Fermented hot peppers offer a delicious tang and bite. The component capsaicin gives hot peppers their invigorating bite and it comes with health benefits, like boosting the body’s metabolism. It also produces an endorphin rush after the burning sensation passes.
Picking hot peppers directly from plants and using them in dishes is wonderful during the summer months, but how do you keep the delights of hot peppers around once the gardening and harvest seasons have ended? Fermentation, my friend.
Peppers Are Hot
Hot peppers are, well, hot, so it’s important to prepare properly before you begin processing them. Capsaicin is an oil, so water don’t clear it off of hands well. Instead, water tends to spread it around, causing the burning to be even worse. It’s easy to accidentally touch other things before your hands are completely free of the pepper oil and you can end up with your nose and eyes burning. Just imagine if you took a bathroom break partway through processing peppers.
So, protection beforehand is key. Cut up your peppers while wearing gloves. Don’t touch them to any part of your exposed skin (arms, eyes, etc.). You might spritz some oil on you and, of course, your skin will cry a little, but don’t, don’t, don’t scratch with your gloves. It will spread the burning. When done cutting, pull your gloves off carefully and put them promptly in the trashcan.
It’s also important to remember that hot peppers can cause issues with breathing. You can use a bandanna knotted around your mouth and nose to protect you, or better yet, pick up a disposable dust mask from the hardware store. If you are asthmatic or have other breathing issues, it might be better to consider asking someone else to process your hot peppers for you.
If you do get some pepper oil on you, which will invariably happen even with being careful, milk is the best remedy. Soak your fingers in milk and wash them slowly in it. If your nose burns, wad up a tissue, drench with milk, and stick it in your nose for about five minutes. Hold a tissue or paper towel drenched with milk onto any burning spots for a couple of minutes. The milk loosens the capsaicin and makes it easier to remove. Olive oil also works in a similar way. Whatever you do, don’t try to rub the burning spot with your fingers or wash with soap and water right away. The water feels cool at first, but tends to wash the burning around.
Starting the Fermentation
Fermenting peppers is very simple. Start with a clean jar, preferably one with a large opening. You can also use a bowl. Wash your peppers. You can cut them in smaller pieces or leave them whole. I cut mine in half. If you leave them whole, they will still ferment, but it will take longer.
Once your jar or bowl is full, make up your salt-water brine: 1 pint (2 cups) of water to 1 and ¼ tablespoons of salt. Double this recipe as many times as you need to in order to get enough brine to thoroughly cover your peppers. Dissolve the salt entirely in the water. You can use heat to do this or just beat the water and salt with a whisk until the salt disappears. If you do use heat, make sure your brine has cooled down to room temperature before you proceed with the next step.
Pour your brine over your peppers. Fermentation takes place at room temperature, and so does mold growth. In order to keep your peppers from molding, you need to make sure they are completely submerged beneath the brine. Find a smaller jar or cup or canning weight and set this inside your jar of peppers. This needs to be heavy enough to keep your peppers from floating. Then fill the jar the rest of the way with brine. If you are able to, you can place a lid on your jar now. However, this isn’t necessary. As long as the peppers are submerged, they will be fine.
Place your jar in an out-of-the-way spot, but someplace you can check on it regularly. It can take anywhere from two to three weeks for the peppers to be ready. Check your peppers every day or so, especially if you have placed a lid on your jar as it will need burped (so it doesn’t explode). If scum appears at the top of your peppers, just skim it off with a spoon and make a little more brine to top the jar off with.
Then just wait and taste in about two to three weeks. Once the peppers are done fermenting, you can take out the weight, cap the jar and refrigerate. Fermented peppers last a long time in the refrigerator (three to six months or longer). Some people pour off the brine and boil it before pouring it back into the jar. It’s not necessary, but certainly okay. Or, instead, you can pour off the brine and cover your peppers in oil. You can add whatever spices in you wish as well. Some options are mustard seeds, turmeric, fenugreek seeds, sea salt, fresh-squeezed lemon juice, etc. The ideas are endless.
And now, the fun part: Enjoy!
Do you have advice for making fermented pickled hot peppers? Share your tips in the section below: