We planted hot peppers on the fire escape this summer – fiery scotch bonnets and smoky paprika peppers – and were unprepared for their prolific production. The paprika peppers have found their way into many a dish, but the scotch bonnets — which clock in at 100,000–350,000 Scoville Units, a good 12 to 40 times hotter than the hottest jalapeño — are, shall we say, less flexible.
So what to do with an excess of hot peppers? Make hot sauce!
Scotch bonnets are most prolific in the Caribbean and appropriately, most of the recipes out there on the interwebs play up the fruity notes — mango, pineapple — of these cuisines. Unfortunately, they also, beautifully, reflect these cultures in their instruction, with free form grandma-pro notes like “add honey to taste.” Not knowing enough about these culinary worlds to judge a recipe from its writing, we went for the recipe that hit on the sweet and fruity notes present in all recipes, but which provided very specific measurements because, well, let’s be honest — we weren’t going to be able to taste our process often enough and in enough quantity to follow such free form instructions…we’d be writhing on the floor in pain before we made a sauce that actually worked. En fin. Jean Georges seemed like a good bet, and we liked this recipe for its inclusion of orange zest, and its call for a bit of fermentation.
So, we took precautions:
(You may think the goggles are excessive, but we regretted not wearing a mask as well!)
And set to work.
Despite almost being knocked off our feet from the vapors released by the last bit of boiling, we managed to make it through the process unscathed.
Look at that color!
And hey: it’s good! Great, even! It’s spicy, yet workable, bright yet complex, the initial spark of heat giving way a little sweetness, a little tartness (the liquor goes a long way in dampening what’s normally an insanely spicy pepper.) The heat hits you right away, on the roof of your mouth, and then again just at the end, but it’s the fruitiness that lingers, making it a pleasant spice that leaves you wanting more. It’s unique, and really, quite delicious.
It’s not a thick sauce — whip in some butter if you want more of a saucy-sauce — rather, it’s a little thin. Like Tabasco sauce thin.
scotch bonnet hot sauce.
Adapted from Jean-Georges via Epicurious
Makes about two cups.
Notes: If you can’t find champagne vinegar, substitute a good white wine or rice vinegar instead. And Grand Marnier will work in place of the St. Germaine.
3 ounces Scotch bonnet chiles (6 to 7), stemmed and seeded (see Note)
1 orange or red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
5 (4-inch) strips fresh orange zest (removed with a vegetable peeler)
1 small garlic clove
3 tablespoons elderflower cordial (like St. Germaine)
4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup champagne vinegar
1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
1. Combine the chiles, pepper, zest, garlic, 2 tablespoons of the cordial, and 2 teaspoons of the salt in a blender. Pulse until coarsely ground. Transfer to an airtight container and let stand in a warm place for at least 12 hours and up to one full day to ferment.
2. Pour the mixture into the blender and add the vinegar, remaining tablespoon of cordial, and remaining 2 teaspoons salt. Blend until very smooth. Strain through a medium-mesh sieve, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the solids.
3. Bring the sauce to a boil and stir in the cornstarch mixture. Cook until thickened, about 1 minute, then let cool to room temperature.
4. The sauce can be covered and refrigerated for up to two weeks.