Category Archives: Chili Peppers

The Flask of the Red Death – Homegrown Ghost Pepper Sauce

The remnants of my pepper garden survived the mild Florida winter and are once again producing a very respectable crop of scotch bonnets, poblanos, cayennes, and ghost peppers. In fact, while most of the plants were relatively dormant through the winter, my lone ghost pepper plant has continued to bear fruit without interruption. I have been freezing most of the superhot peppers until I figure out what to do with them.

Ghost Pepper ripening in the Florida sun

I am up to about three zip lock sandwich bags full of ghost and scotch bonnet peppers and my supply of superhot hot sauce is in need of a bit of replenishment, so I decided to try my hand at ghost pepper sauce. I used a slightly modified version of the recipe I came up with for fatalii hot sauce last year, since I was really happy with how that turned out (and I am down to my last 1/4 bottle). I didn’t have any sweet peppers so I added some baby carrots instead, and used panela in lieu of brown sugar since I had some on hand. I also added lime juice since I just so happened to have some fresh limes. The result is an excruciatingly hot but very tasty sauce that I wouldn’t use to make buffalo wings but goes great (in small quantities) on rice and beans or grilled chicken.

Below is the recipe, the process is the same used in this one, except that I knew enough to do all of the cooking and blending outside to avoid filling my house with tear gas.

Flasks (and babyfood jar) of the Red Death

The Flask of the Red Death

175 g Ghost Peppers
25 g Scotch Bonnet/Fatalli/Jamaican Hot Chocolate peppers
Handful of sliced carrots
5 tsp panela
1/2 tsp sea salt
200 ml red wine vinegar
25 ml lime juice (1 medium lime)
75 ml white vinegar
1 shot Havana Club blanco

Chop peppers and carrots then saute in dry pan. Once peppers are seared and somewhat cooked add vinegar, salt, lime juice, rum, and sugar. Simmer 5 minutes or so. Puree in blender (allow to cool first or use a towel on lid to allow steam to escape). Bottle and age a week or so and store in refrigerator.


Jerk Beer: Update

So after three weeks fermenting and a week carbonating in the keg, I return with a review of the Jerk Beer I brewed in September. This is a recipe I have been developing and have brewed before – in fact it is basically my fall seasonal; I am not a pumpkin beer fan – but this time I used dried, toasted pepper, added some smoke malt, and added all of the spices after fermentation in an attempt to get a richer, more complex flavor. I think it is a big improvement over previous versions.

Rich Amber color with a frothy white head.

Aroma is dominated by the spices – allspice and cloves, unmistakable

Body is light and a bit on the dry side – I will shoot for a bit more malty sweetness next time.

Flavor is complex – the spices do not dominate the flavor – in fact, if you drink it out of a bottle or with your nose plugged the spices are very subtle. Over time they will fade and I predict the result will be even better – but I was never a big fan of the aroma of cloves, I believe when used they need to be used very, uh, responsibly. The flavor is tough to describe, it is a typical light bodied amber ale; the smoke malt is detectable but only slightly and contributes to an overall savory effect. The amarillo aroma hops add a mellow citrus flavor reminiscent of limes. The scotch bonnets are front and center. The toasting has given them a savory, full-flavored richness and the heat is all over your tongue and the back of your throat. In a good way. Not run for a glass of milk hot, just oooooohhh that burns so good hot. And it doesn’t linger or persist, it just sort of waltzes around and eases into the background leaving you thirsty for another sip. Overall the jerk theme is probably as close as one can get with a beer – I wouldn’t change the proportions or ingredients other than aiming for a bit more sweetness for the sake of balance.

Overall – I look forward to brewing this again next September. Big hit in my book.

Fatalii Hot Sauce

The Fatalii is a variety of super-hot chili peppers which is relatively unknown to most laypersons. Certain super-hot varieties such as the habanero and ghost pepper have gained a certain popularity and notoriety in recent years, fueled primarily, in my opinion, by the media and the Food Network (see Bobby Flay’s habanero fetish) and such “I dare you to eat this” challenges as featured on shows like Man vs. Food. As a matter of fact there are dozens of more or less obscure varieties of super-hot peppers which offer a wide range of flavors, experiences and heat sensations, which are only accessible to those with the time, space and patience to cultivate them from seeds.

