I really love Sriracha so I modified this recipe from Serious Eats by omitting the salt, and using whey extracted from plain yogurt to ferment (more on this, below) to make a low sodium version. After many attempts and modifications, nothing tasted quite like Sriracha. Even the Serious Eats article concedes that their recipe doesn't quite taste like the store bought sauce. But I'm glad I tried because I ended up with a few different versions of a great, very low sodium hot sauce.
My basic recipe is red chilis (jalapeño, if you can find them, but more likely Fresno), red bell peppers, garlic, sugar, onion powder, and vinegar. From there you have a few different options. Blend all the raw ingredients for a mild, sweeter hot sauce. Roast the chilis for a deeper, smokier flavor. Ferment the chili mash for a more pungent flavor. Strain the chili mash for a smoother sauce. Use white or brown sugar depending on the type of sweetness you're after. Use white vinegar for an all-purpose hot sauce, or try rice vinegar and a little sesame oil for something more Asian-inspired. I tried them all and my favorite (so far) is the fermented version for cooking, and the roasted version for dipping. Read on for the recipe and lots of tips on how to modify it for different results.
Servings: Makes just over 1 cup Sodium: Less than 2 mg per teaspoon Time: 30 minutes for the basic version, plus a few days extra if fermenting
1/2 pound red Fresno or jalapeño peppers, seeded*
1/4 pound red bell peppers, chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1-2 teaspoons white or brown sugar*
1 teaspoon onion powder
2 tablespoons white distilled vinegar or rice vinegar*
Additional ingredients for fermenting:
2 tablespoons whey*
1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
*Notes on ingredients:
-Use gloves when cutting and handling the peppers, especially when removing seeds, and don't get your face too close to the peppers when you're cutting, toasting, or blending them because they can really irritate or burn your skin.
-Brown sugar is white sugar with molasses in it, so it has a slightly different flavor. For my basic sauce I like to use white sugar and white vinegar. Start with 1 teaspoon of sugar if you're not sure how sweet you want this to be. The flavor will vary from batch to batch depending on the chilis and bell peppers. If I'm making a more Asian-inspired sauce, I go with brown sugar and rice vinegar and will add just a touch of sesame oil before serving. If I'm fermenting the sauce, I like brown sugar and rice vinegar. Lime juice also add a really nice flavor to this sauce but it will get bitter as it sits, so only use citrus if you plan to eat all the sauce in a few days.
-I'd say this sauce is about as spicy as Sriracha. To make it spicier, add more spicy peppers and cut back on the sweet peppers, or leave some of the inner membranes and seeds in the mix. And do the opposite for a more mild sauce. I like to leave all the seeds out because they'll dilute the red color of the finished sauce, but that's purely aesthetic.
-I got the idea to use whey to ferment from this Spruce Eats article. To extract whey from yogurt, strain some plain yogurt over a fine mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth and let it sit overnight. If you scoop out your yogurt so that you create a little bit of a well, the whey will pool up and that part will be easy to filter.
1) For a basic hot sauce, combine all the Basic Ingredients and blend until smooth. Once blended, you can strain the sauce or leave it as is. I like to just leave it because it gets pretty smooth in the blender. If you strain, the sauce will be much thinner. You can either leave it thin, or heat it over low heat until it reaches your desired consistency.
For something more mild, simmer all the ingredients together in a small pot until they are soft (about 45 minutes), then cool, blend and strain. If you need more liquid to simmer, add water and then let it cook off. Apparently hot peppers get more spicy when you cook them a little bit, but if you cook them longer they start to lose some of their heat.
2) For a deeper, smokier flavor, I toast the peppers on a very hot, dry cast iron skillet. This also makes the chili peppers a little bit spicier. If you do this, make sure your peppers are really dry and add them to a very hot skillet for a few minutes until they blister. This makes my whole house smell like spicy peppers and actually irritates my kids sinuses, so be careful! Then blend the toasted peppers with the rest of the ingredients. You can see how this sauce has the little charred bits in it.
3) To make a fermented hot sauce, you can either leave the peppers raw or toast them. Then add all the remaining Basic Ingredients EXCEPT for the 2 tablespoons of vinegar (you'll add this back later after the mixture has fermented) and blend it until it is chunky, but not smooth. Instead of 2 tablespoons of vinegar, add just 1 teaspoon of white vinegar and 2 tablespoons of whey. Vinegar inhibits fermentation so I add just a little during the fermentation process.
Put the mixture in a clean jar and leave it in a cool, dark place at room temperature for 3-5 days. I'm pretty new to fermenting so I'm in no position to advise generally on fermenting, but I can tell you what works for me. I use a small mason jar and these fermentation lids, and then put the jar in a dark corner of my dining room where I don't get much natural light. Then I cover the jar with a paper bag to keep it even darker. If you don't have fermentation lids, you can just use regular lids and "burp" the jar every day--just open the lid and let some air out. If you do this, you'll hear a little "pop" every time you open the jar once the fermentation gets going. The fermentation lids just allow that gas to escape without having to burp the jar. I learned a lot about fermenting from the website Insane In The Brine, there's a lot of information about materials and fermenting generally.
Each day I check the mixture and I taste it. After the first and second day, there is usually no real difference. By day 3, I usually see little bubbles in the mixture and there's a little difference in taste. If the weather is cool, I may leave it another day or two at most. If it's warm, I'll move on to the next step, which is to add 2 tablespoons of vinegar to the mixture and blend it until it's very smooth. You can also strain and reduce the sauce, but I don't do this.
The fermented sauce is my favorite for cooking. If you eat it plain, it's got that pungent fermented flavor that can be a little bit off-putting. But when I cook with it, it really adds another dimension of flavor in the same way fish sauce or soy sauce might (both of which are fermented). I'm still experimenting with this but I think there's so much potential for adding flavor to a salt-free diet by fermenting so stay tuned!
A note on the sodium content of this sauce. Depending on the source, Fresno chilis have 4-10 mg of sodium per 45 gram serving. I use a conservative estimate and assume 10 mg, so the total sodium is 1.2 mg per teaspoon which is technically "sodium free" and much, much lower than most store bought hot sauce.
And finally, if you happen to live by Trader Joe's, they have this sodium free hot sauce that we like to stock up on. It's a little sweet and spicy, and goes great with tacos. I love tinkering in the kitchen but if you don't, this hot sauce is a great option.