The New Sriracha: Criolla Sella Sauce

Ya’ll don’t need to hear half-witted social critique from an unemployed line cook—”unemployed line cook” being roughly synonymous with exceptionally lazy motherfucker—you want to learn some cooking secrets. Some techniques, ingredients, guidelines. I’ve got those. I’m going to tell you how to save the last of those sad chilies just rotting off the bush out there.

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This here is how you can get the last of the chilies to ripen without rotting.

Criolla Sella chilies are a variety of Capsicum baccatum, which includes all those fragrant, citrusy “aji” type chilies from Peru. The Criolla Sella is about as hot as a serrano, but it smells like psychedelic lemon zest, like lemons might smell in a Dr. Seuss book. So I fermented up a batch of them and made some hot sauce, because fermentation is the way to give your hot sauce that over-dilated, faraway, stoned-out fuzziness that I like to think of as complexity.

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Sriracha, I learned somewhere this past year in following the Irwindale, CA debacle, is fermented. Then I remembered that somewhere on the Tabasco box they mention a three-year, oak barrel aging period. Indeed, the Avery Island chiles are packed in oak barrels in Avery Island salt, before aging in the McIlhenny warehouse on Avery Island, where they fill more than one million bottles per day.

Chile sauce people are idiosyncratic. I’m quirky. That’s kind of the same. So what I did was to seed and slice the tiny little Criolla Sellas, making sure to rub my eyes and my cheek at least once during the ordeal, in order to inoculate the chiles with my own personal starter culture. Then I put them in mason jar and just barely covered them with a five percent brine (about 1.7 ounces salt in a quart of water, or 50 grams per liter, if you’re of the European persuasion). After a week at room temperature they smelled pretty… high (not rank, but more delicious in that strangely alluring, fermented way) and they had a little white scum on the top of the brine. I just skimmed off as much of that as I could (not a ton, since they were in a regular mouth canning jar) and blended them, and their brine, with a little vinegar. I used about two parts white to one part apple cider vinegar. Then I strained it.

That was pretty good, but still a little one dimensional. I was looking for decadimensional. So I added a little sugar and salt. Still lean. Then I peeled a couple of carrots and single clove of garlic, put that in a little sauce pot covered with white distilled and cider vinegar, and a little sugar, and reduced that by 2/3rds or so. That gastrique, blended with the chilies, led to the start of my life as a chile sauce scion. Not quirky but idiosyncratic.

Truly, it still needs work. Better brining for a longer time, perhaps in an anoxic fermenter (with an airlock), would improve it. Also, in retrospect, there really isn’t any need to seed and slice the chiles. Still, in only two weeks, it’s been drawn down to this:

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