Smoky Fermented Hot Sauce

Scrambled eggs, takeout pizza, fried rice, mac and cheese, roasted veg … are all improved with hot sauce. I don’t mean the stuff that makes your face sweat and your heart race and your brain fog over. Those are not culinary experiences I crave.

I want something with a balance of salty, sour, and umami flavors, and a kick of heat, just enough to wake up the palate a bit. I like to add chipotle peppers for some smokiness. This process takes a couple weeks, but it’s mostly hands off. And once it’s ready, you’ll have a shelf stable product to keep in the pantry forever. Although I doubt it will last very long, with all the meals you’ll be slathering it on.


  • Kitchen scale


  • A handful of hot peppers of choice, stems removed (I like red jalapeños)
  • 2 ripe bell peppers (not the green ones) or a handful of sweet peppers, stems removed
  • 3-4 chipotle peppers (dried or the canned ones in adobo sauce)
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 onion
  • 4-6 garlic cloves, peeled
  • salt
  • fruit vinegar
  • cooking oil of choice


  • Preheat oven to 450°F and lightly oil a baking pan. Remove skin and quarter onion. Cook onion in oven until charred — about 15 minutes.
  • Prep veggies by chopping into pieces that will fit in the blender. Be sure to use fresh veggies. Anything past its prime may encourage  mold and yeast growth during fermentation.
  • Blend onion, garlic, carrot, and peppers until smooth. Taste for heat level. Not hot enough? Add more hot peppers. Too hot? Add another carrot or bell pepper.
  • Calculate salt. Find a jar that is about double the volume of the veggie purée (the jar should have plenty of headspace for weighing down the contents ). Place empty jar on scale, power on and tare so the scale reads 0 grams. Pour purée into jar and measure weight in grams. Multiply the weight by .02 (2 percent). This is the salt quantity for the hot sauce. (For example, if the purée weights 300 grams, use 6 grams of salt.) Sprinkle salt on top of purée.
  • Weigh down contents of jar: Pepper purées can be very active during fermentation. Usually solids will separate from the liquid and rise to the top. They also have a tendency to grow kahm yeast in hot climates. The easiest and cleanest thing to do is to weigh down the contents with a Ziploc bag filled with water.
    Open Ziploc bag, and make sure there are no leaks.  put your fist inside, and press down onto the surface of the purée. Fold the outer edges of the bag over the sides of the jar. Fill bag with water. Ideally the weight of the water will be close to the weight of the purée, but eyeballing it is fine. Now place a rubber band around the top of the jar, which will keep the Ziploc bag in place.
  • Ferment: Allow jar to ferment at room temperature for 10-14 days (or longer!). Since this can be an active ferment, I recommend placing a kitchen towel underneath the jar to capture any spills. Also, the activity may push the water in the bag up and over the edge of the jar. Be sure to check often and add more water if necessary, so the purée is fully weighed down.
  • After fermentation, carefully remove the Ziploc bag. Blend fermented purée with an equal amount of fruit vinegar. This makes it shelf stable, plus the flavor is more complex with the acidity. Store in a tightly sealed bottle with very little headspace (the oxygen could potentially encourage mold growth). It will keep at room temperature indefinitely. If anxious about mold growth, the container can also be stored in the fridge, if you’re anxious about mold). I have stored jars of hot sauce for well over a year in the pantry, and I’ve never experienced any mold growth.