As it were, while planning my garden this year I ordered some fatalii pepper seeds purely based on the brief description on Pepper Joe’s seed catalog which promised a “citrus flavor” that would grow extremely well in hot weather. I had no idea that this was a pepper which some claim to be among the hottest on earth. But it did grow relatively well and I have had plenty to experiment with, although my fatalii plants have not been anywhere near as prolific as my scotch bonnets. They are thin-skinned and easy to dry, but I have been allowing them to accumulate in my freezer in the hope of experimenting with some sauces.

I have had mixed results with making hot sauces in general. My best results to date have probably been from fresh fermented hot sauces, which eschew vinegar in favor of the lactic acid produced from lacto-fermentation. My attempts at vinegar-based hot sauces have included some successes as well as failures. I have been reluctant to waste my fatalii harvest in an untried sauce recipe that turned out poorly, but I have been reluctant to use any of them in mixed pepper sauces as I want to experience the unique flavor of this exotic pepper in as pure and unadulterated a form as possible. I have scoured the internet for “tried and true” fatalii hot sauce recipes, but have not found any that  I have had the motivation to try. For whatever reason, I have an aversion to sauces that contain fruits such as mangoes or papayas and this appears to be standard when it comes to fatalii hot sauce recipes.

This weekend I decided to dust off a very simple but very solid recipe for a scotch bonnet hot sauce that I had made several months ago. It consisted of scribbled notes based on a recipe that I had found somewhere on the internet and modified slightly to fit the ingredients I had happened to have on hand. It was a solid sauce though and simple enough that the peppers would be the star of the show. So I swapped fataliis for scotch bonnets, increased the proportion of water and vinegar, added a shot of rum, and went for it.

Femme Fatalii
Approx. 200 grams Fataliis and other peppers (I added a few scotch bonnets and sweet peppers)
300 ml Water
200 ml red vinegar
100 ml white vinegar
.5 Tbsp sea salt
5 tsp brown sugar
1 shot Havana Club white rum

Chop the peppers. Don a mask of some sort and saute in a skillet for five minutes (or as long as your eyes, nose, and throat can stand the fumes).

Add the brown sugar, salt, vinegar and water and simmer another five minutes or so.

At this point the fumes and the smell of the vinegar was making things unbearable for my better half so I decided to move things outside…

Pour mixture into blender (allow to cool first if desired, else use a towel over the top of the blender to allow steam to escape). Add rum and puree until smooth.

Pour into hot sauce bottles or mismatched mason jars and store in fridge.

Results: a sweet, citrusy sauce that is hotter than the fires of hell. A little bit of this goes a loooonnnnnnnnngggg way. But I am very happy with the flavor and will be making this again.

Editor’s Note: I tasted a smidgeon of this off of a spoon in order to write the above taste review. By the time I had finished typing those two sentences I had to run and eat some yogurt to stop the searing pain. I kind of wish I had gone with a mango-based sauce………… 

A Tribute to the Mighty Scotch Bonnet, Part 4: Jamaican Curry

Several years ago I was invited to a Jamaican-themed cookout at a friend’s house. Jerk Chicken, cabbage, rum punch, and festivals plus a good football game… it sounded like my kind of party. Being that it was a pot-luck style get together, I volunteered to bring a pot of curry as my contribution. I had never attempted to make curry and so I did some research on the internet to find out where to start. I took inspiration from a few recipes I found and decided to make a vegetarian curry as there would be plenty of meat and this was supposed to be a side dish or what not. To make up for the lack of meat, I used pigeon peas as the protein and California mix to add texture. As strange as that may sound, it turned out great and was a big hit.

