Photographer: Michael Marquand/Getty Images/Lonely Planet Images

The Surprisingly Easy Way to Make Your Own Hot Sauce

Jump start your "cook at home more" resolution with a condiment that can make anything taste homemade.

If you’re like me and determined to cook more in 2017, start with one of the most all-purpose dishes around: hot sauce.

For one thing, who doesn’t love things spicy these days? For another, homemade hot sauce is surprisingly easy to make. And it guarantees you bragging rights. You can give it to others. You can bring it to someone’s house as your contribution to a dinner party. You can put it in your bag and take it on a trip if you’re worried about the food. Make it frequently enough, and you can start customizing it. At the elite spice boutique, La Boîte, Lior Lev Sercarz will customize a spice blend for you for $5,000. I love that idea, but a hot sauce all your own is a much cheaper way to have a signature flavor.

Photographer: Bobby Fisher, courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

The recipe below is adapted from the Red Rooster Cookbook by Marcus Samuelsson, based on dishes from his buzzy Harlem restaurant. It’s all-purpose, spicy, and a little fruity and vinegary. My adaptations included using easier-to-find chiles such as serranos in place of bird chiles, and tomato paste instead of tomato powder, which I'm not inclined to make or search for.

In my opinion, it could be even spicier; next time, I’m trying the hotter alternative. I may even add some of the chile seeds, which would amp up the heat. However you tweak it, remember to be careful when dealing with spicy chiles: Some recipes recommend wearing gloves when you work with them, which I think is cumbersome, not to mention a little lame. But wash your hands well after chopping the chiles because the burning sensation if you touch your eyes, or even your skin, is fast and furious and persistent. 

If making hot sauce is not on your list of things to do, here’s Plan B: Check out Heatonist, where self-anointed hot sauce sommelier Noah Chaimberg sells more than 100 well-curated spicy condiments.

“At first, our neighbors thought it was the most hipster kind of bull----, a hot sauce store in Williamsburg,” said Chaimberg, who quit a job with global marketing agency Razorfish, where he'd worked with such companies as Mercedes-Benz and Uniqlo and learned valuable lessons for starting his own brand. He opened the small storefront Heatonist a year ago. “Now those neighbors tell me they wouldn’t buy hot sauce anywhere else.”

Photographer: Kate Krader/Bloomberg

He mail-orders sauces to customers all over the world. Surprisingly, a lot of orders come from Scandinavia, and he’s seen a big increase in orders from southern Europe, including Greece and Spain. Most of the sauces Chaimberg sells are small-batch, with cute stories behind them: the brothers from the Bahamas who couldn’t find their hometown sauce, so they made the spicy Pirate’s Lantern; the farmer in Hyogo, Japan (near beef mecca Kobe), who smokes his habanero chiles for three days to make Heaven Most Hot. Most sauces cost around $12.

The most expensive is also the hottest: the Reaper, at $50, is packed with fresh Carolina Reapers and was dubbed hottest on the Scoville spectrum by Guinness World Records. If you’ve heard that ghost chiles are killingly spicy, reapers are twice as hot. (Yes, I tasted that hot sauce—still recovering. When my mouth was on fire, Chaimberg didn't give me water; instead he handed me a spoonful of a creamy, garlicky, sort-of-hot sauce, and it cooled things down.)

Back to my hot sauce resolution: Chaimberg looked at my Red Rooster recipe and said that, of the brands he stocks, Dawson’s Original Hot is the closest. It’s very good, garlicky, and sweet, with a proper mouth-tingling spice. I think mine is better.

On left: the author's homemade version. On right: Heatonist's recommended commercial version.
On left: the author's homemade version. On right: Heatonist's recommended commercial version.
Photographer: Kate Krader/Bloomberg

Red Rooster Spicy Hot Sauce

Adapted from Red Rooster Cookbook (Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016), by Marcus Samuelsson
Makes about 4 cups

1 red bell pepper
4 serrano or Thai bird chiles, halved, seeded, and finely chopped
1/2 habanero chile, seeded and finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 large shallot, coarsely chopped
1 tsp. tomato paste or 1 tbsp. tomato powder
1 tbsp. Berbere spice (Ethiopian chile spice blend) or smoked paprika
1 tbsp. cayenne pepper
1 ½ tsp. mustard powder
1 ½ tsp. ground cumin
1 ½ tsp. sugar
1 ½ tsp. kosher salt
½ cup apple cider vinegar
1 ½ cups olive oil

In a preheated 450°F oven, cook the bell pepper and garlic on a rimmed baking sheet until the pepper is charred all over and the garlic is tender, about 20 minutes; turn the pepper occasionally.

Transfer the pepper to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let stand for 15 minutes. Peel the garlic.

Remove the roasted pepper’s peel, stem, and seeds and coarsely chop. Put the peppers and any juices from the bowl into a food processor. Add the garlic and all remaining ingredients, except for the olive oil. Process to a coarse purée.

With the machine on, slowly pour in the oil in a slow steady stream, until the hot sauce is smooth. Transfer the hot sauce to jars and refrigerate for up to 1 month.

Variation: Devil Hot Sauce
For an even spicier sauce, substitute 2 habanero chiles for the red bell pepper and ½ habanero; roast them with the garlic. (Seed the habaneros, but don’t peel them.) Use 2 seeded serrano or Thai chiles instead of 4; add ¼ teaspoon wasabi powder.

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.