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Making and using Hot Sauce

by Leigh Abernathy (passioncook(at)

Okay. It's time to put all those peppers you froze this summer to use and whip up some hot sauce.

Is making your own hot sauce difficult? Eye-burning, nose-running, room-clearing hot, yes. Difficult? Nope.

You see, your typical hot sauce has three little ingredients: peppers, vinegar and salt. That's it, and that makes it a breeze to make at home.

These homemade sauces are more kin to the old favorite Louisiana Hot Sauce than its cousin Tabasco. That's because Tabasco ferments their peppers with salt for THREE YEARS in oak barrels before turning them into sauce, which is way too long to wait for most of us. You can enjoy your homemade sauce immediately, or let it age for a month in the fridge first to allow the flavor to improve a bit. (Come on, you can wait a month.)

To make it, you'll need a blender or food processor, rubber gloves (like those for dishwashing) and goggles if your eyes are sensitive. I'm not kidding. The hottest peppers, like habaneros, can cause a chemical burn if their oils linger on your skin, so wear the gloves. Also, be careful not to touch your face while you're preparing the sauce. Trust me on this one.

The heat comes from capsacin, the oil that makes peppers hot. That heat is rated in Scoville units, which tell you how much the pepper must be diluted before you can't taste the heat. For instance, a bell pepper's rating is zero, meaning there's no heat. An Anaheim is anywhere from 500-1500, jalapenos are 2500 to 5000, cayennes are 30,000-50,000, and habaneros are 100,000 to 300,000. That means if you poured a cup full of habanero heat into a large empty swimming pool, you would have to add up to 300,000 more cups of water to it before the heat disappears.

You may wonder, besides macho competition, why anyone would want something that hot? Endorphins. When that capsacin hits your tongue, it sends pain signals your brain, which in turn, releases endorphins, causing a mild euphoria. Of course, I'm sure those that seek out such hot fare would tell you it was because of the flavor alone. Uh huh.

The traditional choice of peppers for hot sauce is cayenne (similar in flavor and heat to Tabasco peppers). My favorite, for a mild even heat and subtle sweetness, are ripe Anaheim peppers--a good substitute would be Anchos or one of the hot stuffing-type peppers. For a straight heat, try green jalapenos. For all you chileheads that are looking for a knock-you-into-the-next-room, eye-watering, throat-burning sauce, use habaneros or scotch bonnets. The proportions for each type are the same and you can use fresh or frozen peppers to make it. Here's the basic recipe:

Homemade Hot sauce
makes one quart

3 cups coarsely chopped peppers (stems removed)
2 cups white vinegar
2 tablespoons kosher or pickling salt

Combine all the ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. No matter how tempted you are, don't test the results right away.

All right, you tested it, didn't you? Don't reach for water because it just spreads the heat around. Go for peanut butter, milk, ice cream or yogurt--the capsacin binds to the fat in them and is swallowed harmlessly.

Feel free to experiment with the flavors a little. Apple cider vinegar provides a more rounded flavor and a few cloves of garlic boost the taste. You can even blend types of peppers to produce your preferred level of heat. For a thinner sauce, strain it though a mesh colander. I like the character the pepper pulp provides, so I leave it in.

You can preserve your sauce by canning it in sterilized pint jars in a hot water bath for 35 minutes. For serving, pour into saved and cleaned bottles with a sprinkler top, because with most of these, a little dab will do you.

What to do with those little dabs? Dash a little in your chili or salsa to boost the heat (especially great if you live in a family with different heat level tolerances--everyone can add the heat they want). Add a bit of life to soups and barbecue sauces. And of course, smother your wings with it.

This recipe is not fried and baked, like many you'll find. It's just baked, which cuts down some on the fat and a lot on the work but not on the flavor. We eat them by the dozen at our house.

Heavenly Hot Wings

1 cup of hot sauce
1/2 cup of butter (melted)
1 tablespoon of paprika
3 pounds chicken wings

Mix together the hot sauce, butter and paprika, then use it to thoroughly cover the wings. Bake them for 45 minutes at 375 degrees. Serve them with bleu cheese dressing to tame the heat and plenty of napkins to tame the mess.

The hardest part about making your own hot sauce is deciding what to name it. "9 1/2 Weeps," "Brain Damage-Mind Blowin' Hot Sauce" and "Acid Rain" are all taken. There's still plenty of creative room, though. At our house, we call our dusty orange habanero sauce "Rust from the Hinges of Hell."

Oh yeahhhh. It's hhhhhot, baby.

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