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Can You Make Hot Sauce at Home?

How to take 60 arbol chiles and make hot sauce.
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Can you make hot sauce at home that's better than stuff from the store? For years I've considered hot sauce to be something you just had to buy in those little glass bottles. I have a half-dozen of them to prove it. Open up my fridge door, and they clank around for a good 15 seconds, announcing that they are ready to be used. And you know what? I like them all. Franks, Tabasco, El Yucateco, Louisiana-Style, Texas Pete, and Sriracha: they are all good.  I'll be perfectly honest in saying I didn't have some large hot sauce hole in my life that needed to be filled.

Alas, I can't go back now to those simpler days. Like many of my food awakenings, I have Rick Bayless to blame. For the second year in a row I hosted a New Year's Eve celebration, where I made a big batch of carnitas. I knew I wanted salsa out on the table for snacks, and at the last second I decided to whip up some homemade hot sauce, figuring it would be a nice touch. I consulted Rick Bayless's Authentic Mexican because I already had the book out and the recipe looked simple.

I mindlessly whipped it up, kind of forgetting to taste it as I was going along. It was relatively easy to make, but I didn't grasp it's full power until later in the night when I noticed that people had stopped eating the salsa, and were instead drizzling straight hot sauce onto chips. They were fiends, I worried they were going to drink it straight from the bottle. You know, it was late, and I'll not lie, we had been drinking. But there is no doubting the power of this hot sauce. It is magic.

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Let me count the ways.

It's cheap, especially if you live close to Mexican market. It's made with a bunch of pantry items like spices, nuts, chiles, and cider vinegar.

It's quick. As in, maybe 30 minutes of work for a whole bottle.

It lasts forever. With a lid on in the fridge, it will last for a long, long time, thus claims Bayless.

It makes just about everything taste better. Tacos, eggs, salsa, guacamole, sauces, etc...

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How can it do this? It's very spicy. This is no watered down version of Tabasco. But it has way more depth than you'd expect from a hot sauce. This comes from the use of both sesame and pumpkin seeds, which both help to soften the blow of the over 50 arbol chiles, while also adding a nice creamy texture.

It's also way more fragrant and haunting than it should be. That's thanks to healthy pinch of cumin, allspice, cloves, and oregano.

This has really changed how I think about hot sauce. I've always kind of considered hot sauce to be cheating. Sure, it delivers a cheap thrill, but there is always that sinking feeling of knowing that if the food had been properly seasoned and spiced in the first place, one wouldn't need the hot sauce. Perhaps I'm prejudiced. Or perhaps I just have visions of college where friends used douse every single thing they could find, no matter if it were tacos or chicken pot pie, in Frank's Red Hot Sauce. I realize, this was a self defense mechanism, usually because the dreck we were served was so bland and boring it needed at least some kind of flavor to get down.

But this is that rare hot sauce that can save bland dishes, while also enchancing properly made ones. This isn't your normal hot sauce. Rick Bayless knows this. "It's the closest you'll get to Tabasco sauce--and it is a lot better." He's right.

Chile de Arbol Hot Sauce (Salsa Picante de Chile de Arbol)

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  • 1 1/2 ounces dried chiles de arbol (about 50 to 60)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sesame seeds
  • 2 tablespons shelled pumpkin seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 4 large allspice berries
  • 2 cloves
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 scant teaspoon salt
  • 2 large garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
  • 3/4 cup cider vinegar
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Remove the stems of the chiles, roll them gently between your fingers, and then shake out as many of the seeds inside as possible. You won't get everyone, but you can come close. Add the chiles to a blender and discard the seeds.

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Place a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the sesame seeds and let cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until they are lightly browned. When done, transfer them to the blender. Then add the pumpkin seeds. Cook until they begin to pop, stirring occasionally. This should also take a few minutes. Likewise, transfer these to the blender.

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Grind the cumin, allspice, and cloves in a mortar or spice grinder. Add these to the blender along with the oregano, salt, garlic, and vinegar.

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Turn blender on and let process for a few minutes.

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It'll turn dark orange, and should be relatively smooth.

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Strain the sauce through a fine sieve. Discard the chile skins and any bits of seeds.

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Mix in 3/4 cup water, and transfer to a container. Stash for at least 24 hours before using. It will keep in the fridge for a long time.

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