Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Make Your Own Hot Sauce!

Photo courtesy of Todd Renner

I love hot sauces, but I know people who are so passionate about them that they treat them as collectibles. I think they're mostly focusing on the labels.

Now marketing is all well and good, but you and I? We love the flavor, right? And that means a sauce that has a kick but isn't going to knock you on your keister. After all, if your mouth is scalded, you're thousands of taste buds away from enjoying your food.

While I admit to having some favorite ready-made hot sauces, I have a few I enjoy making because a) it's a great way to control the flavor you want and b) it's so easy! Years ago, I learned how to make a dynamite hot sauce from some friends during tamale-making season. This is Consuelo's Hot Sauce and I love it! Yes, it's hot but in moderation it can create the most wonderful mouth tingle and chile flavor. I enjoy incorporating it into salsas or adding to soups or drizzling on fish. Then Lorri Allen taught me her thick sriracha-style sauce and it's always in my refrigerator. The tangy heat that comes from the combination of chiles and vinegar, with a garlic finish just makes me swoon in happiness.

Recently I interviewed Chef Todd Renner of Tender Greens in downtown San Diego. The interview was for a piece I wrote for my Edible San Diego blog, Close to the Source, on their new breakfast menu. But Renner started telling me about his passion for condiments, especially hot sauces. He's working on a signature line of them that Tender Greens will sell.

And, then he invited me to come back to learn how to make them.

Renner loves canning and preserving. He also loves mixing savory and sweet. After all, he was trained as a pastry chef. So, his ideas for new sauces basically come from that background--he has all sorts of various flavor combos in his head.

What was fascinating to me as he talked me through the process is just how versatile it is--and the very reason why you should make your own sauces. We made a classic thin Louisiana-style red hot sauce--ready to pour on everything from scrambled eggs to a shrimp taco. Then we made his Mango Habanero Sauce. The mango flavor pops, for reasons you'll understand in a moment. But that mango? It could easily become pineapple or coconut or banana. Renner even suggested adding spinach or beets. You don't even need to use habanero chiles. Jalapeños or serranos will do just as well. And you can switch up the vinegars. Renner is not a rigid traditionalist. As he says, "It makes it exciting!"

At first glance, the quantity of ingredients called for in both these recipes will seem pretty high. But it all cooks down to a reasonable amount--meaning if you like canning, you can have a couple of jars for yourself and some to give to people you really like to enjoy.

A couple of tips from Renner:
  • To get the smoothest consistency, be sure to blend the mixtures while they're still hot--just be careful since steam will create enough pressure to blow the blender lid off. Make sure the lid is on firmly and use a folded towel while holding the lid to protect your hands.
  • If you want to change the yield but don't want to do the math when it comes to the liquids, Renner says the idea is simply to cover the ingredients with the vinegar in the pot. 

Classic Red Hot Sauce
from Todd Renner
(printable recipe)

This sauce is hugely versatile. Really, it can be your go to for just about anything you'd add hot sauce to. Renner enjoys it on fish--as do I.

Yield: 4 pints

1 pounds Fresno red chiles, destemmed
5 ounces or 30 garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 gallon distilled white vinegar
1/4 cup salt to start

Place all ingredients into a pot. Simmer 30 minutes until tender. Blend until smooth. It will be loose. Strain through a chinois.

Taste and add more salt or vinegar if necessary. Fill bottles or jars.

I recently made my favorite spicy coleslaw for a party. Instead of using Tobasco sauce, I used this Classic Red Hot Sauce and it was sublime.

For the Mango Habanero Sauce, Renner you'll fine that the recipe calls for dried, not raw, mango. He uses dried mango for two reasons--it doesn't add water so you just get pure concentrated flavor and you also get a consistent flavor. You can pick up dried mango--or other dried fruits--at most markets. Renner likes to get his from Trader Joe's.

Mango Habanero Sauce
from Todd Renner
(printable recipe)

I love the pure mango sweetness blended with the heat of the chiles and sourness of the vinegar. It's bright and tropical. And the color? Like the setting sun. Not sure about what to use this sauce for? Renner suggests grilled chicken tacos, jerk-style pork, and ribs. Make sure you apply it as a finishing sauce. It'll just burn up on a grill or under a broiler.

Yield: 5 pints

1 pound dried mango
7 ounces or 26 habanero chiles
4 ounces shallots( 2 or 3 shallots)
1/2 gallon unseasoned rice vinegar
Zest of 3 oranges

1/4 cup salt to start

Combine the first four ingredients in a pot and simmer 30 minutes until tender. Add the zest and salt.

Blend until smooth. Taste and adjust the salt and vinegar if necessary. Fill bottles or jars.

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