Hot Stuff! Sriracha and Hot Pepper Pickles

Over the last few weeks there have been an increasing number of hot pepper experiments.  After making a batch of salsa verde to can, I made another with extremely spicy jalapenos that turned out to be too intense for the intended purpose of making enchiladas verdes.  And then this weekend, I attempted to make Sriracha with a combination of mystery peppers and jalapenos/serranos.  Turned out some of the mystery peppers were habaneros, and the Sriracha sauce turned out more like a very delicious hot sauce that is only tolerable in extremely small doses.  Thank goodness I learned what a habanero looks like before making the pickled hot peppers or they might have been completely inedible to my weak taste buds.

Sriracha (hot pepper garlic sauce)
(Makes 2-5 half-pints)
I followed the directions for making Sriracha here pretty much to the letter, except I only ended up with 2.5 half-pints instead of the expected 5.  This may have been due to the fact that I had the heat up too high as I was cooking the sauce down, but this was absolutely necessary as I had a fan blowing air away from the pot and out of the kitchen so that we could breathe properly while preparing the ingredients for the hot pepper pickles.  So yes, a word of warning: the sauce will fill the air with awful pepper and vinegar fumes if you, like me, try using extremely hot peppers.  While I may be hot-peppered out for the moment, I do want to try making this recipe with only jalapenos, in which case the fumes may not be so bad.  As a hot sauce, this is one of the first I’ve really liked, so I foresee much tinkering with the recipe next summer.  Another thought on making sriracha: I’ve seen recipes that involve fermenting the peppers before the sauce is cooked and pureed, which may lead to a more authentic Rooster Sauce than the more simple recipe I tried.  And as always, an immersion blender makes it all so much easier, no matter what recipe you follow.

1 pound hot peppers
9 medium cloves garlic
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup distilled white vinegar (5% acidity)
1 cup apple cider vinegar (5% acidity)
3 tablespoons honey

To make the sauce:  Prepare the hot peppers by cutting off the stems and chopping them up into smallish pieces.  WEAR GLOVES to protect your hands from the hot pepper oils!  Leave in the seeds if you want to make the sauce spicier (perhaps if you only use jalapenos).  Prepare the garlic by peeling the cloves and crushing them with a flat knife.  In a medium pot, combine the chopped hot peppers, garlic, salt, and vinegars.  Bring the pot to a boil and simmer for 20-30 minutes.  Take the pot off the heat and blend the mixture until smooth with an immersion blender (easily done right in the pot) or traditional blender/food processor (harder, and it may be easier when the sauce has cooled a little bit).   With the sauce in the pot (again), bring it to a boil.  You are now ready to can it!

To can the sauce:  Follow the more detailed directions in the recipe for dilly beans, with the following specifications.  Fill the half-pint jars with sauce leaving 1/4 inch of headspace at the top of the jar.  To process, boil the half-pint jars in a hot water bath for 15 minutes.

Pickled Hot Peppers (Adapted from Canning for a New Generation)
(Makes 4 half-pints of pickles)
Enough hot pepper rings to fill 4 half-pint jars
1 1/2 cups distilled white vinegar (5% acidity)
1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar (5% acidity)
3/4 cups water
1 tablespoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
4 cloves garlic, peeled

To make the pickles:  Cut up the hot peppers into rings about 1/8 inch thick and discard the stems.  WEAR GLOVES when handling the hot peppers!  Rinse the pepper rings in cool water to get rid of some of the seeds and set aside for the canning stage.  Peel the garlic and set aside for the canning stage as well.  Bring the rest of the ingredients (vinegars, water, salt, and sugar) to a boil in a pot and then take off the heat and proceed to the canning stage.

To can the pickles: Follow the more detailed directions in the recipe for dilly beans, with the following specifications.  Fill each half-pint jar with a clove of garlic and one fourth of the hot pepper rings, leaving one inch of headspace at the top of the jar.  Pour the brine into the jar leaving 1/2 inch of headspace at the top of the jar.  To process, boil the half-pint jars in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.  The hot pepper rings will shrink as they cook in the hot water bath, leaving ample space in the half-pint jars that is only full of brine.  Cooking the hot pepper rings in the brine before packing the half-pint jars would help solve this problem, and for an example of this method see the recipe for banana pepper pickles.

