Fermented Pepper Sauces Tabasco Style
Grind peppers. Add 1/2 cup kosher salt per gallon of ground peppers and allow to age 1 month in glass or crockery jars. Add white wine vinegar to taste and bottle. Age before using to blend the flavors together. Nowadays they do it the same, except that the salted mash goes directly into oak barrels. The mash is packed down and the top is sealed with oak planks into which holes have been drilled. Avery Island (the "island" is really a natural salt dome; originally all salt used in production came from natural salt digs in the area. ), where some of the peppers are grown, is the production site. The barrels are topped with a thick layer of salt and allowed to ferment. The salt layer serves as a permeable barrier that allows gases to escape but allows no bacteria, fruit flies, etc. access to the mash. McIlhenny allows them to age three years in these oak barrels. After aging, the mash is pulled, checked for quality and, if OK, it is blended with white wine vinegar (they don't say how much) and aged some weeks more ('nother secret!). Finally, the product is pulled, strained and the liquid bottled. Adapting this to your home: Note: as you must pull the liquid from the peppers, they must be fresh, fleshy and of the right state of ripeness. At Avery Island they still use the original "critique baton rouge", a red stick tinted to the exact color of the peppers to be harvested. Peppers not matching the "critique" are rejected. Old or overdried peppers are the key to failure. The ratio of mash to salt seems to be about the same as for sauerkraut. Grind peppers, seeds and all, in a medium to fine grind (K-5 cutters). Mix with Kosher salt and put into crock. Cover with saucer or other to press the mash down, as in sauerkraut. Liquid will form. Allow to ferment until the mash stabilizes (stops fermenting). Place the whole thing in a larger, sterile crock and add sterile white wine vinegar to taste. Allow to meld another week or so. Run the mash through a chinoise, fine strainer, or, last resort, throw it all into a bowl lined with cheesecloth, fold the cheesecloth up into a ball (like making cottage cheese) and twist & squeeze until the juice is extracted. Adjust for taste with salt. Bottle the juice and keep in fridge. (Chemists [like me] can play with sodium benzoate or other preservatives like BHA. Organic types can stick pins in voodoo dolls made in our likenesses.) Variables: Age of peppers. Variety. Water content. Consistency of ripeness.
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