Fermented Chile Sauce - Ocotillo Loco

Last year our garden produced a mountain of hot chiles, so I decided to make hot sauce. My friend Raul, a rancher in the Sierra Madre Mountains east of Hermosillo, tasted it but he did not approve because it contained vinegar, giving it a sharp taste. He told me that his mother made smooth and tasty chile sauce with no vinegar or lime juice and never refrigerated it. Now, how could that work? I wondered about it for a long time, until I read The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz (Chelsea Green, 2012) and figured out that fermentation was the secret. After some experimentation, I developed this recipe, Ocotillo Loco, for my café. People love it. Last week a Mexican citizen on tour stopped in for lunch and asked, "Where did you get that sauce? It's just like the one from my village." This recipe will give you a crazy delicious hot sauce with a smooth, full and complex flavor.
By / Photography By Gary Beverly | September 01, 2013


Put water and chiles in a bowl. Weight chiles so they are covered with water. Let soak 1 hour, until chiles are soft.

Place the chiles, soaking liquid and remaining ingredients into a blender. Blend until as smooth as possible, adding water as needed to make a pourable consistency. Don't worry about making it perfectly smooth. CAUTION: Keep blender lid covered and keep face away from blender. Do not breathe the fumes. This sounds scary but the agitated water/chile vapor can irritate your throat and make you cough. Once the mixture calms down a little there's no problem. Fermentation reduces the heat level of chiles, so the sauce will mellow as the bacteria (lactobacillus – the same bacteria that make yogurt) digest and deconstruct the hot chile molecules.

Pour the mixture into a clean gallon jar and cover with a loose lid. CAUTION: If the jar is sealed tightly pressure could build up and blow hot sauce all over your kitchen.

Place in a cool dark cabinet, at room temperature, about 70°. Label with the date and stir every day for 1–2 weeks, until fermentation activity stops and flavors mellow. After a week or so, it's good to taste the mix regularly. Start using it when you like the flavor. Blend again, if you would like a smoother sauce. Add water to adjust the consistency. Taste and adjust seasonings. I refrigerate my fermented sauces, but it is not necessary.



  • 4 cups hot water
  • 4 ounces dried chipotle peppers
  • 4 ounces dried chiles de arbol, stems removed
  • 1/2 cup peeled garlic cloves
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 whole allspice berries
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons dry oregano
  • 1 tablespoon whole cumin seed
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