Fermented Green Chili Papaya Hot Sauce Recipe
Updated: Sep 7, 2021
Lacto-fermentation is such a fun and easy kitchen project. Fermenting vegetables is almost like having a temporary low key pet, it's good to give them a visit and make sure they're comfy and happy, but they basically really easy to care for. I've had a lot of success in the past mixing up fermented sriracha type hot sauces, so I thought my time in self-isolation could benefit from a fermentation project.
So what is fermentation? My favorite description of the practice of fermentation is that it is a "controlled rot." This sounds disgusting but it is accurate! The food we're fermenting is still breaking down, but it's doing so in a way that is much slower and beneficial for human consumption. What we're doing when we're pickling and fermenting food is creating an environment that is hostile to bacteria that cause food to spoil and friendly to bacteria that can preserve the integrity of the food in a really delicious way (and consequently promote good gut health). Lacto-fermentation uses salt to invite the beneficial bacteria, Lactobacillus, to fermentation party, hence the name lacto in the name. The process converts sugars and starches into acids, making the environmental too acidic for dangerous microorganisms to live. This is the same type of fermentation used in the preparation of dill pickles and kimchi. For more reading on this, see the University of California's guidance on food preservation: Preserving the Season: Fermentation.
Many people are scared of fermenting foods because they are worried about getting sick from botulism. The nice thing about fermenting food is that it happens really quickly and there are a lot of indicators of spoilage that sensible adults should be able to recognize. If you're confident in your ability to detect spoiled food - you will be just fine fermenting food at home. I have had my fare share of fermentation failures throughout my experiments, but it has always be obvious to me that I shouldn't eat the food. Things to look out for are 1) slime and 2) unpleasant odor. Now, ferments will always smell sour and funky, and before you start fermenting foods at home you should be very familiar with how fermented food smell. They smell of vinegar and yeast, but beyond that they kind of difficult to describe. So definitely be familiar with the smell lacto-fermented pickles before you try making them. But a spoiled ferment will not smell like something you want to eat, so if it stinks, it's out! Now, back to slime. Check the viscosity of the brine, it should be as watery as it was when you mixed it. If it is more viscous, you're probably in trouble. If you pull out a pickle and it's slimy, it has left the controlled rot place and has gone to the garbage rot place - throw it out! In my opinion, there's no saving a ferment that has gone off, you have to throw out the entire thing, clean your jar and start over. But again, it will be obvious to you that it's bad. If you open the jar and it smells like the delicious sour pickles you're familiar with, then that's exactly what you've got on your hands! Your ferment would never smell and taste delicious while also being spoiled and poisonous. That's just not how rotten food rolls.
Back the the recipe! I thought I'd give my hotsauce a Thai edge so I've used Thai green chilies and cilantro roots as the flavor base. I then worked kind of intuitively to adjust and workout the recipe. I ended up adding some fresh papaya to add body and sweetness (mango would also be a great option!). Since the papaya was ripe, it slightly muddied the color of the hot sauce, so that's something to keep in mind. If I had gone with yellow, orange red peppers I would have a much more vibrant colored hot sauce on my hands -but I'm not really bothered by it, it's still a pretty green sauce. This is quite a spicy sauce on it's own, but once it's added to food, it's totally delicious and a completely tolerable spice level if you can handle some spice.
Fermented hot sauces are so easy to riff on, so it's totally worth a try! Once you ferment your peppers you can build the sauce in any way you'd like. You can season with fish sauce, soy sauce, honey, mustard, mint (oh mint! I like that idea!!) the possibilities are literally endless!
Below you'll find the recipe for the hot sauce, and further below that is the recipe for the fermented chilies.