Over the years I took that basic recipe that I had thrown together and perfected it. I added chicken, modified the cooking process slightly, but made very few other changes. The recipe is just too perfect to mess with. As with my other recipes, it is not “authentic” Jamaican curry and it does not taste all that similar to what you will get if you order curry at a Jamaican restaurant (for one thing it will pretty much always be made with bone-in chicken or goat, a tradition I am happy to abandon). However, this curry is not quite like any other you will ever have either, and if I may brag, I think it is one of the best you will ever have. And I have been told this by many people, including a number of Jamaicans, for what it is worth.

In fact, to be honest, I have been hesitant to share this recipe, because I feel it is THAT good and have not found anything else like it on the internet. And when I show up at a pot luck or party with a pot of this it changes people’s lives and I am usually remembered from that day forward as “the guy with the curry”. But, alas, the world will be a better place if I share this recipe, so I am going to share it. And what better way to pay tribute to the Mighty Scotch Bonnet than to showcase it in one of the finest pots of curry on the planet?

As you will see from the pictures, I cook this OUTSIDE. If you have not made curry before there are a few things you should know. First, it smells. If you cook this on your stove your house will smell like curry for two or three days. I am not exaggerating,  it will literally be the first thing you smell when you walk in the door. Second, it will stain everything it touches a bizarre neon yellow (due to the turmeric in the curry powder). So don’t use any white dishes that you don’t want to discolor.

Jamaican Chicken Curry
8-9 boneless skinless chicken thighs, quartered or cut into chunks
3-4 medium onions, sliced
4-6 scotch bonnet peppers, minced
1 can pigeon peas (gandules)
3-4 medium potatoes – peeled, diced, and boiled until soft
1 bag frozen “California Mix” (broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots)
1 cup canola oil
1 cup JCS Jamaican Curry Powder (regular or extra hot)
3 cups water

My curry-cooking setup. Note the bricks and grate to keep the pan up off the flame and prevent burning.

Heat a large stock pot or dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add a small amount of oil to prevent sticking. Add chicken and 1 tbsp curry powder. Brown chicken, stirring frequently. Remove chicken when almost – but not quite – cooked through.

Browning the chicken

Add canola oil and curry powder. Saute the curry powder in the oil until it thickens and darkens. Stir almost constantly to prevent burning. The curry powder/oil mixture will transform into a thick paste and start bubbling, and carmelization will turn it into a rich, dark, fragrant concoction. This step is critical to the flavor of the dish. If it is too thick or begins scorching to the bottom of the pot, add water or more oil to loosen it up.

It smells as good as it looks…

Add the onion and scotch bonnet peppers, and more oil if necessary. Saute until the onions are translucent.

The onions will be coated with the curry “paste”

Add the can of pigeon peas (including the liquid) and the California mix. Saute 1-2 minutes.

Add the water, potatoes, and chicken, stirring well.

If desired, add hot sauce or red pepper flakes to increase the heat. Scotch bonnets have a somewhat delayed heat that takes several seconds to register on your tongue and the walls of your mouth. I have found that Crystal sauce or red pepper flakes help “round out” the burning sensation as their effects are much more immediate and short-lived. At any rate, do not overdo it – this curry will be very hot as is.

Simmer for 30 minutes or more, adding water if it gets too thick, and stirring occasionally. Serve over or alongside rice and peas. I guarantee you will want to make this again. If it is not the best you have ever had, please, SEND ME YOUR RECIPE….

A Tribute to the Mighty Scotch Bonnet, Part 3: Pique (+ bonus: Arroz con Gandules)

A Jamaican women whom I work with went home to the island a few weeks ago and surprised me with a bag of scotch bonnets (I don’t know how she got fresh produce through customs but I never ask questions when it comes to free peppers). I have a whole bag of scotch bonnets from my own garden accumulating in my freezer so I had to think long and hard about what to do with this unexpected windfall. The peppers were a delightful assortment of shapes and colors so I didn’t feel right mashing them into a pulp to make hot sauce. I wanted to do something that would allow me to showcase their beauty while enjoying their exquisite flavor. It just so happens I knew just the thing: Pique.

