It’s All About The Hot Sauce
Our neighbors and friends returned from a brief trip out of town today, and the first thing my friend Joe said to me was – paraphrasing – that the hot sauce I’d given him was quite nice. I have been making hot sauce for quite a while because while I am the only human unable to grow zucchini, chile peppers love me.
When you have a half dozen ripe chile peppers to pick every day, you tend to find creative ways to use them. When start picking 20 a day, you make pepper sauce.
I have done pepper sauces in many variations. I have made it straight up with vinegar and salt; I have made it with roasted garlic and onion; I have made it using peppers I’ve smoked over oak and, most recently, I’ve made it with roasted banana.
I am not going to pretend I came up with this combination because there are spicy “ketchups” from the Philippines and points nearby that combine bananas with chile peppers and vinegar, and when I was coming up with my recipe, I saw some sauces that influenced me.
And I have no doubt there are other hot sauces that include banana because once you taste it you’ll understand why it’s a perfect fit. What follows is not so much a recipe as an idea or a technique. You can buy all of the ingredients for this, or you can use what you have on hand. The peppers you use will determine the level of heat, and you can of course adjust the amount of sweetness to balance things if you feel the need.
I have three or four varieties of pepper in my garden. I have a habanero variety that is super-hot but smells like love, I have a plant that was advertised as “Hawaiian Sweet Hot” but is more or less a serrano, and I have a couple of different peppers that hail from the Andes. One of those produces a pepper that looks like an Anaheim and about half the time tastes just that mild. The other half of the time it’s hot as hell. The other variety looks like a mini-Anaheim and it’s about as hot as a jalapeno.
I mention all of this not because I bragging about my capacity to grow peppers because why would I brag about that? Rather, I mention it because you should be aware of the sort of chiles you’re dealing with before you use them to make anything, let alone a sauce where the chiles are the focus.
I will provide approximate amounts, but this is a thing that will change every time you make it, and many of the measurements will depend on the heat level of the chiles you’re using. I will do my best to explain the wide variations below.
About 2-3 cups of fresh red or orange chile peppers
½ to 1 whole onion, halved then cut into half-inch slices
½ cup grated carrot
Between 3 to 19 garlic cloves, peeled
2 tbs. oil
2 ripe bananas
¼ to ½ cup sugar
½ to 1 cup vinegar
¼ to ½ cup water
2-3 tbs. salt
The chiles you use will determine how you make this sauce. If you prefer very spicy peppers, you may want to use the higher volume of garlic and sugar to balance the heat. If you are using peppers that are less spicy – like jalapenos – you may want to go with the lower end on those ingredients.
How much vinegar and water you use will also depend on the sort of pepper; bell peppers have thick flesh and thus a lot more water than habaneros. You will not need as much liquid (or at least water) if the majority of your peppers are of that nature. Though why you would make this sauce with more than one bell pepper I have no idea.
There are also alternative ingredients you can add that will affect the ratio of solid to liquid. Chopped tomatoes will give the sauce some additional body and both acidity and sweetness if you roast them. I’ve had good results adding a half of a lemon, chopped with the zest, pith and flesh (seeded) to the roasting pan. Orange or apple juice can stand in for the water, too. I have added a bay leaf, fresh thyme, sage and oregano with good results, and I’ve thrown in some chopped ginger and turmeric once or twice too.
What I shoot for is a sauce that is spicy but balanced. It’s a condiment, and as you will probably not use it every day you want enough vinegar and salt that it will keep in your refrigerator for at least a month. If you do not use it all within a month, you should reformulate your recipe because you’ve done it wrong.
Here is how I have made the sauce that received praise.
Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.
Put the chile peppers, onion slices and garlic cloves onto a baking pan and drizzle a little oil on them. Stir to coat everything with the oil and then roast for 20 minutes or so. You want some color on the onion and garlic and for the peppers to start to break down.
Remove the peppers/onion/garlic and drop the heat to 400 degrees. When they’re safe to handle, cut the stem-end off of the chiles and remove the seeds if you want.
Put the bananas onto a roasting pan and then into the oven, un-peeled. Let them go about 10 minutes then check to see if the skin is completely brown and a little liquid has started to seep out. If that’s not the case, put them back in for 5 minutes. When you reach that stage, remove them from the oven and let them cool until you can handle them.
Put the chiles, onions and garlic into a saucepan with relatively high sides and add half the salt, half the sugar, the carrots and the vinegar. Bring to a boil then drop the heat to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes, checking regularly and adding water as needed to make sure the contents of the pan are barely covered by liquid.
Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning with salt and/or sugar. Peel the roasted bananas and chop them roughly before adding them to the sauce. Cook for another 10 minutes, adding water if the contents of the pan start to scorch on the bottom.
Taste again and season as necessary.
Remove from the heat and let cool for at least 10 minutes then puree the hell out of it in a blender. I strain the resulting sauce through a fine-mesh sieve to remove seeds and skins, but I suppose you could go rustic and skip that step.
One final taste and seasoning adjustment and Bob’s your uncle.
You will find that when you first taste the sauce the banana flavor is subtle but recognizable. In a day or two the banana aroma will have dissipated somewhat. It will still be noticeable to you, but if you ask someone to taste the sauce without telling them what’s in it, they will have a hard time identifying banana as an ingredient.
Some day in the not too distant future I will write something about how bananas can be added to a long-cooked stew such that they disintegrate and add both body and a hint of sweetness.
But not today.
If you are familiar with hot sauces that include banana, I’d like to know about it. I’ve done around an hour of research on it, but I know I’m missing things because I know the combination is a winner. Please share if you can educate me.