Habanero peppers are one of the most tragically misunderstood members of the vegetable kingdom. They have a complex flavour profile, tropical notes infused with a tonne of sweetness and big hits of fruit. Sadly, almost no one ever notices these things, mostly because the little buggers are so hot they pretty much blow your head off. It’s a shame, since once you get past the heat the habanero is one of the most delicious compliments to any sort of protein. Fish, beef, pork, and chicken – especially chicken – are all brilliantly enhanced with the judicious application of the habanero.
So lets get a little bit judicious and whip up a batch of “Sweet Habanero Splash”. The tropical fruit notes are highlighted here, and the sweetness is brought to the front with the addition of agave nectar. If you like hot sauces you just might find yourself calling this your new favourite. It’s bright and sweet and complex – like a summer fiesta in a jar.
And yeah, it’s still gonna pretty much blow your head off.
This short list of ingredients makes a basic batch that will fill one jar for your fridge:
1 cup of peeled and grated sweet potato. That’s about half of an average sweet potato.
1/2 cup of chopped onion. That’s about half of an average cooking onion.
6 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
15 habanero peppers, stems removed. (see ingredient notes)
1 cup of good white wine vinegar
1 and 1/2 teaspoons of salt
1 tablespoon of agave nectar. (see ingredient notes)
Water. Your amount will vary.
INGREDIENT NOTES: When choosing your fresh habaneros, look for ones that are bright orange or orangish-red. They have the brightest and fruitiest flavour. And if you can’t find agave nectar – look in your health food store or the organic section at your supermarket – then substitute 4 teaspoons of honey. But you should really try to get the agave. It’s worth searching for.
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Put the unpeeled garlic cloves in a loose foil pouch – seal it, but don’t wrap them tightly, you want the air to circulate – and pop them in the oven for 25 minutes. While they roast you can peel and grate your sweet potato, chop your onion, and cut the stems out of your peppers.
In a pot, combine the grated sweet potato, the chopped onion, the peppers and the vinegar. Add one cup of water, stir, and bring to a full boil. Cover, turn the heat to low, and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat, stir, and let cool to almost room temperature. When the garlic is roasted, take it out of the oven, open the foil, and let the cloves cool as well.
Pour the pepper mixture into a blender. Squeeze the roasted garlic cloves out of their skins (discard the skins, of course) and add them to the blender along with the salt and the agave nectar. Blend until very smooth. At this point you can add as much water as you need to get to the thickness you want. Add it 1/4 cup at a time and blend thoroughly after each addition. Usually 1/4 cup of added water will give you something thick like Frank’s, and 3/4 of a cup or a full cup will get you to a shaker sauce like Tabasco.
Now comes the dangerous part. Once you have the thickness you are looking for you need to taste it and see if there is enough salt. BE CAREFUL. I used the absolute lower end for salt in the ingredients because you can’t take it back out and the sweetness of the peppers is notoriously variable. So it’s up to you to check – you could need up to a teaspoon more. Be brave. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Put the sauce in a tightly sealed jar. In the fridge it will last for a couple of months without spoiling. If you are into canning it’s worth the time to set some up. It has an almost indefinite shelf life in vacuum sealed jars because of the vinegar.
Finally, you will notice that this recipe leaves you with half of your potato and half of your onion unused. Why didn’t I just double everything else to use them up? Mostly because these amounts make about as much as a normal person would use in the month or two it stays good in the fridge. If you are really uptight about the leftovers, you can double or quadruple the recipe – the ratios stay the same. This makes it easy to brew a huge batch if you have pals over for some barbeque so you can give them each a small jar as a take-home.