Pique is a traditional Puerto Rican condiment that is almost always homemade and usually consists of chili peppers, vinegar, salt and lime juice, and some combination of other ingredients such as pineapple rind or juice, garlic black pepper, rum and bay leaves. The peppers used are usually less intensely hot than scotch bonnets but hey, that just means they are not doing it right.

For my pique I did not follow a recipe. In addition to the scotch bonnets I added some cayenne and hot cowhorn peppers. Here is the (approximate) list of ingredients I ended up using:

Pique Ingredients:
1 lb Scotch Bonnet, Cayenne and Hot Cowhorn Peppers
5 cloves of garlic
Juice of three limes
A few whole black peppercorns
1 tablespoon sea salt
2 bay leaves
1 shot Havana Club white rum
Enough White Vinegar to fill the bottle

Chop the peppers in half or just enough to fit through the neck of the bottle (if you have to cram them in they will be less likely to float up the neck and will stay submerged better). Use a chopstick or something to cram them into the bottle. An empty rum bottle works great, recycled Crystal sauce bottles are good as well. Add the rest of the ingredients and shake. Let the bottle sit for several days before using. It will get hotter with age. Top off with white vinegar after each use or so and it will last indefinitely.

Pique is good on just about anything hot sauce is good on, but it is absolutely fantastic on rice. For my money it doesn’t get any better than a plate of arroz con gandules drenched in pique. Arroz con gandules is the national rice dish of Puerto Rico so it is no wonder they go great together. It is also really simple to make, so I may as well show you how that is done as well. This is my personal recipe which may or may not be authentic (something I do not concern myself with in general) but has the endorsement of every boricua who has ever been lucky enough to try it. In fact it often receives that highest compliment of “this tastes like my grandma’s arroz con gandules!” – and I will have to take their word for it.

Arroz con Gandules
1/2 medium onion, chopped/diced
3-4 tablespoons minced garlic
3 tablespoons Goya Sofrito (or sub. homemade sofrito to taste)
2 cups rice
1 can gandules/pigeon peas
1 packet Sazon of choice
1 tbsp oregano
Approx 1/4 cup+ Goya Adobo (to taste, I never measure)
3 cups water
6-12 olives
2 Tbsp olive oil

Heat olive oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Add onions and saute until soft and translucent. Add garlic and saute one minute. Add sofrito and saute until heated and bubbling (Goya sofrito is cooked and thicker than homemade sofrito…if using uncooked homemade sofrito, add sooner with the onions and cook longer to reduce).

Add the rice, adobo, sazon, and oregano and stir until the rice is coated evenly. Increase heat to high and toast rice for about five minutes, stirring frequently.

Add the can of gandules (including the liquid), the olives, and the water. Heat to a boil, stirring occasionally, and boil for one minute. Cover and reduce heat to low and cook for 25 minutes.

Turn off heat, let stand five more minutes, then fluff and serve.

Drench in pique, and eat with chicken and a ripe sliced avocado. ¡Que Rico!

A Tribute to the Mighty Scotch Bonnet, Part 2: Jerk Beer

I don’t intend to waste too much space posting beer recipes on this site but in my opinion this particular recipe is both interesting and relevant enough to be worthy of sharing. This is what I call my “Jamaican Jerk Ale” and it is just what it sounds like – I use scotch bonnets and spices to brew a Jamaican-inspired beer.

I do not brew many experimental beers or beers with fruit/spice/etc additions so this is not my typical brew. However I had happened to find myself with extra scotch bonnets on hand one day and threw this recipe together on a whim. This is my third time brewing it and I have changed a few things this time (dried, toasted peppers instead of fresh, less allspice, added cloves, added some smoked malt) but for the most part I am happy with it as is. I considered adding paprika, thyme or brown sugar – all appropriate Jerk spices which may or may not be work in this beer – but I talked myself out of all three.

In previous batches I used fresh peppers and added both the peppers and spices to the boil. The flavor and (subtle) heat came through just fine, but I am hoping that adding the peppers and spices after fermentation has slowed down will preserve a broader range of flavors. Also toasting the dried peppers adds a savory characteristic that you can’t get from fresh peppers.

