Saturday, July 21, 2012

Homemade Lemon Drop Hot Pepper Sauce

Note: This post is showing up a lot on searches for "lemon drop hot pepper sauce," so I think I should let you know that I later made a fermented version that turned out much better. I'm going to ferment all my hot sauces from now on.

As you can see here, I got a bumper crop of Lemon Drop peppers this year. I was searching for information on what to do with them, and found this recipe for Lemon Drop Hot Sauce from Serious Eats. Now, I love Louisiana Hot Sauce, made from not much more than Cayenne peppers, vinegar, and salt. Making something similar from Lemon Drops sounded good. I've never made my own hot sauce before, but with so many peppers to use up, it seemed like a good time to try.

The main trick was adapting this recipe for fresh peppers. The original recipe used dried peppers, though there's a note saying you can substitute 2 cups seeded fresh peppers, and simmer them in the vinegar. I proceeded a little differently than that.

First, I accumulated peppers. I needed to save seeds from my Lemon Drops, so as I harvested them, I would slit them open and take out the seeds, and then put the seeded peppers in a container in the freezer until I had enough to make a batch of sauce. Also, unlike last time I harvested a lot of pepper for seed, I wore gloves! I I really learned my lesson from last time with those jalapenos.

How much was enough? I decided a pound would do it. I like measuring things like this with weight instead of volume because "2 cups diced peppers" can have widely different amounts of pepper in it depending on how finely they're diced and how tightly you pack them. So I went with a pound of stemmed and seeded peppers since that's easy to remember.

I toasted the coriander and cumin seeds in this little cast iron pan that works perfectly for this sort of thing. I've found it's easy to burn spices with I'm toasting them like this, so I leave the pan on the heat until I start to smell the spices (which means the essential oils are starting to be released, which is the point), and then take the pan off the heat and let it sit until cool. Cast iron retains heat well, so the seeds keep toasting for a while after you take them off the heat.

Instead of simmering the peppers in the vinegar, I decided to saute them in the olive oil. I dumped them straight in from the freezer. This turned out to be somewhat dangerous, because after a minute or two I was hit with the fumes! I started coughing and choking and quickly turned on the exhaust fan over the stove and opened the kitchen window. Another thing to remember for next time.

I stopped cooking the peppers when they were just starting to soften up and get a little brown on them. Besides the fumes, they actually smelled really good. Smelled like I was making fajitas or something.

Then I put the peppers in the blender. I ground the spices in my spice grinder (which is really an extra coffee grinder I have that I also use for spices) and added them along with the salt, honey, and cup of vinegar.

Then I blended them up, though after a little bit of blending I realized that it needed more vinegar to get liquid, so I added another cup, and then decided to go ahead and add more spices, honey, and salt to make up for adding more liquid.
After a while I figured this was as blended as it was going to get. I had hoped it would get more liquefied, but  I ended up with an applesauce-like consistency. I poured it into a quart mason jar, using my canning funnel, put a plastic cap on it, and then stashed it in the fridge for two weeks to let everything soak in.

Today I took it out and strained it with a wire strainer, using the back of a spoon to squeeze out as much liquid as possible from the pulp. I ended up with enough to fill a pint mason jar. A food mill might have made this easier. Maybe I should ask for one for Christmas. I ended up with a nice light yellow sauce and took a little taste off the side of the strainer. WOW. That's hot stuff! Hot with a bright, citrus-like acidity, even though there's no actual citrus in there. I stashed the mason jar in the fridge and might taste it again some time and decide if it needs more salt or honey.

I also plan on putting it in a bottle, once I get my hands on a bottle. I'm debating on whether I should buy some hot sauce bottles off the internet, or just wait until I have an empty bottle that something else came in and wash it out and use that.

Here is the final recipe I ended up with, if you would like to try it yourself:

Lemon Drop Hot Sauce


  • 1 lb. lemon drop peppers, stems and seeds removed
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tsp. coriander seeds
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 4 cloves garlic (or 1 tsp. garlic powder)
  • 2 tsp. honey
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 2 cups apple cider vinegar

  1. Saute peppers in olive oil under they start to soften.
  2. Toast coriander and cumin seeds in separate pan until they become fragrant. Let cool completely and then grind.
  3. Add all ingredients to a blender and puree.
  4. Pour into a jar or other container and store in fridge a few days to let the flavors meld.
  5. Strain sauce into a bottle or jar and keep in the fridge. (It might be acidic enough to keep at room temperature like commercial hot sauce, but I'm not sure, so I keep it in the fridge just to be on the safe side.)
I've heard that vinegar hot sauces like this get better with age, so we'll see how it turns out after it's sat for a bit.

UPDATE #1: I made a second batch and this time I boiled the sauteed peppers in the vinegar before straining it. It resulted in a thicker sauce, so I think I like doing it that way better. I still want a food mill, though. Also, be VERY CAREFUL with the fumes coming off of hot peppers boiling in vinegar!

UPDATE #2: After letting this sit in the fridge for almost 5 months, I gave it a taste. It was a bit disappointing, to be honest. By now I have become familiar with the flavor of a fresh Lemon Drop pepper, and the hot sauce I made doesn't really capture the fruity overtones of it very well. The hot sauce ended up tasting like spicy-hot vinegar. Maybe I put too much vinegar and should have added only 1 cup after all. Maybe the flavor of Lemon Drops is best used for other purposes. Obviously more research and experimentation is needed.

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