This week we follow in the scorching footsteps of our previous post, keeping the heat up and turning a smoky gaze to the darlings of Asian and South American cookings – chilli peppers. If you wince in pain at the thought of a jalapeño pepper then you are best to skip this post, because the peppers I (sometimes) use in this sauce are up to one hundred times hotter. That is like comparing the temperature of an espresso (65ºC) to the surface of the sun (5500ºC). Check your blood pressure before you continue reading.
I have made this zesty, Asian inspired sauce many times, and as often as I have prepared it, it has left in little glass jars with friends who have been captivated by the intense combination of umami and heat that it contains. I keep it on hand to breathe life into dishes that I find too plain otherwise, and when used in the right amount it is absolutely transformational. Use it wisely, though, because when you play with capsaicin you play with fire! Capsaicin is the chemical responsible for the mild tingling on your lips that a jalapeño infused cocktail gives, or the blistering pain and intestine-wrenching cramps of a hastily munched Naga Jolokia. Yes, a word of caution – do not make this sauce with two Naga Jolokia peppers. It has been attempted right here on Immortal Pestle and the results have been bordering on the obscene. Yet, with wise attention to your choice of ingredients and only a few minutes of blending you can prepare an absolutely delicious condiment that will knock the socks off anyone who tastes it.
Devilish Lemongrass and Chilli Sauce
1 1/2 cups of fresh chilis
1/2 cup dried chilis
5 cloves garlic
5 green onions
2 stalks of lemongrass
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 cup peanut oil
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 1/2 tbsp palm sugar
juice from 1/2 a lime
This recipe is one where I definitely recommend pushing the envelope. You have one and only one decision here, but it is not an easy to make. How hot can you stand? This sauce is designed to be uncomfortably fiery if eaten alone (which I sometimes do in order to prime my palate for the ensuing volcano that typifies some of my cooking), but hot enough so that in small quantities it will embellish an otherwise mild dish with a kick of intensity and flavour. For my latest batch I used one cup of sweet, mild peppers, one quarter cup of cayenne peppers, and one quarter cup less a tablespoon of bird’s eye peppers. The final tablespoon was habanero. For the dried chillis I used a mixture of bird’s eye and guajillo pepper. The dried chillis are essential because they will provide a depth of flavour that the fresh peppers do not possess. Dried Asian peppers are perfect, but I also venture into the South American varieties, avoiding chipotle because the smoky flavour is too pronounced. I removed half of the seeds so that the final sauce was not so abominably hot that only those on day release from Hell could taste it without imploding. I should warn you that I can stand a lot of Scoville units, so if this is your first time making a hot sauce then please scale back. I don’t have the money for lawsuits.
Once you have accurately gauged your level of culinary courage, go ahead and roughly chop the fresh chillis, green onion, lemongrass, and garlic before tossing them in a blender. Take a look at your dried chillis and taste a few of the seeds. If they are too hot for you then remove the majority before you break them with your fingers or a knife and throw them in with the rest of the ingredients. If the tears in your eyes are tears of joy then keep those seeds in and hope your dinner guests have packed a change of clothing.
Add the remaining ingredients and pulse in the blender until an orange to red coloured, mostly homogeneous sauce is formed. Pour the thick paste into a saucepan and heat on medium to high heat until bubbling for 5 minutes, then turn to low, cover, and simmer for another 30 minutes. Remove and immediately transfer to sterilised glass jars. Put aside to cool and store for up to one year without opening, or up to 6 months in the fridge.
Did you hit the mark on the heat or did you lose friends?