Chiles two ways - fermented hot sauce & homemade chili powder

2016 fermented hot sauce - 2 cups

2016 fermented hot sauce - 2 cups

I am a big fan of chiles. There are so many varieties and culinary applications, and they add excitement to almost everything. A few years ago I had a habanero plant that produced an unbelievable amount of peppers, which motivated me to learn how to make my own hot sauce. The two styles I experimented with were the vinegar-based and lacto-fermented versions. It's easy to find out your own preferences – look on the label of your favorite hot sauces. Does it contain vinegar, sugar, spices, etc.? My current default hot sauce recipe couldn't be simpler, and any pepper or combination works well. Because we are relying on natural lactic acid bacteria (lactobacillus) for fermentation, fresh and organic chiles will produce the best results.

2016 Fermented Hot Sauce
habanero chiles
cherry bomb chiles
5% cold brine solution (for example, 1000g water & 50g sea salt)
optional - 1 tablespoon brine from sauerkraut or other lacto ferment

1. Remove stem and seeds from chiles, split in half.
2. Stuff into 1 liter canning jar.
3. Pour brine to cover, close lid tightly.
4. Ferment at room temperature 2 – 4 weeks, release pressure every day or so.
5. Drain and reserve brine, puree chiles while adding desired amount of brine.
6. Label and refrigerate.

warning: there are chile fumes during processing

warning: there are chile fumes during processing

stuff into the jar

stuff into the jar

beautiful color, but the brine will turn cloudy in a few days

beautiful color, but the brine will turn cloudy in a few days

Here are some tips. Use gloves! You might want to use goggles and a mask. An even better idea is to process the chiles outside. Be careful! I always use filtered water to take out the chlorine, which will help with the fermentation. When the brine turns cloudy, the carbon dioxide (CO2) pressure will build more quickly, so loosen and tighten the lid daily. You can also find various lids and airlock systems to let CO2 out and not introduce oxygen. The fermentation time depends on many factors, but I look for firm sourness of the brine to determine when it’s done. The consistency is controlled by how much brine you use when blending. You can also add other flavorings during this final step.

This sauce is very hot and absolutely delicious. I use it as is, or often mixed 50-50 with Shark brand sriracha, which provides some sweetness and depth. It's also fun to mix with ketchup or mayonnaise, especially if they are also homemade. The sauce will easily last a year or two in the fridge as long as you keep it clean. Read The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz for information and inspiration while you wait for the fermentation to complete.


dried whole chiles - dry your own or purchase from a quality store

dried whole chiles - dry your own or purchase from a quality store

Homemade Chili Powder
The arrival of winter brings with it the comforting and warming foods like soup, stew, nabe, and various baked things. I really enjoy making my first chili of the season, and learning how to make my own custom chili powder resulted in an unmistakable flavor boost. It's easy and fun to make, but the biggest advantage of home made chili powder is the choice you have regarding what goes into it. And the fresh flavor is unparalleled. For this batch I used cayenne, ancho, casabel, and guajillo chiles, which I got from Penzey's.

The method is simple. Remove the stem and seeds from the chiles and break up into smaller pieces. Toast in a pan (cast iron is best) over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until fragrant and starting to show wisps of smoke. Allow to cool and grind. I use a clean coffee grinder for bigger batches, but the mortar and pestle works for smaller amounts. At this point you can add herbs and spices to your liking and store in an airtight container. I keep this chili powder simple and add other flavorings during cooking. Remember, chili without cumin is just tomato stew! Toast whole cumin and grind fresh for the best result.

cast iron dutch oven works great for toasting

cast iron dutch oven works great for toasting

I used a coffee grinder for this batch

I used a coffee grinder for this batch


My homemade bread method

freshly baked rye bread

freshly baked rye bread

I've been baking bread at home for over ten years, trying several different methods during that time.  The first book that helped me get more serious about bread was Dough by Richard Bertinet.  After that was Mark Bittman's New York Times article about Jim Lahey's revolutionary no-knead method and book My Bread.  Finally, Ken Forkish's Flour Water Salt Yeast is the source of my current recipe and technique.  His Portland restaurants' bread and pizza simply speak for themselves and I rushed out to get his book after tasting his bread.  I really appreciate Forkish being very detailed in using scales (in grams), thermometers, and percentages so that we can get a handle on the relationship of the ingredients.  This allows for very easy up and down scaling of batch size, plus makes it easier to experiment and adjust to our own tastes.  The basic recipe makes two loaves, and here I've baked one and stored the other dough in the fridge to bake later or for pizza or focaccia.  Once you get the hang of the white bread, it's easy to substitute whole wheat, rye, or other flour, as well as throw in dried fruits, nuts, and seeds to your liking.  The important points are hydration level, long fermentation with less yeast, and high heat baking in the cast iron dutch oven.  Forkish has some good videos explaining and demonstrating these steps.  Making this bread is easy and inexpensive and the joy you can bring to others by sharing a loaf is even better than the happiness of seeing your beautiful bread come out of your own oven.


