Salsa Verde Picante Fermentada (Fermented Green Hot Sauce)

 

Tacos. Steak. Enchiladas. Soup. Breakfast. Burritos. Breakfast burritos. What doesn’t spicy green sauce go on?

I first started making homemade red and green salsas almost 20 years ago when a roommate got into it and proceeded to get me hooked. We were frequently buying all those commercial pre-made salsas you can find everywhere, in grocery stores, gas stations, pharmacies, etc.

It shouldn’t have really come as a surprise that homemade was better than pharmacy salsa, but I think we were blown away by just how much better it was, even with no experience working off a simple recipe. It was easy, healthier, and saved us money. And last but not least, we could make it a lot hotter!

I think for green sauce at first we used canned tomatillos. And even though I could still eat that today and like it, at a certain point I learned that fresh tomatillos make a world of difference. I don’t think I had ever bought, let alone tasted, fresh tomatillo sauce in my life until then. (Even Mexican restaurants normally use canned tomatillos for their verde.)

If you’re looking for a fresh, raw salsa verde / green sauce, I already have a recipe up which gives you the directions to make it either fermented or regular, and the heat level can be decided by you and the peppers you choose. I also have a fermented chimichurri recipe on this site.

The recipe today is a little different in that it is a fermented hot sauce that plays on the concept of a tomatillo salsa verde. I tend to pack a lot more heat into it, blend it to a much smoother consistency, and cook it at the end while adding a healthy dose of vinegar, to extend the shelf life for a long period. If you would prefer NOT to cook this sauce, or to at least consider that option, I have included a detailed section at the bottom discussing what to do.

My last comment is that a friend once suggested I run this recipe through a food mill so that you end up with a dasher-style consistency like Green Tabasco. You can certainly do that but I prefer that this remain more like a salsa to be used on chips without the liquid running off, so that’s what my directions below will get you. It’s totally up to you. The main recipe here is for my good old standard, but as you will discover in my guidance at the end of this write-up, there’s almost no end to the variations you can put on this.

This batch substituted my normal yellow onions with green, and also had baby garlic stalks and cilantro in the ferment. The recipe below is for my standard green hot sauce but you can play with the ingredients. More ideas at the end.

This recipe yields around 40 fl. oz. of sauce, or ~8 woozy bottles.

You will need:

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups filtered or distilled water (to make 4% brine)
  • 2.5 TBSP additive-free salt (38g)
  • 2 lbs. green hot peppers (This featured batch was 50% green Serrano peppers, 30% green Habaneros, 10% Chilaca and 10% Poblano; the brine and non-pepper veggies will dilute the heat significantly, so if you want a very hot sauce, you should start with very hot peppers like serranos and habaneros. For a mild sauce, you can use jalapenos only.)
  • 1 lb. fresh tomatillos, halved
  • 1 medium onion, sliced into thick rings
  • 1/2 to whole head of garlic, as desired, peeled (~25-50g)

After the ferment;

Directions:

1.) Rough chop the peppers and remove the seeds (optional). I normally keep the seeds in the tomatillos; use of an optional food mill later will remove all seeds if desired. Leave some large pieces of pepper and/or thick rounds of onion slices, to act as a cover on top of the ferment.

2.) Place the garlic in the ferment jar first to prevent floaters, followed by the halved tomatillos, pepper pieces and finally the larger pepper and onion pieces. Slowly pour the brine until within an inch of the shoulder. Place the fermentation weight and airlock lid. Ferment for a minimum of one month at room temperature, away from sunlight. (Ferment longer if more fresh ingredients are added after the ferment, such as a few fire-roasted peppers.)

3.) After the allotted time, strain and reserve the ferment brine.

4.) In the blender or food processor, combine the fermented veggies, 2 cups of reserved ferment brine, vinegar, fresh cilantro, and spices. Blend on high for 4-5 minutes.