Banana Pepper Pickles

Late this past week I was offered a pile of banana peppers from another gardener.  They said they had too many.  This must be an added bonus of gardening: in addition to eating food from your own garden you get to eat food from other people’s too.  Of course I said yes, but it wasn’t until I got back to my apartment that I realized I had absolutely no idea what one does with banana peppers.  The only time I can remember eating them is on Subway sandwiches, in which case they taste rather like they’ve been pickled.  A quick google search confirmed my worry that no one else knows what to do with them either.  The few recipes with banana peppers as a main ingredient involve frying them, stuffing and frying them, putting them into a casserole, and pickling or fermenting them.  As I’m not a huge fan of fried food, the choice was rather obvious: banana pepper pickles.  Perusing Food in Jars, I found the following recipes for hot pepper pickles and jalapeno pickles.  I ended up going with a mixture of the two recipes, using the brine from the jalapeno pickles (white vinegar, water, and salt) and the peppers cut into rings as suggested in the hot pepper pickles recipe.  In addition to the banana peppers, I added a single jalapeno for an extra bit of heat.  The unflavored brine should make these peppers very versatile, perfect for sandwiches or as an addition to salsa or guacamole.

Banana Pepper Pickles
(Enough brine for 2 pint jars)
Banana peppers (enough to fill two pint jars when cut up, about 4-5 cups)
1 jalapeno pepper
2 cups distilled white vinegar (5% acidity)
2 cups water
2 tablespoons salt

To make the pickle:  Cut the stems off the peppers and cut the peppers into rings.  Don’t worry about removing the seeds.  Place the peppers in a bowl while you make the brine.  Mix the vinegar, water, and salt in a pot and bring to a boil.  As soon as the brine reaches a boil, add the cut up peppers.  As soon as the brine plus peppers reaches a boil again, turn off the heat and proceed with canning.

To can the pickle:  Follow the detailed instructions for canning in the dilly beans recipe, with the following specifications.  Fill the pint jars first with the peppers using a slotted spoon, and then fill in the space with brine using a ladle, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace at the top of the jar.  Process the pint jars of pickle in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.

Spicy Carrot Pickles

Can I be honest?  The main reason why these spicy carrot pickles jumped to the front of the pickle queue is because the author of Canning for a New Generation wrote that the inspiration for them came from hearing about the spicy carrot pickles at Tartine Bakery in San Francisco.  Peter and I went there once, we had a pastry or two, if I remember correctly, and that was right before getting ice cream nearby at another popular stop in the gastro.  If I cared about my health I would never return, but who can say no to a place filled with butter and cream and named after a combination of castro and gastronomy?   My sneaky plan is to make some of these pickles (phase 1 complete), try them after a few weeks, and then go back to Tartine, but this time for a sandwich and carrot pickle.

Spicy Carrot Pickles (adapted from Canning for a New Generation)
(Makes 4 pint jars of pickle)
2 pounds carrots, scrubbed and ends removed
4 1/2 cups cider vinegar (5% acidity)
1 cup distilled white vinegar (5% acidity) or 1 more cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
3 bay leaves
8 dried hot chiles, stem removed
8 cloves garlic, peeled
4 sprigs oregano (original recipe called for 4 sprigs of thyme)
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1/2 small yellow onion, thinly sliced

To make the pickle:  Begin by preparing the carrots, peeling them if necessary (I didn’t), and cutting them to the right height to fit in the pint jars with at least an inch of headspace.  Also cut the carrots lengthwise so that the carrot sticks are no more than a half-inch thick.  Put the prepared carrots in some cold water while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.  To make the brine, combine the vinegar, salt, sugar, cinnamon sticks, and bay leaves with 1 cup water in a large pot and bring to a boil, simmering for 5 minutes.  Prepare the dried chiles, garlic, oregano, and black pepper to be put in the canning jars by making a pile of the four ingredients for each canning jar.  When the brine has finished simmering for 5 minutes, add the carrots, and cook for 10 minutes or so, until the carrots are crisp-tender.  Now it’s time to can!

To can the pickle:  Follow the detailed instructions for canning dilly beans with the following specifications.  After taking the glass pint jars out of the hot-water bath, fill each one with the combination of dried chiles, garlic, oregano, and black pepper.  Then use a slotted spoon to pack the carrots loosely in the jars.  This is the hardest part because the carrots are hot and keep falling over in the jars.  Put the slices onion in any nooks and crannies between the carrots, not packing things too tightly.  Finally, pour the hot brine over the vegetables, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace at the top of each jar.  Process the pint jars in a hot-water bath for 15 minutes (the hot-water bath needs to be boiling for this amount of time).

