Highbush cranberries are a great fruit: they’re easy to harvest, bountiful when you find a good patch, and reliable, as birds seem to leave them on the tree longer than others, at least from my experience. The fruit makes a great jelly, pates de fruits, traditional cranberry sauce, colored apple sauce–they’re a great addition anywhere their red color and tart flavor would be appreciated, but there’s more to them than sugary preserves.
Lactofermented hot sauce is a good example of something different you can make with them that shows off the red color of highbush cranberries in a novel way. The flavor of the fruit, unlike something naturally sweet like a serviceberry, apple, or blueberry, say, is tart and sour—both things that are welcome in the savory world. Oh, and highbush cranberries are juiced before they’re used, so you already have a liquid ready to go, all you have to do is add some flavors, puree it, and you get a beautiful fruit-based hot sauce.
Highbush juice, habaneros, and not much else
You can throw just about anything in a jar with some hot peppers and call it hot sauce, but here I took a minimalist, rustic approach to preserve the color and character of the fresh berries. All I used was 2 fresh habanero for the big heat in a small package, as well as for the complimentary color, along with a nick of garlic and ginger. I mixed everything together, then let it do it’s thing in a jar for two weeks. Afterword I pureed it in a blender just long enough to break it up nice without breaking the pepper seeds, since seeds look nice in hot sauces, and breaking them could make it bitter.
What you get is a nice, reasonably hot sauce that you can enjoy in a larger amount than something like, Tobasco. And the aroma. Part of the reason I chose habaneros instead of something comparable like fresno peppers, cayenne, or chili powder is the floral quality they have, which is nice mingling on the nose alongside the woodsy perfume of fresh highbush cranberry juice. After fermentation the two aromas combine to be a sum greater than their parts.
Making adjustments to the basic sauce template
This basic hot sauce is just a blank slate; there’s all kinds of ways to tweak it to your taste or make it your own. Here’s a few tips.
Adjusting the salt
The nice thing about weighing ingredients for making condiments like this is that you can confidently, easily adjust different aspects of it. If you want a saltier sauce, start by adjusting the percentage of salt by 1%-2% increments. For example, the basic sauce is made with about 5% weight in grams of the total volume of mass that gets fermented, so if I wanted it saltier, I might adjust that up to 7%, or 35 grams of salt. Remember that increasing the salt content of the basic ferment will cause it to ferment a bit slower than lower amounts of salt, so it may take longer for the flavor to really develop.
Sauce too thin?
I thicken the sauce with xanthan gum here, for the minimalist quality (it’s flavorless) but also since it won’t affect the red color. But, there’s plenty of other ways to thicken the sauce if you don’t have some xanthan gum laying around.
One way to thicken the sauce is to start with a larger volume of highbush cranberry juice than the recipe calls for and reduce it down a bit, 25% of it’s volume would be a good start.
Another way to thicken the sauce is to add another ingredient or two at the beginning of the fermentation process. A handful of chopped, peeled and seeded tomato pulp would work, as would a few pieces of roasted, skinned bell pepper.
Thickening the sauce after fermentation is fine too: adding a spoonful of apple sauce or two before pureeing will add natural sweetness as well as body.
Highbush Sweet Chili Sauce
But just wait, it gets better. If sour hot sauce isn’t your thing, or just for a variation, adding sweetness was really good too. For the second batch I did, after I was pleased with the ferment I added honey, both to add some body and give it a sweet jolt. That sauce reminded me right away of the sickeningly sweet Thai chili sauce thickened with cornstarch I used to toss with vegetables in a wok back in my College cafeteria work/study program, were I was known as “Stir-Fry Guy”. As odd as may sound, the heat, funk, and sweetness here really like added funk. Try adding 1/2 teaspoons of fish sauce at a time until it tastes good. After it’s seasoned, you can mix it with glugs of toasted sesame oil it tastes good enough to spoon over a bowl of rice or steamed greens. To make the sweet chili version, I added 1 oz of honey for each 5 oz of sauce, try it in a small batch to see how much sweetness you like.
Fermented Highbush Cranberry Hot Sauce
- 1 lb 2.5-3 cups highbush cranberries
- 1 lb 2 cups water
- 25 grams roughly 1.75 T kosher salt
- 2 oz habanero two large
- 5 gram piece fresh ginger grated or minced
- 10 grams 1 large clove garlic, rough chopped
- 1-1.5 teaspoons xanthan gum depending on how thick you’d like it*
- Pulse the highbush cranberries and water with a handblender to avoid breaking the seeds. Strain the mixture, you should end up with a slightly thick, opaque coulis of fruit.
- Wearing gloves, stem and dice the habeneros into 1 inch pieces, then mix with the salt, ginger and highbush cranberry puree.
- Put in a quart mason jar or other fermenting vessel with a non-reactive lid and allow to ferment for 2 weeks, or until sour to your liking, removing the lid and burping to release carbon dioxide occasionally.
- As this sauce doesn’t include vinegar, fermenting it for the full two weaks will also improve the shelflife. After the fermentation is complete, bring the mixture back to a boil, then puree in a blender, bottle.
- Do not puree it long enough so that the seeds are pulverized (possible if you have a highspeed blender) as the seeds should still be visible, and pureeing them could impart bitterness to the sauce.
- The sauce will keep at room temperature and is shelf stable but the fridge will keep the cleanest flavor and wards off kahm yeast.
- It can be waterbath canned, or simply brought to a boil, poured into jars, the lids screwed on while piping hot and turned upside down to seal.