Why It Works
- Hydrating dried chipotle peppers in a salt brine frees natural sugars to power fermentation.
- Fresh garlic provides a source of lactic acid bacteria to initiate fermentation.
- Fermenting with an airlock inhibits unwanted microbial growth.
- Blending the hot sauce with xanthan gum thickens the sauce to a velvety, shiny consistency, and helps to keep the sauce emulsified longer.
When it comes to fermenting chiles, most people assume that you’re using fresh peppers. But don’t sleep on dried peppers. With some careful preparation, they can be perfect candidates for lacto-fermentation. While dried peppers tend to be deficient in the surface microbes necessary to initiate fermentation, they do still have sugar to fuel that process.
Here I add dried chipotle morita chiles to a salt brine, along with a healthy amount of fresh garlic and toasted cumin seeds. The salt brine hydrates the peppers, freeing sugars that lactic acid bacteria can readily metabolize. In addition to its pungent flavor, the garlic provides a reliable source of inoculating microbes required to initiate fermentation (as well as some sugars). Over time, the peppers gradually acidify, and their smoky flavor suffuses with the brine, staining it a rich brown color. Because there is a smaller initial population of microbes compared to a fresh chile ferment, this ferment is slower, and can be left to bubble away for up to a month (or longer in some cases).
Finishing the sauce is as simple as blending it up. Blending the chiles, garlic, and cumin in a combination of leftover fermented brine and vinegar yields a smooth sauce with layers of acidity. A dash of sugar balances the acidity and smokiness of the sauce; it also helps to temper some of the latent spiciness. Finally, I take a cue from the commercial pros: Blending a small amount of xanthan gum into the sauce produces a silky, smooth, and slightly thicker texture that tends to stay emulsified longer.
This hot sauce is smoky, smooth, and savory, with a medium heat intensity. The cumin is warming but not overpowering, having mellowed over the course of fermentation; it plays nicely with the smokiness of the chiles. This sauce is close to Cholula’s brand of chipotle hot sauce in flavor and texture—just a touch funkier and more interesting.
- For The Brine:
- 3 cups (720ml) bottled, filtered, or distilled water
- 3 tablespoons (30g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt use half as much by volume or the same weight
- 2 ounces (55g) dried chipotle morita peppers (about 20 chile peppers), stems removed and peppers cut in half
- 1 1/2 ounces (45g) garlic (about 6 medium cloves), thinly sliced
- 2 teaspoons (5g) cumin seeds, toasted in dry skillet until fragrant
- To Finish the Hot Sauce:
- 3/4 cup (180ml) distilled white vinegar
- 1 tablespoon (15g) sugar
- Kosher salt
- 1/8 teaspoon (0.25g) xanthan gum (optional)
For The Brine: In a large bowl, whisk together water and salt until dissolved, at least 30 seconds. In a wide-mouth, 1-quart canning jar, add peppers, garlic, and cumin seeds. Pour brine into jar and stir gently to combine. Cover surface loosely with plastic wrap, ensuring full contact, and place a smaller lid on top of plastic. Seal jar with airlock lid following manufacturer's instructions.
Store mixture in dark area away from sun and let ferment, maintaining an ambient temperature between 55°F (13°C) and 75°F (24°C) for 10 days; check mixture daily for signs of gas formation (this is a good sign). Starting on the 10th day, taste peppers or garlic daily until they taste sour like dill pickles; the total fermentation time can take anywhere from 10 to 28 days.
For The Sauce: Drain solids through fine-mesh strainer set over large nonreactive bowl; reserve liquid. You should have roughly 9 1/4 ounces (265g) solids. Transfer solids to a blender. Add 1 cup (240ml) reserved brine along with the vinegar and sugar. Discard remaining brine. Blend peppers on high speed until smooth and emulsified, 1 to 2 minutes. Season with salt. Measure sauce's pH using strips or pH-meter to ensure it is at or below a pH of 3.4; if it is too high, lower pH to 3.4 with more vinegar as needed.
Strain blended sauce back through fine-mesh strainer set over bowl or large container, pressing on solids to extract as much liquid as possible; reserve solids for another use (see note).
Optionally, if using xanthan gum: Rinse out blender jar. Transfer strained sauce back to blender. With blender running on high speed, slowly sprinkle in xanthan gum to avoid clumping; blend until mixture is slightly thickened, about 1 minute.
Transfer strained hot sauce to glass bottles or jar, cover, and keep refrigerated until ready to use. Sauce can be refrigerated for up to 3 months.
1-quart pickling jar, airlock, small fermentation weights or lids, high-speed blender
Xanthan gum is optional in this recipe; the sauce will be slightly thinner in texture, but the flavor will be unchanged. If you want to guarantee successful fermentation, add two tablespoons of unpasteurized yogurt whey or leftover brine from previous fermentation into brine in Step 1.
Reserved strained solids from the fermentation can be stirred into soups and stews, incorporated into a compound butter, or dehydrated and used as a seasoning.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Sauce can be refrigerated for up to 3 months.