At any rate, here is the recipe for the current batch:

5 lbs Pale Malt
2 lbs Cherrywood Smoked Malt
1 lb Crystal 40L
1 lb Crystal 80L
8 oz Flaked Barley
2 oz Pale Chocolate
.25 oz Amarillo (10.6%) @ First Wort
1 oz Amarillo (10.6%) @ 15 min
1 Pkg Danstar Nottingham
Spice Tea:
6 Dried Scotch Bonnet Peppers
2 Cinnamon sticks
3/8 oz Allspice
1/8 oz Cloves
1/2 cup Wray & Nephew


Since I added the peppers and spices as a “Spice Tea” after fermentation had begun to slow, the actual brewing process was fairly unremarkable and I won’t bore you with too many details as there are probably 300,000 YouTube videos you can watch to see someone brewing beer in their backyard. But since I went through the trouble of taking pictures I will give you a quick and dirty visual tour.

First, Mash the grains for 60 minutes at 152’F in my trusty Home Depot mashtun.

Then drain off the first runnings and add the .25 oz of “First Wort” hops. Traditionally the first hops are not added until the boil has commenced but adding the hops to the first runnings supposedly contributes to a smoother bitterness and more hop flavor and aroma. I have no idea whether that is true but I just find it more convenient to do it this way so I prefer it. And I have had good results every time.

Next, sparge, fill the kettle and light the fire.

Boil for 60 minutes, adding the other ounce of hops with 15 minutes remaining.

Chill to 60’F , transfer to a traditional fermentation vessel (plastic bucket with lid and airlock), and pitch the yeast.

Beer Profile:
Original Gravity: 1.044
Estimated Final Gravity: 1.010
Bitterness: 26.7 IBUs
Color: 14.1 SRM
Est. Alcohol by Vol: 4.4%

Now the interesting part.

Take 6 or so dried scotch bonnets. Cut them up and discard the seeds (not to reduce the heat but because I didn’t want them clogging up my brewing/kegging equipment). Add 3/8 oz whole Allspice berries and 1/8 oz whole cloves and 2 sticks of cinnamon. Heat a pan and dry toast everything but the cinnamon.

Toast for a few minutes but be careful not to burn everything. YOU MIGHT WANT TO WEAR A MASK AND OPEN A WINDOW. THE FUMES ARE LIKE TEAR GAS. My nose and throat burned for an hour afterwards.

Once everything is good and toasted add 1/2 cup water and the cinnamon sticks. Boil for three or four minutes then pour the delicious concoction into a mason jar. Toasting contributes flavor due to maillard reactions, especially in the peppers, but boiling water extracts volatile oils from the spices that might otherwise go unutilized. At this point the fumes will have subsided and everything will start smelling like Christmas.

Top off with 1/2 cup Wray & Nephew Overproof Rum and mix well. The purpose of the rum (besides adding another authentic Jamaican touch to the recipe) is to sanitize everything and to help extract the heat from the peppers and the flavors from the peppers. Adding water and boiling does this as well, so between boiling and alcohol extraction I hope to get the fullest possible flavor from the spices. Also the water dilutes the rum ( at 126 proof there is room for dilution), which otherwise tastes reminiscent of distilled kerosene.

Once fermentation settles down (~3 days or so), pour the “Spice Tea” into the fermentor and age as usual. I let it age two weeks in the bucket then two weeks in a keg. The longer it ages, the more mellow the spices will be, so there is definitely a “sweet spot” that lasts about 2-3 weeks during which the beer is at its best.

I will report back with a picture of the final product and a taste review in three weeks or so.

A Tribute to the Mighty Scotch Bonnet, Part 1: Fermented Hot Sauce

A typical harvest from my pepper garden over the course of two weeks:

Now, obviously, the majority of the harvest is other than the Mighty Scotch Bonnet itself. And some of it, frankly, is wholly unsuited for hot sauce as it were. However, if we save the sweet peppers (Chocolate Bell, Garden Sunshine) for salads and stir-frying, and if we slice and pickle the jalapeños and cubanelles; what’s left (Ghost Pepper, Scotch Bonnets, Cayennes, and Hot Cow Horns) has some serious potential to make for a flavorful sauce with some serious kick.

