My lips were raging. I took a last slurp of soup, sat back, mopped my brow and felt a sense of euphoria as my skull began to tingle in what I can only describe as an out-of-body experience. Over the months leading up to my first chilli “high”, I’d built up a tolerance, and I could now experience the myriad flavours of chillies without being overwhelmed by their heat.
Whether or not you have a glut of chillies, making your own chilli sauce is a very simple and deeply satisfying from-scratch cooking project. The sweet, nuanced flavours of ripe chillies are amplified in the fermentation process, making a homemade condiment to lift any meal.
The leaves from most chilli plants are edible – they hold similar aromatic flavours to their pods, only without the heat. Try stir-frying them with ginger and garlic, add them to kimchi, make tinolang manok, the classic Filipino chicken and ginger soup, or use them to flavour homemade chilli sauce.
Fermented chilli sauce with chilli leaves
Just about every culture, new and old, has its own fermented chilli sauce, from piri-piri to sriracha, because there is no better way to preserve a seasonal glut of this fiery fruit. And it’s so easy and rewarding to make your own – the flavours will blow you away.
Last summer, I had the pleasure of working with Californian fermentation expert Sandor Katz at The Good Life Experience. I learned so much in such a short time. During his sauerkraut demonstration, someone asked Sandor if it’s essential to sterilise the jar, and he said he didn’t think it necessary for ferments – you just need a clean jar. Since then, I haven’t sterilised my ferment jars and have had no problems so far, though I’m sure that’s a hot topic for further debate.
Chlorine can inhibit the fermentation process, so use filtered water, if you can; failing that, put the water in a container for 24 hours, to dechlorinate.
Chilli leaves (optional)
Water (filtered, ideally)
Optional extras: garlic, citrus peel, herbs and spices
Wash the chillies in water, and pluck off and discard the green tops. Cut the chillies in half lengthways, pack into a suitably sized clean jar, add a few chilli leaves, if using, and any other aromatic ingredients that take your fancy (garlic, citrus peel, herbs spices), filling the jar to about an inch from the top. Estimate the amount of liquid needed to cover the chillies, then make up a 5% brine solution (25g sea salt per 500ml water), and stir to dissolve the salt. Pour the brine over the chillies, making sure they are submerged, then seal and leave at room temperature for four days to ferment, or until bubbles start to appear. Strain, reserving some of the brine, then blend the solids until smooth; loosen with a little reserved brine, until the sauce is a consistency you like, then decant into clean bottles, seal and leave to continue fermenting at room temperature, until the flavour is to your liking. Store in the fridge to slow the fermentation; it’ll keep indefinitely.