I beg of you. Please do not get tired of me and my ramblings on hot peppers. I can’t help it. I see peppers and I become possessed. It is clear that I am a chili-head. Do you think there are support groups?
A few weeks ago, while in the supermarket, I saw a packer stocking a shelf with big bags of fresh local scotch bonnet peppers (aka, hot peppers, big peppers). I spun my cart around and almost as if in a trance, I made my way over the area. I stood there for a long time just staring at the beauty of the peppers, my eyes darting from one colour to the next – red, green, orange, yellow, purple. Again, I stood there debating and rationalizing with myself why I should buy the peppers. Blinded by passion, pouting like an “own-way” child and ready to argue with anyone who dared to dissuade me (I have no idea who that would have been since I was alone. Oh wait, I know, my conscience!), I grabbed two bags and tossed them into my cart. I turned away, feeling mischievous.
As I drove home I had a long talk with myself. No, I’m not mad. You know the kind of talk I mean. It went something like this.
Cynthia, what the heck are you going to do with the peppers you bought? Freeze them again? You already have bags of peppers in the freezer. Make pepper sauce? But you have more than enough pepper sauce. Gosh the fridge is already full of bottles of all kinds of sauces and condiments you’re always making. There is no space for anything else! Come on, you’ve got a get a grip pepper-frenzy of yours. Or, at least wait until your stock of dried, sauced, flaked or frozen peppers have depleted before buying more peppers.
While on a visit to Guyana a couple of years ago, my mother had mentioned that someone told her about making pepper sauce with rum. The idea, though intriguing at the time, did not take root until now. Seeking justification for the two large bags of peppers on the countertop, in the name of experimenting and for the column, I proceeded to make pepper sauce using rum as the curing liquid instead of vinegar or oil. I used good quality dark rum.
I added the rum to the peppers as they were whirling in the bowl of the food processor and noticed how rummy the sauce immediately smelt, but the pungency of the pepper still spiked the air. I bottled the pepper sauce and left it on the countertop to mature. As a rule, I wait two weeks before using freshly made pepper sauce, giving it time to really meld. However, that evening, I was anxious to taste the pepper sauce because I wanted to know what effect, if any, the rum had on the peppers.
I took one teaspoon of the pepper sauce with my food – I tasted no heat. I ended up taking 3 teaspoons of the pepper sauce. There was only a subtle hint of heat and I got all excited. Was I on to something here? Does the rum counteract the fire of the capsaicin leaving the flavour of the pepper intact? Did this mean that all those who love the idea of pepper sauce but are afraid of the heat could enjoy rum-made pepper sauce to their heart’s content? Could it be? It was too early to make that determination so I set the bottles of pepper sauce in a corner on the counter to mature for the two weeks I usually give my pepper sauces.
Two weeks later, I opened one of the bottles and this wonderful, savoury aroma greeted me. I could smell the flavour of the pepper but none of the heat one would usually smell indicating the fieriness of hot pepper sauce. There was no smell of alcohol either. I dipped a little of the pepper sauce and placed it in the palm of my hand (yeah, crazy I know) and proceeded to taste it, dipping my index finger into the sauce and placing it on my tongue.
The pepper sauce was savoury from the salt, the flavour of the pepper was upfront and the heat while there was moderate. It was mellow, slow, gentle and welcoming. Now this is the way to introduce someone to pepper sauce I thought. I had planned to give away all but 1 bottle of the pepper sauce – there were 5 bottles. I only ended up giving away 2. Don’t judge me, please.
I know that I have a somewhat high tolerance for chili-heat but I’ve shared this pepper sauce with others (apart from the 2 bottles I gave away) that are not chili-heads like me and everyone talked about the flavourful heat. The delayed heat warms rather than gives watery eyes and runny noses.
Generally speaking, I am not a pepper-sauce-eating person. Wait. Let me explain. I prefer my heat cooked into my food and not on the side or sprinkled over my food but since I’ve made this rum pepper sauce, I have been having heaped tablespoons of pepper sauce on the side of my plate because the low heat and high flavour seem to make everything taste better.
Try it. I think you’ll like it too.
Pepper Sauce with Rum
2 pounds scotch bonnet peppers (hot peppers, big peppers)
3 tablespoons table salt
1. Remove the stems from the peppers, rinse and drain well.
2. Add the peppers to the bowl of a food processer (you may need to work in batches) along with the salt. Cover and close the food processor and pulse until fine.
3. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and continue to pulse until the peppers are ground finely.
4. Through the chute at the top of the processor, with the motor running, pour in enough rum so that the mixture because sauce-like. If you like a thick sauce, then add less rum, if you like a runny pepper sauce, then add more rum.
5. Pour the mixture in to sterilized bottles, cover tightly and place on countertop and let ripen/cure at room temperature for at least 2 weeks before using.