Lake of Fire: Making Chilli Sauce – the rudiments
So, before I start to get into individual recipes for chilli sauce, I’ll quickly discuss the basics of what you need to make it, and the elements you need to consider, we’re then free to elaborate and gesticulate within the individual recipes. Here I’ll talk about the generic ingredients and equipment required. This is not exhaustive, but documents the main things you’ll need to get you going.
This is the tricky bit. You can pretty much use whatever variety you can get your hands on, and a mixture of varieties if you want. Which you use depends on personal taste, desire for spiciness, sweetness (or lack thereof), size, colour etc. So you may want to use a large mild variety for its sweet flavour and volume, and mix with a smaller wickeder verity to spice things up.
Get a few varieties (either from either a plant or the supermarket) and taste them in advance. Get ready to experiment. The flavour, heat and colour of the chilli will change after cooking so taste before and after cooked. Some recipes use dried chillies, but I’m only going to be using fresh ones.
Another factor to bear in mind with chillies is the seeds. The seeds are the hottest bit of the chilli, and so whether you leave them in or not is a significant factor in the spiciness of your sauce.
When buying chillies, you’re unlikely to get the best value of selection from your local big-name supermarket. Seek out a local Asian (Thai, Indian, Chinese etc.) shop and get your chillies there.
A vital ingredient of many chilli sauces, onions add body and sweetness, and are usually used as the base of the sauce. Which type of onion you use (red, white, shallot etc.) will have some baring on the ultimate flavour, although they are not the star of the show and the choice should be considered a secondary concern or refinement.
Carrots are frequently used to provide body, texture, colour and a little sweetness. The variety doesn’t matter too much, but the volume you use can change the aspect of the sauce. That said, carrots are pretty subtle when compared to the other ingredients, so you can’t go too far wrong.
Vinegar is used to add acidity and sourness to the sauce, not to mention acting as a preservative. Some types of chilli sauce (Carolina style sauces for example) are based almost entirely on vinegar. The amount and choice of vinegar will have a significant effect on the flavour of your sauce.
When cooking off your ingredients you need some moisture to simmer the ingredients. In some recipes the other ingredients (vinegar, fruit) would be sufficient for this purpose, but more often or not you’ll need to add some water to loosen up the mixture. You could also consider adding fruit juice (apple, pineapple) instead of water too add sweetness and acidity. It’s important to have a view on how liquid you want your sauce. Some sauces are pretty much water consistency while others are a thick paste. The amount of water or other liquids you put in your mix will be dictated by this concern.
Fruit and other fresh stuff
Various other fruits can be added to your ingredients to provide body, sweetness, fruitiness, sharpness, acidity and other extra dimensions to the sauce. Popular among countless possible choices are: mango, pineapple, peppers, lemons, limes, papaya, apples, pears etc. etc. You choice of fruit can have dramatic effects on the flavour of your sauce.
You may also wish to other fresh ingredients like garlic, ginger, fresh coriander etc. to add further flavour and dimension to your sauce.
Seasonings and sundry
Your sauce will need seasoning, so have salt and pepper handy. You could also consider using various herbs, spices and flavourings to jazz things up a bit eg. paprika (smoked/sweet), cumin, coriander seeds, liquid smoke, basil, thyme, oregano to name but a few.
Your mouth (and the other end!) are not the only part of your body that can suffer the violence of chillies. Depending on the variety of chilli you use, just getting the acidic chilli juice on your hands can cause irritation and even pain, especially if you’ve get it on cuts or sensitive skin. Worse still, if you fail to wash properly and get it on your eyes, or, God forbid, certain more private areas (or even someone else’s!) then the consequences can be quite distressing.
Avoid this by using rubber gloves (preferably the surgical kind so that you can still feel through them), taking care not to touch your eyes or anyone else’s, and discard your gloves immediately when you’ve finished using them. Clear and clean all surfaces and cooking equipment thoroughly and immediately.
Knife and chopping board
I’ll spare you my standard rant on using a decent knife and chopping board. Suffice to say, you’re going to be doing a LOT of chopping and chillies are frequently tough with a rubbery skin. Use a sharp knife and a decent chopping board.
For most recipes only one pot is required, and the size of that pot depends on how much sauce you intend to make. Just make sure that you’re pot is decent and sturdy and has a nice thick base.
Many of the ingredients will be chunky and have skins (not least the chillies!) and I’m guessing you want your sauce to be smooth (ish) and free of skins. A food mill (essentially a mildly mechanised strainer) is an essential labour saving device. Yes, you could push your mixture through a sieve, but things get a lot easier and quicker with a food mill. You can pick one up for under £15, and you’ll thank yourself for doing so.
So, now you’ve got everything you need to construct your face-melting, world beating chilli sauce. Now, if only you have a really good recipe. Watch this space and I’ll try and help.