Yellow Pickled Beets

Beets are a controversial vegetable in our house.   We agree on the bottoms, but disagree on the tops.  I’m not sure why Peter is so against beet greens, but his dislike for them almost kept me from having the heart to buy enough beets for pickling.  Of course he had his revenge by leaving for the East Coast this week with the entire bottom shelf of the fridge covered in beet greens, so I can’t feel too sorry for him.  I ate beet greens for breakfast, and I think there will be beet greens every day for the rest of the week.  Luckily I have finally found a way to eat them that is perfectly scrumptious:  saute onion in olive oil in a heavy pot, add beet greens and cook until nice and wilted, serve in a bowl with plenty of salt, pepper, and lemon juice.

My original pickled beet goal was to make them in every beet color available at the farmer’s market: purple, candy-cane, and yellow.  The yellow pickled beets ended up looking a bit like pineapple, especially because of the stray whole black peppercorns floating in the brine (although, to be quite clear, they are not anywhere near as sweet).  I have yet to complete phases two and three (purple and candy-cane), but since I happen to have planted beets of exactly those two colors in my garden, it’s only a matter of time before my evil plan prevails.

Pickled Beets (from Canning for a New Generation)
(Makes about 5 pints of pickles)
3 pounds of beets, scrubbed
4 cups cider vinegar (5% acidity)
1/4 cup honey
2 teaspoons salt
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice (or 1 tablespoon whole allspice)
1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

See the detailed instructions for canning dilly beans.

To make the pickles:  Boil the beets in a pot of water for about 20-30 minutes or until tender when poked with a fork.  Put the beets in cold water and pull off the skins, trimming away any weird parts.  Quarter the beets, slice them into pieces 1/4 inch thick, and set aside.  In a large pot, mix the other ingredients with 1 1/2 cups water and bring to a boil on high heat.  As soon as the brine reaches a boil, add the sliced beets and bring the brine + beets to a simmer.

To can the pickles:  As soon as the brine + beets mixture reaches a simmer, take the mixture off the heat and fill the canning jars: first use a slotted spoon to put the beets in the jars and then ladle the hot brine over the beets to cover, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace at the top of the jar.  Process the filled pint jars in a hot water bath for 30 minutes.

Dilly Beans (Pickled Green Beans)

It was my unbelievable luck to come back from Thanksgiving with a whole set of canning paraphernalia, ranging from a pot the size of my stove (seriously, it could sit on four burners simultaneously, although I think it wouldn’t be the most efficient way to heat 10 gallons of water) to brand spanking-new canning jars with lids that hadn’t been adulterated by past canning catastrophes.  Oh, and perhaps most importantly, I was the owner of a new cookbook: Canning for a New Generation, by Liana Krissoff, which is chock full of just the kind of recipes I like.  First on the list: dilly beans.  If you have  never had dilly beans, I’m sorry.  That’s all I have to say.  Or maybe you aren’t very into pickled things, in which case I’m still sorry, but that leaves more for me, I guess.  Dilly beans are my second favorite pickled thing, right after homemade cucumber pickles, which I have only eaten half a dozen times (regular cucumber pickles are still good).  As it is now December, and thus not the right time to buy cucumbers at the farmer’s market, I decided to practice canning things that I could find: green beans.  I won’t lie, real canning was quite the adventure, especially the part where the instructions said to “work quickly”, which meant that once the cans of dilly beans were already processing in their water bath (pretty much the last step of the process) I realized I forgot two very important steps.  Or maybe they weren’t that important, because 4 out of 5 of my dilly bean jars sealed properly (yay!).   And that last jar?  I think I was secretly happy it didn’t seal, because now it’s in my fridge and I have dilly beans to eat.

As the canning process is rather detailed, I will defer a complete description until I am more of an expert.  However, if you are already familiar with the canning process, I hope the following instructions will suffice.  I also imagine that one could make refrigerator pickles and just skip most of the canning steps, although I would still make sure the canning jars are cleaned very well (maybe even sterilized in boiling water) and that the pickles are put in the fridge after an hour of cooling on the counter.

Special equipment:

  • 5 pint-sized glass canning jars with new sealing flat lids (the new sealing lids are very inexpensive and sold separately so you don’t have to buy new pint jars every time you can something) that have been washed in hot soapy water.
  • A very large pot to boil water in that is big enough to hold the 5 pint jars standing up without them touching the bottom and leaving an inch or more of water on top of them.
  • A small rack to put at the bottom of the very large pot to keep the pint jars from touching the bottom of the pot.
  • A set of grippers to get the pint jars out of the water bath.
  • A funnel for filling the pint jars with hot brine.
  • A medium pot big enough to boil 8 cups of liquid, and finally
  • a chunk of time to make these darn tasty things.