The first ingredient for making a good hot sauce is a glass of good beer. Today we will go with Yuengling’s Oktoberfest. Impulse buy at 6.99/sixer, not the best Oktoberfest you will ever have but damn fine for the price. If Yuengling’s traditional lager tasted this good, I might keep the fridge stocked year round… At any rate, pour yourself a glass before you go any further.

Now, as far as those peppers go: let us dispose with the outsiders:

To pickle the jalapeños and cubanelles is as simple as slicing them and covering them with a mixture of salt, vinegar, and water (to, er, be specific: 1 cup water, 1 cup white vinegar, 1 tbsp salt).

Fill mason jars with the sliced peppers and then pour in the water/salt/vinegar mixture until it just covers the peppers. These are great in salads and on sandwiches, and the way the purple jalapeños glow purple is just awesome to behold.

Now back to business. Chop the remaining peppers (that would be, in this case: 1 ghost pepper, 10 scotch bonnets, about a pound of cayenne and hot cow horn peppers, and three paprikas…trust me, once you try real paprika you will put it in anything you can), and add whatever leftover sliced jalapeños/cubanelles you couldn’t cram into the jars for pickling (waste not, want not or what not). Place the chopped peppers in a blender.

Now, for the non-pepper ingredients. If this was a vinegar-based hot sauce, I would prefer to stick to just peppers. Onions, garlic, fruit, etc can add sweetness or character or whatever, but I tend to be a purist and would prefer a hot sauce to feature a single pepper with no fillers or frills or what-not. However, this is a fermented hot sauce. Fermented hot sauces undergo a lacto-fermentation process in which lactobacilis bacterium consume sugars in the mash and produce lactic acid which pickles and preserves what is left (this is how cabbage becomes sauerkraut). Peppers do not typically have enough sugars for lacto-fermentation to be successful. Therefore, the addition of other high-sugar vegetables and/or plain table sugar is a must when making fermented hot sauce.

Onions, garlic, and carrots are good choices for vegetables which will promote fermentation. I also like to add two tablespoons or so of table sugar for good measure. Assuming fermentation takes place, the addition of sugar will NOT contribute sweetness, as the sugars will be consumed in the fermentation process. If anything, adding sugar will make the final product more SOUR as it will increase the amount of lactic acid produced.

Finally, in a lacto-fermented sauce you will need to add (1) kosher or sea salt (a couple of tablespoons should suffice for most recipes, but, if you want to be precise, shoot for 3.5% by weight), and (2) a lactobacilus starter of some sort. If this is your first fermentation experiment, the easiest source for a starter would be store-bought, live culture yogurt. Simply skim the liquid from the surface of a tub of yogurt and add it to your pepper mash. If you have any other live-culture fermented foods handy, such as pepper mash, sauerkraut, or kimchi, a spoonful or so of these will do quite well. Finally, if you are a homebrewer, a few uncrushed grains of malted barley tossed into the pepper mash will work wonders.

Once everything is pureed and well-blended, pour into a fermentation vessel. My vessel of choice is a Carlo Rossi wine jug with a stopper and airlock affixed. For long-term aging/fermentation, an airlock is essential to keep mold, yeast, and other spoiling agents at bay. Alternatively, you can ferment in a mason jar covered with plastic wrap and a rubber band. If you are unable to ferment in some sort of airtight vessel (it should not be totally airtight in any case – whatever you use MUST be able to vent the CO2 produced by fermentation), simply limit cover whatever bowl/jar/cup you are fermenting in with plastic wrap or a clean towel and process the sauce within a week or so.

Once fermentation is complete (usually a week or so), age the mash for as long as you wish. Thirty to forty-five days is a typical aging period for most amateur sauce makers. Tabasco sauce is reputably aged for three years. Use your judgment and tastebuds to find the balance you prefer. Once aging is complete, boil the sauce with a blend of vinegar and water (50:50 is usually about right) until it reaches the flavor and consistency you like, then bottle and store in the fridge. Bon Apetit!