Every year I search for a great food idea to turn into a holiday gift. I've made herb rubs, chile de arbol hot sauce, rosemary-infused olive oil, and rugelach. This year, my friend Lorri Allen of Cook's Table posted photos on Facebook of her hot and tangy sriracha sauce. I had to try it and she graciously gave me the recipe. It's one of those sauces that will have different flavors depending on the kinds of peppers you use, but will always be utterly delicious. This was my find, and I've been making jars and jars of it to give to my friends and family. You see, it was also an excuse to finally understand the art of canning.
Canning has been eluding me. I've done all the basics, but haphazardly and, to be honest, chaotically. You wouldn't have wanted to be in my kitchen as I was giving loquat jam or tangelo marmalade or pickled garlic scapes a hot water bath. It was a mess.
Two things changed that recently. First, I interviewed Susanna Brandenburg, "Executive Pastry Mom" at Tender Greens in Point Loma's Liberty Station. Susanna is a magnificent baker and also makes lovely preserves that you can buy at the restaurant. As we got to talking I mentioned how challenging I've found it was to process the jams and pickles I make. She laid it all out in a simple way that made sense to me and that didn't require my having everything ready at the same time like a juggling act. Then I bought Ball's Complete Book of Home Preserving. Yes, it has hundreds of recipes, but for novice preservers the book's true (and forever appreciated by me) value is on pages 415 to 419. Finally, an illustrated and easy-to-follow, step-by-step guide to processing. And, it went right along with what Susanna had told me.
With this guide in hand, I could make large batches of Lorri's sriracha without having to tell people to eat it immediately or else. They can sit in a pantry for months safe and bacteria free.
So, onward with Lorri's recipe. To get good heat, you'll want fresh, powerful chiles. My great fortune has been that my friend Angela Nava brought me a beautiful ristra of fresh chiles from Seattle that I've been thinning out.
Red jalapenos are good, as are serranos, banana chiles, manzanos -- whatever you can find. And, if you or family members can't take any heat? No problem. I made this for my mom just using red bell peppers. It's not the same, but it is delicious.
The other note I should make here is that Lorri's recipe doesn't call for processing. This is something I decided to do to preserve the sauce. So, if you're not game to do that part of it, you don't have to. But you will have to keep the jars you make in the fridge and use it fairly quickly.
Makes about 3 pints
4 cups chopped chiles (3 1/2 cups red bells and 1/2 cup combination of hot peppers)
10 cloves garlic, smashed
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 cups distilled white vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon fish sauce
Chop the chiles and place in a medium-size bowl. Add garlic, salt, and vinegar. Cover and let sit on the counter overnight or eight hours.
In the morning, remove the peppers and garlic from the bowl and place in a saucepan. Add one cup of the vinegar mixture, half a cup of water, and the two tablespoons of brown sugar. Add more vinegar if you want a more tart and thinner sauce. Bring to a boil and then simmer for five minutes.
Remove from heat and cool slightly. Then whirl in the food processor or blender until smooth.
If you do opt to process jars of the sauce, follow the directions in the Ball book or however you process, leaving the sealed jars to boil for 15 minutes.
Not only can you use the sauce in the usual ways for hot sauce, you can add it to a tomato sauce for pasta to give it a nice tangy, garlicky flavor.