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Napa Farmers Market: Make your own hot sauce

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Hot Sauce

Customize your hot sauce by making it at home. 

In 2005, I was in Shackford’s Kitchen Store in Napa perusing the canning supplies and equipment. Another customer was doing the same and we started talking about our canning projects. I was going to can pickles and tomatoes as I had done for years but I had reached the point where I fancied doing something different. My new canning friend said he was going to be making hot sauce. The light bulb went on.

My newfound friend said making hot sauce was easy. This was important, as anything too complicated becomes more of a chore and less of a fun past time. He rattled off the ingredients and directions for his hot sauce so as soon as I could find the ingredients, I could be on my way to making my very own.

Since 2005, I have made hot sauce almost every year. Except for chile peppers, vinegar and kosher salt, the ingredients have varied on occasion. I tried adding garlic, onions and carrots but found they did not improve the taste. I have always used red chile peppers, but green can also be used.

Some people like to make a fermented hot sauce. Fermentation mellows out the heat of the chiles, resulting in a more layered and subtle flavor. Unfermented hot sauce is anything but subtle – more of an in-your-face taste experience, which I personally prefer.

The type of chile pepper used to make hot sauce determines if the heat level will be mild, medium or hot. The heat level is also determined by whether you remove all, some or none of the seeds and membranes. More seeds and membranes equal more heat.

Where do you find the best chile peppers? Of course, the answer is at Napa Farmers Market.

You can usually find jalapeños, cayenne, and serrano chiles, which are on the hot side. You can also find milder varieties such as Anaheim, Jimmy Nardello, Corno di Toro and even red bell peppers.

The combination of chiles is the first step in determining the heat level of your hot sauce. The second step is deciding how much or how little membrane and seeds you want to include. If you make a sauce and find it is either too hot or too mild, you can adjust the heat by adding more hot or mild chiles.

A word of caution. When handling chiles, wear gloves and take them off before touching any part of your body. Your skin or eyes will not be happy if they come in contact with the oily substance called capsaicin. The burning sensation you will experience will be quite unpleasant and will linger no matter what you do after coming in contact with capsaicin. I have made hot sauce without wearing gloves and have paid the price. I won’t go into detail regarding where on my body the burning sensation occurred, but it hurt for a few hours.

If you like hot sauce but don’t want to risk making your own, you’re in luck. Both Contimo Provisions and Golden State Pickle Works make excellent hot sauces. Both are fermented.

Contimo makes their hot sauce from either green or red jalapeño (depending on what is available at the market), plus salt, garlic, shallots and sherry vinegar.

Golden State’s hot sauce is made from a variety of red chiles plus salt, garlic and water. Unlike most hot sauces, Golden State’s does not include any type of vinegar.

The recipe that follows calls for canning hot sauce. Since chile peppers are low acid foods, they must either be canned or refrigerated. Canning will prolong the life of your hot sauce and allow for easier storage.

Basic Hot Sauce Recipe

Yields 6 to 7 eight-ounce jars

3 cups white wine or distilled vinegar

1 tablespoon kosher salt

2 lbs. mixed chile peppers, seeded and coarsely chopped

Add all ingredients to a large pot and bring to a simmer. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes until chiles soften, stirring frequently. Process in a blender or food processor until smooth.

Return the chile mixture to a sauce pot and bring to a simmer. Ladle the hot sauce into sterilized 8 oz. canning jars.

Process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes. Remove and allow to cool before storing. Wait at least a week before opening a jar.

Chef Trevor Logan talks about the new House of Better restaurant at the renovated Dr. Wilkinson's resort in Calistoga. At the heart of the healthy menu are roasted green chiles.

David Layland is past-president of the Napa Farmers Market.

Find the Napa Farmers Market at 1100 West St. (at Pearl Street) in downtown Napa, site of the former Cinedome Theater. Hours are Tuesdays and Saturdays, 8 a.m. to noon. For details visit:

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