavors therein, bringing out the best in each ingredient. A fine hot sauce is like the punctuation of a great sentence; use just the right amount, and the intended tone and ideas will be transferred with grace. (Use, too much, and — then — the whole… thing… is… no good!!!!!!! As in poorly-written, to extend the metaphor, or too spicy in terms of the culinary.)

If the mere mention of capsaicin sets off your Pavlovian reflex, then you have come to the right place. Those of us who have a passion for hot sauce know that almost no food is complete without it (exceptions include ice cream and a limited number of fruits). But how to choose the perfect hot sauce when there are so many available? Do you stick with staid Sriracha? Add a bit of Aztec’s Revenge? Turn to timeless Tabasco, even? Or do you cast off the bonds of cowardice and boldly march ahead, turning left down the hallway, stopping briefly to check the pile of mail left on the sideboard in the living room, and then entering the kitchen to make your own homemade hot sauce? Yeah you do!

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Fortunately, as it turns out, making homemade hot sauce is laughably easy. “Ha!” You’ll laugh, adding: “That was easy!” The best thing about the basic recipe I’ll share today is that you can alter it in countless ways. Add a chunk of fresh ginger, a splash of soy sauce, some brown sugar, change up the peppers, and so forth; what you have here is a recipe for homemade hot sauce that will taste great just like it is, but is in fact a jumping off point for your own journey exploration and discovery. Think of yourself as the Hernán Cortés of hot sauce making, but without being a murderous bastard.

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The ingredients

Here’s what you need for a basic-but-excellent homemade hot sauce:

  • About a half pound of peppers – recommend a blend of habanero and jalapeño, but you need to explore and experiment. Consider poblanos, serrano, and more. And add some bell pepper and/or banana peppers for a milder sauce.
  • One medium onion, diced. White or yellow, of course. Not red for Chrissake.
  • 1 tablespoon of minced garlic. Fresh.
  • About 3/4 cup of vinegar. White, not balsamic, though a teaspoon or two of balsamic might be nice…
  • A tablespoon or so of salt. And maybe a pinch of sugar? Yeah, that too.

Pretty simple, right? Peppers, onion, garlic, vinegar, and some fabulously basic spices. Now that we have our basic recipe ready, let’s talk about how we actually make this stuff. Because… that’s obviously the next logical step, here.

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Making the hot sauce

Put everything but the vinegar into a blender or a food processor with a pulse setting. (Or plan to spend a long time chopping stuff super fine with a knife, if that’s how you get your kicks.) Now put all that finely-chopped goodness in a bowl and cover it with tin foil (or plastic wrap, but poke a small hole or two) and leave it out on the counter.

On the next day, pour in the vinegar and make sure all the solid ingredients are mixed around and fully submerged. Now re-cover the bowl or pour everything into a jar or other container. Seal it, but plan to briefly open or uncover the concoction once a day for the next week to let off any built-up pressure.

After a week, put the mixture back in the blender or food processor and grind that goodness up until it’s a smooth, even goo. Or, actually, let’s go with the word sauce, instead. That’s much more appealing and on-topic.

There! You just made homemade hot sauce! And the entire process takes about a half hour of hands-on work and only a week of waiting around. Is it worth it? Taste the spicy goodness and you tell me. Or we can cut the chase and I’ll tell you: it is.

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