Hot sauce with choko
For years, the sight of an abundant chilli bush paralysed me. I was daunted by the prospect of having to use any more than one at a time. And so I would pick one and use it for its intended purpose, barely making a dint in the abundance of potent little birdseye chillies. I would occasionally dry them to be stored in jars but that just seemed to make their use even more intimidating. A pinch too much in a concentrated form can really make dinner seem more like a dare than a joy.
In saying that, I love fresh chilli and the lift that it brings to other ingredients and life in general. The key to its use, I find, is variability. Have some fermented, have some dried, have some in a paste, have some in a crispy oil. This makes using it so much easier, as well as providing more complexity. Then once you have that variability, it becomes easier to bring in those little hot lifts of fresh sliced chilli or bruised chilli to really get the party started.
Fermentation is the foundation of so much of our food but it has come to the fore lately for good reason. Every chef worth their salt has delved into the magic art and I feel this has added a lot to our food landscape. But like most things, I find it’s important to dabble in order to understand how little we know and how simple yet complex things can become. I recommend having any of Sandor Katz’s excellent books on the subject at hand, for a basic understanding that runs far beyond the confines of this recipe.
The choko is also here for a reason. I think it’s time for the choko to have its moment in the Australian cuisine spotlight. This is a fruit, like zucchinis and eggplants, that grows extremely well in our climate but has long been maligned as being “tasteless”. Here I present it to you slathered in butter and dripping with fermented hot sauce. Impossible not to love.
Makes about 3¼ cups
Time: 20 minutes preparation + up to 10 days fermentation + 10 minutes cooking
- 500g mixed fresh chilli
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2.5cm ginger
- 1 litre water
- 60g salt
- 20g honey
- 1 choko
- 50g butter
- salt flakes, to serve
- Chop the chilli, garlic and ginger into chunks. (You can remove some of the chilli seeds if your chilli is of a particularly hot variety.) Place into a jar.
- Mix the water, salt and honey into a brine and pour over the chilli mixture. Then cover with a greaseproof paper cartouche (paper lid) that sits flush across the top of the contents.
- Weight it lightly if necessary (using a small glass or ceramic container with pastry weights or clean stones, or a small plastic bag filled with brine) as it is imperative for the chilli to be submerged. Leave this mix in a relatively cool and stable environment, out of the sun (about 12ºC), for up to 10 days. Check daily to ensure the chilli mixture is submerged but don’t agitate it unless necessary. This mix will begin fermenting within two days, apparent from the small bubbles that start forming on top and eventually become a foam. The fermentation should be complete somewhere between days five and 10. If you wish, you can keep feeding it with chilli and vegetables to continue the ferment and build up the flavour, but I find for this hot sauce it’s enough to stop at this point.
- Strain the solids off but keep the brine. Blend the solids with about 20 per cent of the brine before adjusting it to a wet paste. Cook this over a medium heat for five minutes before blending again with extra brine if necessary so that it becomes a very fine paste. Boiling is not necessary – I only do it to stabilise the product. In doing so you do lose beneficial elements of the ferment but it means you can store the hot sauce out of the fridge for brief periods without the fermentation kicking off again. Place this blended sauce into sterile jars and store in the refrigerator.
- Lightly peel the choko and cut into six wedges. Blanch the choko in salted boiling water until it turns a lime green. I like to cook the wedges so they are still al dente. Toss the choko through the butter and emulsify with a teaspoon of the boiling water. Finish with salt flakes and then serve in a side bowl with some fermented chilli sauce alongside.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 20, 2023 as "Some like it hot".
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