Notes: If you plan to consume the sauce immediately or finish it within several days, no further action is needed. The fresh cilantro and lime flavor is wonderful. Store in a loosely-capped jar in the fridge, where ongoing fermentation will be drastically slowed and gases can escape. (Be advised woozy/sauce bottles can still build up pressure in the fridge and therefore should be monitored and burped or used periodically to release pressure.) If you bottle the sauce rather than use a loosely-capped jar, or store for long-term, you should complete the next step of heat processing, because the fresh cilantro and lime juice can re-ignite fermentation.

5.) Heat processing / pasteurizing. This step should be taken if you plan to bottle/mail the sauce or refrigerate for a long period of months. Click here for a link to a formal pasteurizing procedure. For the casual home hobbyist, this process is sufficient;

Transfer the sauce to a medium saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Then cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for ~15-20 minutes. It is now ready for bottling, but for an even smoother texture, return the sauce to the blender and blend on high for 3-4 minutes.

Meanwhile, make sure all your bottles and caps have been boiled or sanitized just prior to filling. Then, using the bottling funnel, immediately bottle the sauces. Fill until very close to the top of bottle, seal the cap as tightly as possible, and store the bottle upside down and allow to come to room temperature this way.

Although a sauce below a pH of 4.6 can normally remain sealed at room temperature for months or more, I recommend storing bottles in the refrigerator if possible. Either way, once opened, sauces should be stored in a refrigerator.

Alternate 100% raw/uncooked version: This recipe can be modified to an uncooked version. I’ve gone that route many times. The flavor difference isn’t very noticeable, but fermenting and not cooking the sauce makes it a probiotic food, and the flavor will also continue to change and develop over time, which is fun to experience. (A word of caution that fermented cilantro becomes even more pungent; at least, that’s how my taste buds interpret it, so you may wish to reduce the amount the recipe calls for by half.)

Uncooked fermented sauces intended for bottling and/or long-term use should never have something fresh or new added at blending, unless it’s a strong sugar-free acid like distilled white vinegar. The spices should be included in the ferment too. They can be left whole (unground) and placed in empty teabags or spice bags and included at the bottom of the ferment jar (and discarded at blend time). Or ground/powdered spices can be boiled into the saltwater brine. Then, make sure the brine has cooled to room temperature before being poured over the produce when you begin fermenting.

Be advised that unless you have verified – with a pH meter – that the final pH of the sauce is at or below 3.2, it is still fermenting and isn’t suitable for shipping (think explosive bottles). (One of the pros of cooking the sauce is that it stops fermentation regardless of where the pH is at.) However, it can be jarred and held in refrigeration, as discussed in Step 4 above.

As with cooked sauce, you can add vinegar at blending to lower the pH to the desired level; again, below 3.2 and fermentation will stop without cooking the sauce. It also is mail-safe at this low pH. If you’re not sure, don’t risk leaving it out of fridge for long periods.

Other ideas for preparation:

Instead of fermenting all the veggies, sometimes I will fire roast some of the veggies, or use raw (unfermented) onions and tomatillos when I cook the sauce. These changes just create some variations in the final flavor profile. Make sure if using a grill to roast vegetables that the grates are very clean and have been thoroughly cleaned of any residual oils from previous use.

Remember that this raw produce should be blended into the sauce and cooked together as discussed Step 5, in order to avoid re-igniting fermentation. Furthermore, unfermented produce will raise your pH, so you are advised to use a majority of fermented ingredients, and ferment for longer periods of over a month to help ensure a sufficiently low final pH. Additional vinegar and lime juice can also be used towards this end. A pH meter to test final pH and make sure it is at least below 4.6 is a good investment. (Below 4.0 is more ideal and has a more acidic flavor.)

Another preparation is to replace the tomatillos and/or onions with additional hot peppers for a very hot sauce that emphasizes the pepper flavor. This will also make a darker green sauce.

Finally, something else I periodically play with is adding fresh fruit ingredients at the cooking stage, such as green apple or kiwi. This adds a hint of sweetness and interesting depth of flavor. Kiwi is shown here with fire-roasted peppers and other veggies which were then boiled and blended with 6-month fermented pure Serranos. The next picture is the final, bottled product.

A final last thing to try is using any remaining ferment brine to flavor or pickle things. You may find you have a couple cups remaining, which is incredible to use for brining a chicken, pickling eggs, and much more!


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