Dilly Beans (Pickled Green Beans)
(Makes 5 pint-sized jars of dilly beans)

To be pickled:
2 pounds green beans, washed and trimmed to 4 1/2 inches long (to fit in a pint jar)
5 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
5 sprigs fresh dill
5 dried chiles

For the pickling brine:
4 cups of cider vinegar (5% acidity)
4 cups of water
3 tablespoons of salt

1)  Boil water in the very large pot.  I did this by boiling water in every pot I own and then adding the boiling water to the very large pot.  No joke, boiling the water is the longest step, so leave plenty of time for it, perhaps as long as 45 minutes.  For proper canning, put the glass jars in the very large pot to get them ready.  Put the sealing flat lids in a heat-proof bowl.

2)  Trim the green beans and prepare the other ingredients (garlic, dill, and dried pepper) by setting them out in groups of what you need per pint jar.  The step where you stuff everything into the jars is a bit stressful, because you should do it as quickly as possible, but don’t panic, like me, and forget to do every step.

3) Once the very large pot of water is boiling, combine the ingredients for the brine (apple cider vinegar, water, and salt) in the medium pot and bring to a boil.  As soon as the brine is at a boil, take it off the heat.

4) Get the pint jars out of the very large pot of water with the grippers and set them on a clean towel, pouring the water inside them back into the pot (that’s precious water that took a lot of time to heat up!).  Take the water from inside the first pint jar and pour it into the heat-proof bowl of the flat sealing lids.  Make sure the lids aren’t right on top of each other, since this step is meant to soften the sealing ring around each lid so that the jars seal properly.  After emptying out the last pint jar, drain the water off of the sealing lids.

5)  This is the step where you’re supposed to hurry to do the following things:

  • Put one garlic clove, fresh dill sprig, and one dried chile in each jar.
  • Pack the green beans into the jars carefully so that they are standing up.  I tried not to pack them too tightly, but you don’t have to leave room around every bean.
  • Pour the brine into the jars using the funnel, leaving 1/2 inch of room at the top of each jar.
  • Use a knife or other pointy instrument to pop any large bubbles around the top of the brine.  This is one of two steps I forgot to do and most of my jars still sealed properly.
  • Wipe the rims of the jars with a dry towel so that the sealing lids will stick properly.  I forgot to do this too, but since I used a funnel, the rims weren’t too messy.
  • Put the sealing flat lids on the jars and then put the ring lids on, but tighten them only “finger tight”.  You want some of the air to get out when you process the jars in boiling water in the next step.
  • Using the grippers, lower each pint jar back into the very large pot of boiling water (that’s right!  Keep that pot boiling!) to process, making sure that the jars aren’t touching each other.  Once the very large pot of water has returned to a boil (mine never stopped boiling, it was so full), set the timer for 10 minutes.

6)  After 10 minutes, use the grippers to remove the pint jars and set them on a clean towel to cool and to be left, undisturbed, for 12 hours.  After 1 hour, check to see if the pint jars have sealed.  The most simple way to do this is by seeing if the tiny bump on the sealing lid has gone down.  The lids often make an audible pop when that happens (and sure enough, for the four pints that sealed, I heard 4 pops).  I would double-check that they are sealed by taking off the ring lid and gently pulling up around the sealed lid (not pulling too hard, obviously).  If the sealing lid comes off, refrigerate the pickles and enjoy.

7)  Once the jars have cooled all 12 or so hours, clean the outside of the jars of any residue from them boiling in the very large pot of water for so long, making sure not to break the lid seal.  Label the flat lids with the date of pickling, just in case they actually last a year and you are forced to eat them.

You may wonder why I am interested in canning things in the first place, since I wouldn’t say I have copious amounts of time as a graduate student.  My first reason is that I find it hard to justify buying expensive, high quality pickles because they always seem like a luxury food item.  And yet, I love to eat them.  Perhaps the few dollars I save by making pickles myself won’t really make a difference, but at least (my second reason for canning things) I’ll be able to make a larger variety of pickles than I can easily buy at the store (yellow pickled beets anyone?) and hopefully have fun learning something new… we scientists really love that.

Next on the pickle docket (YES, I can finally say that exists!) are:

  • yellow and candy-cane pickled beets (ok, the purple kind too)
  • spicy carrot pickles
  • radish pickles
  • summer squash pickles
  • pickled turnips
  • good old-fashioned cucumber pickles

And, due to excellent results from a simple freezer (read: not properly canned) strawberry preserve, I am dying to make a canned strawberry preserve, eventually widening my horizons to make the lavender, lemon, and Thai herb versions.