Overnight White Bread
1000g all purpose flour
750g water around 90F
20g sea salt
1g instant yeast (less when the house is warmer)

2. mix the dry, add water, and mix until the dry clumps are gone cover and ferment 12 - 18 hours at room temp find a warm spot if the house is cold

2. mix the dry, add water, and mix until the dry clumps are gone
cover and ferment 12 - 18 hours at room temp
find a warm spot if the house is cold

4. next day, 15 hours later it's ready to divide in half and form into rounds

4. next day, 15 hours later it's ready to divide in half and form into rounds

6. after a couple of hours covered, it has doubled and is ready to bake

6. after a couple of hours covered, it has doubled and is ready to bake

1. ingredients and equipment the small scale is not necessary because the yeast amount can vary

1. ingredients and equipment
the small scale is not necessary because the yeast amount can vary

3. assistant: "ok, now you have time to play!  where's da bird!"

3. assistant: "ok, now you have time to play!  where's da bird!"

5. I'm baking one and refrigerating the other to use later in the week

5. I'm baking one and refrigerating the other to use later in the week

7. preheat cast iron dutch oven in 475F oven (use oven thermometer) bake the bread covered 30 min, then remove lid and bake 15 min longer cool completely on rack before eating

7. preheat cast iron dutch oven in 475F oven (use oven thermometer)
bake the bread covered 30 min, then remove lid and bake 15 min longer
cool completely on rack before eating

Miso making

Miso making on Valentine's Day - why not?  I can think of several reasons as to why it's a good idea to make your own miso at home:

1. Quality control - I used fresh homemade koji, organic soybeans, really good sea salt, and will be deciding the time and conditions of the fermentation.  Mass-produced miso doesn't even come close in flavor.  Making your own allows full control of the salt level and other variables to suit your palate.

2. It's far cheaper than buying miso, especially if you make the koji yourself.  But even if you're buying koji and the best organic beans and salt, you will still be saving.

3. Making miso is fun and rewarding because of the long fermentation time as well as how incredibly useful it is in the kitchen.  And it's pretty easy to do.

4. You can make your friends very happy by giving them some, or by cooking for them using your miso.  It's a great idea to make a big batch and plan on giving some away and aging what you don't use within one year.

5. Great for learning - making something yourself deepens your knowledge and sharpens your appreciation of it.  Using your own miso makes you a more mindful cook overall.

For anyone who might be interested, I'm providing the recipe and photos from my 2016 batch here.

One-Year Miso
2.4 kg dry organic soybeans (soak 24 hrs)
1.4 kg koji (fresh homemade)
646g sea salt (17% of the weight of dry beans & koji)
1/4 c seed miso (from my 2013 batch)
4 c bean cooking liquid
 

soybeans after 24 hr soak

soybeans after 24 hr soak

a talkative sous chef

a talkative sous chef

koji, salt, seed miso

koji, salt, seed miso

mashing beans with a 1 liter glass bottle (beans pressure steamed 45 min)

mashing beans with a 1 liter glass bottle (beans pressure steamed 45 min)

mix everything when beans are below 100F

mix everything when beans are below 100F

press down to get out air pockets, sprinkle salt on top

press down to get out air pockets, sprinkle salt on top

plastic wrap on miso, then 1cm kosher salt

plastic wrap on miso, then 1cm kosher salt

I will check the progress in about 5 - 6 months.  Usually it takes over a year to reach the flavor I'm looking for.  Some mold growth on top is not a problem (just scrape away) but it's good to be careful of bugs and other critters wanting a taste.  One memorable incident was when the miso was stored in a shed and a rat chewed through the plastic and ate through the salt layer and then a good amount of miso.  It was heart-rending to dump that year's batch, but lesson learned.

plastic wrap on top, taped, labeled

plastic wrap on top, taped, labeled


I had leftover koji and decided to try a sweet-style miso with azuki.  This has much less salt and much more koji.  It should be ready in about 2 months.

Azuki Sweet Miso
170g azuki (no soak, boiled 75 minutes)
340g koji (fresh homemade)
30.5g sea salt (6% of the weight of dry beans & koji)
1/2 c bean cooking liquid

azuki pre-rinse

azuki pre-rinse

mashing with a glass

mashing with a glass

I will probably check this in 4 - 6 weeks.  Next up is experimenting with black turtle bean miso and garbanzo miso.

salt and koji

salt and koji

luckily just fits a 1 liter mason jar

luckily just fits a 1 liter mason jar