“Hot as Pho!” The Sauce


Just look around on this site and you’ll quickly see I have a great love of pho (pronounced “fuh” and almost bordering on “fur”), the now iconic Vietnamese noodle soup which is often spiced up with a healthy dose of sriracha sauce.

I love pho so much I even created a Pho Reuben sandwich with pho spiced corned beef, homemade fermented pho spiced Russian dressing and Thousand Island Dressing, pho sauerkraut, and pho spiced sour pickles.

Russian dressing normally has a hot sauce component in it. In my fermented pho flavored version, besides using my pho fermented ketchup and Paleo mayo, I also added some of my Chinese 5-Spice hot sauce because the flavors are rather similar to pho. But I had an inkling of a thought at that time that, in the future, it would be great to have an actual pho flavored hot sauce.

Well, about six months passed. One day I found myself with some extra time and extra fermented peppers, and it just hit me: Hot as Pho! I needed a sauce that didn’t just taste like pho, it needed to be hot as hell, or at least go well past my usual threshold. I mean, if you’re going to make a sauce called Hot as Pho!, you need to go big or go home.

My three pounds of fermenting red habaneros would do nicely. But I knew I’d be adding plenty of brine (which is less spicy) for the “broth” and other ingredients. So I also chucked in a few fresh Carolina Reapers and Ghost Peppers at the cooking/blending stage.

The fact is, you can use whatever peppers you want. Red (and green) jalapenos are a staple in many American Vietnamese restaurants. but for me they wouldn’t make a hot enough sauce to be worthy of the name. Another great option for me besides habaneros would be Thai red chilies. But what’s perfectly hot to one person can easily be mild or, on the other hand, an inferno of death to another. I’m sure there’s some people out there, y’all hot heads, who would just use 100% Reapers in the ferment, but that’s way too hot as pho for me!

What to do with this sauce? Well sure, you could add it to pho and of course the flavors will intensify and meld beautifully, but this is particularly useful for anything you want to have that pho flavor and make intensely hot at the same time. I’m thinking: wings, sausage, eggs, and yes most definitely added as the hot component to my Pho Russian Dressing (that’s the origin of this sauce concept after all). I’d gladly use the dressing on more Pho Reubens and other sandwiches, salads, burgers and more. What the pho y’all! I love this sauce and would put it on most anything.

So let’s do this!

This recipe yields around 45 fl. oz., or at least eight “woozy” sauce bottles.

You will need:

Ferment Ingredients:

  • 2.5-3 lbs. rough chopped hot peppers, seeds & stems removed (color and heat level up to you; some ideas: Thai red chilies, Habanero, Ghost Pepper, Carolina Reaper, Serrano, Scotch Bonnet)
  • Head of garlic (50-75g), skins removed
  • 4 cups filtered or distilled water
  • 2.5 TBSP additive-free salt

After the ferment:

  • 2 cups reserved ferment brine
  • 1 cup rice vinegar (or white distilled vinegar)
  • 1/4 cup sugar (or more to taste)
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce
  • 1 oz. ginger, shredded (~30g)
  • 1.5 TBSP oil-free, vegan/vegetarian bouillon
  • 1.5 TBSP mixed pho spice, coarsely crushed + 2 cinnamon sticks & 1 black cardamom pod
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro (~25g)
  • 1 bunch Thai basil (~15g), discard stems
  • Juice of 2 limes (1/3 cup juice or more) (zest of 1 lime optional)
  • Optional: 1 tsp citric acid
  • Optional: 1 TBSP soy sauce
  • Optional: several sprigs of mint


1.) Dissolve the salt in warm water and allow to cool. Using the optional canning funnel, place the garlic followed by the rough chopped hot peppers, into the jar. Pour in the brine slowly until within about an inch of the jar’s shoulder. Then add the fermentation weight. The brine level should be at about the jar’s shoulder but add more brine if needed; the water level will continue to rise over the next day or so. Apply the airlock. Allow at least one month to ferment at room temperature, out of direct sunlight.,

After the ferment:

1.) Strain/separate out the brine from the fermented peppers and garlic, and reserve two cups for making the “broth.”

2.) Coarsely grind the pho spice in mortar and pestle, then add to medium saucepan and lightly toast on medium for about 30-60 seconds.

3.) Then add the reserved brine, shredded ginger, cinnamon sticks, black cardamom pod, bouillon, fish sauce and sugar, and stir together. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

4.) Allow to cool for about ten minutes (with the lid on), then add the lime juice, cilantro, Thai basil, and any of the optional ingredients. Give a few good stirs then cover again and allow to sit for several hours or overnight in the fridge.

5.) When ready, briefly blend the fermented peppers and garlic then transfer to the larger saucepan that has been in the fridge. Add the cup of rice vinegar, stir and bring to a boil over high heat. (This is to end fermentation and further reduce the pH.) Once boiling, give a final stir and reduce heat to low and cover, simmering for 15-20 minutes.

6.) After the allotted time, strain the brine “broth” into the large saucepan using the fine mesh strainer. (None of the pho spice seeds or other solids should go into the large saucepan.)

7.) Add the broth to the cooked pepper mash and stir until evenly mixed. If you plan to pasteurize the filled sauce bottles later, you may transfer the sauce as is to the blender and blend on high for 5-10 minutes, pulsing periodically. Then bottle pasteurized or sanitized bottles and complete the pasteurization process.

If you are a casual home hobbyist who just wants to be sure fermentation has been completely stopped, you may opt to bring the sauce back to a boil, immediately blend it for 5-10 minutes until desired texture, and then bottle it. (Note it is still advised to boil your bottles or sanitize them beforehand with a product like Star San or One Step.)

Note: Since the blender was used previously to blend fermented peppers into the mash, be aware that when you return any sauce to the blender later, the blender should have been completely cleaned with hot water or sanitized. This is in order to prevent residual lactobacillus in the blender from accidentally inoculating your sauce, potentially restarting fermentation.

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  1. Sorry….
    Did I say WOW ??
    WOWWW 😁😁😁👿👿👿


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