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It’s Getting Sriracha Hot in Here!

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For holiday dinners at my Gramma’s, there would be two platters of Italian long fried peppers–the mild ones would be on the kids’ table and the hot ones on the grownups’ table. It was great fun daring each other to sneak into the dining room where the spicy food was and try to eat it without crying or running for milk. Even way back then, I had a love of hot stuff and I was able to choke down Gramma’s spicy-hot Italian long peppers with little more than a chunk of sourdough.

These days, a bottle of rooster sauce does not hang around very long and I have been known to carry sample packets of Tapatío® in my purse for those occasions–well, you just never know. I have made hot pepper oil, which I use to jazz up my ramen noodles and pasta when my hot peppers poop out around December. But this year, I thought I would try something new.

I grew one Ghost Pepper plant as a novelty, particularly because my Next Generation of Gardeners at my school are fascinated by the Scoville scale. Considering all the frightening hype and crazy YouTube videos about people dying from ingesting these infamous second-hottest-peppers-in-the-world (Carolina Reaper is reputed to be #1), I was pretty scared. I watched the first one turn red and would just pass by the plant like it was a snake, ready to strike. I finally snipped it off into a baggie, trying not to touch it with my bare hand, and could swear I got a little choke in my throat from the intense heat harbored inside that little Chinese lantern-like globe. I gave that first pepper to one of my students who had a signed affidavit from his parent, relinquishing me from any lawsuits if the child should need to be hospitalized.

Never having grown them before, I really didn’t know what to expect, but that one plant got so big and full of fruit, the branches broke off and it fell over. I knew I had to do something with them, because, as you know, nothing in my domain goes to waste. I started passing them out to people I could trust not to land me in litigation, but still had a ton to contend with. No way was I giving these to my chickens, and I was still pretty much in fearful awe of them.

Well, I’m way past that now, having used a couple handfuls of them for my own homemade sriracha. Certainly, I was nervous about incorporating them into my sauce, but I was careful to wear gloves and a gas mask to keep from choking to death (JK about the gas mask). Now naturally, I want to be able to eat the stuff, so I tempered it with some jalapeños and toned it down with a few sweet, red Italian longs. I also tossed in several Black Cobras for extra essence, because those little peppers pack a big flavor.

Since it was my first sriracha rodeo, I Googled recipes and, experimenter that I am, I took a few things from each and came up with one that best fit my style, scale and stock. This recipe turned out great the first time and could not have been easier. Even the fermentation process was a breeze, even though I had to go through a bit of an olfactory adjustment period. I put the jar in the walk-in closet, thinking it would be out of the way, but it smelled so strongly of garlic, I was afraid my sheets would reek. I moved it to the laundry room cupboard, but then got up the next morning to the whole house smelling like fried linguica, so I moved it out to the covered patio. After a couple of days, when the anaerobic process was complete, there was very little smell.

Now, I’m not sure we can officially call it Sriracha, because that brand includes other ingredients, but it is also fermented and this is a pretty close substitute, if about a million times hotter on the Scoville. So as usual, I share my efforts here, but naturally I expect you to experiment and have fun. HLM

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Ingredients:

1 pound assorted hot and mild peppers

4 cloves garlic

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon honey or brown sugar

2 tablespoons white vinegar

Directions:

Prepare peppers, removing seeds and membranes if you want less heat. Cut into small pieces to ensure smoothness in food processor. Purée peppers, garlic and salt until completely smooth. Pour into clean glass quart jar. Cover with paper towel and rubber band so mixture can breathe and to keep out vermin. Place jar in cool, dark place to ferment for at least 7 days, checking each day for mold and scraping down the sides. If mold appears, just dip it out with a spoon. Scrape the top with a spoon and discard if discolored. Pour into medium saucepan, add honey, and bring to low boil for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in vinegar and continue to heat for about another minute. Getting the temperature up is important if you are going to seal into jars. With this recipe, I had about 1½ cups of sauce.