Over the years my addiction to hot sauce has had to be controlled, I first noticed it becoming an issue whilst at university. Alongside Tabasco, Maggi seasoning also became a weakness, I soon found most meals began tasting of one or the other and felt it was time for a change. Thankfully the only thing that gets the Maggi treatment these days is a few drops when making a dressing or on spaghetti carbonara. My Tabasco kick comes once a day in mugs together with a beef stock cube, Worcester sauce and a good squeeze of lemon juice; the Virgin Bull shot is a welcome change from tea or coffee and keeps the junkie within a happy lad.
Gradually, the kick generated by a bottle of Tabasco began to wane. I wanted more fire in my belly, something guaranteed to bring a bead on and release a few extra endorphins. Encona became the new kid on the block. Working my way up the Scolville scale from Jalapeños to Scotch Bonnets was a bold decision indeed, a macho move in the world of the amateur hot sauce aficionado. Unfortunately, as agreeable as I found it, my stomach felt otherwise. Hot sauce hangovers can be more uncomfortable than snorting wasabi or eating a bag of holly. A good thing too, as I didn’t want to find myself tucking into extract sauces in a few years time.
I love using fresh chillies in most dishes, but the amount of times I have bought half a dozen scotch bonnets, only to find them a few weeks later at the back of the fridge covered in mould was becoming ridiculous.
So a month ago, as I reached for a pack at a grocers in Tooting, I questioned whether I would actually do anything with them or if they were destined to go the way of the dodo. Hot sauce, lets make hot sauce…
Scotch bonnets are certainly a step up on the Scolville scale. Jalapeños come in at 2,500-8,000 units. Scotch bonnets, a cultivar of the Habanero come in at 100,000 to 350,000 units. But nothing matches the Dorset Naga, a cross of the Naga jolokia (or bhut jolokia) and Trinidad Hybrid: a ring-burning 1,359,000 units! In parts of India they paint pounded bhut jolokia chillies on fences to deter cocky Elephants- strong stuff!
As much as I would like to produce a distilled sauce McIlheney style, I don’t have the patience to wait three years to sample it. A bit of research later I began putting together some of the core ingredients to make something similar. Creating a hot sauce is about getting a balance between heat, sugar, vinegar and salt. It is also about finding a receptacle that will deploy your hot sauce in a measured manner. Tabasco was originally bottled in recycled perfume bottles, very similar to the ones still used allowing a gentle drip-drip. Most perfume bottles today have a spray top: I did consider this but then blasting hot sauce allover your food could be dangerous and allow very little control.
This isn’t a recipe as such, its really about balance and what you, the consumer, want from a hot sauce: a tailor made recipe of sorts. Here is the face melting account and rough guidelines to making your own, I began by using rough measurement and tasting lots- keep a glass of milk handy! Don’t be afraid to play around but DO remember to wear a rather fetching pair of pink marigolds. You have been warned.
6-10 Scotch Bonnet Chillies
Golden caster sugar
2 cloves of garlic
First of all: marigolds on. Slice the each chillies into quarters and remove the seeds and stalk. Chop the garlic into small chunks. Try not to inhale through the nose at this point although, the fumes from the scotch bonnets might make your face bleed.
In a non-metallic pan, boil the peppers and garlic in 150ml of cider vinegar with the pan lid on until tender, about 10-15 minutes. Be careful when opening the lid- inhaling a mix of concentrated heat and vinegar fumes is rather unpleasant.
Pour the contents of the pan into a blender add a TBSP of sugar and a TSP of salt. Puree the mixture. Run the puree through a sieve back into the pan and bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer gently.
Now is the time to begin tasting. Add a little more cider vinegar and taste, add a little more sugar and taste, add a little more salt and taste. You should be able to begin to gradually zero in on when it is well balanced to your preferences.
I found that my sauce needed another 100ml of cider vinegar, two more TSP of salt and another TBSP of sugar. The consistency should be a smidgen thicker than water.
Pour your efforts into a sterilized bottle and enjoy. If refrigerated, your sauce should keep for up to three months.
On other subjects, I have had some interesting nibbles from people wanting to do some Hunter:Gather:Cook courses. I am doing tailor-made foraging courses so if you are interested in getting a group of friends together for a forage and cook session in the shade of a spectacular Sussex Tree house this spring/summer/autumn, don’t hesitate to get in contact- dates are filling up fast! To see what its all about click on 'courses' in the navigation bar at the top of the blog.
I will be doing a Wild Food Supper Club on the 16th May at the rather wonderful Underground Restaurant with MsMarmitelover. The event will involve a talk through what you are eating and where it comes from, nettle beer tasting, spring greens, a Fish course and something special for pudding. To book tickets click here (25 places available).
Plans for France continue to evolve…