Autumn is a great time to consider preserving some of the fresh garden produce in the form of pickles, chutneys, and sauces. Today I experimented a little to create a new recipe for a hot but fruity chilli sauce. I exploited the seasonal harvest of ripe tomatoes, Bramley apples that are just ripening, and all sorts of fresh chillies, along with shallots and garlic from storage.
I am very fond of chillies; I enjoy growing them, appreciate the diversity of forms and flavours, and like to use them in a wide range of dishes. I have had it in mind for a few weeks that it would be nice to prepare some homemade chilli sauce. Whilst I enjoy some heat, I am looking more importantly for great flavour. If one ignores the raw heat of a chilli, some offer delicious fruity flavours, and it is this, rather than extreme heat, that I wanted to capture. To be sure, my chilli sauce has a good kick, and it can be made as hot as one wishes, but I do rather feel that the outrageous extremes of tongue burning tonsil frying heat that some sauces offer is the preserve of the loon.
One could make a simple chilli sauce with nothing more than chillies, sugar, water and vinegar. Other flavourings, such as ginger and garlic, make useful additions. For a more fruity sauce, though, I adopted a base of tomatoes and apples. My ‘secret ingredient’ is tamarind paste. When buying a chilli sauce, I always look for one containing tamarind. This fleshy leguminous pod adds certain fruity, sweet and sour notes to a sauce.
For the chillies, I selected a mixture of different sorts from the ‘chilli house’ – our first 10’ x 6’ glasshouse that, after the propagation rush in the spring, houses 44 chilli plants through the summer and autumn. As well as providing chillies for pickling, I grow a range for other culinary purposes, encompassing a variety of flavours and heat levels. For flavour rather than heat, I selected three mild peppers, Lombardo, Doux Long des Landes, and Pimente d’Espelette, then some ripe Padron – usually these are eaten green as a tapas pepper, when about one in ten is hot, but when ripe they all have a gentle heat but great flavour – then Cayenne and Bulgarian Carrot for heat. The latter can develop the same sort of heat as a Scotch Bonnet or Habanero, around 300,000 on the Scoville scale, so some care is needed with these. I remove the seeds and membrane from the chillies, as the membrane in particular is where much of the heat resides, preferring instead to add more chillies if more heat is needed, as these bring both flavour and heat.
I do not usually use recipes, adjusting everything according to taste, so any measures are approximate. The recipe can be scaled to produce larger volumes, but adjust the vinegar and sugar content to taste. The recipe calls for palm sugar, which is a pleasant mellow sugar, but cane sugar can also be used. The finished sauce has an interesting flavour; the first thing one observes is the fruit flavours contributed by the tomato and apple, then comes a richness and the sweet and sour notes brought by the sugar, vinegar, and tamarind, followed by a smooth and lingering warmth. It was something of an experiment, but it appears to have been a success – the sauce has good depth of flavour and a heat level that makes it useable as a condiment for fans of chilli sauce as well as for further culinary purposes.