How to make pepper vinegar

A cook's secret weapon

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Pepper vinegar is your secret weapon to turn any dish from everyday to exceptional. It's surprisingly versatile and can be used on greens, beans, steak, seafood and more. And making your own is super-easy to do!

What is pepper vinegar?

While it's popular in the South, people in other areas may not have used pepper vinegar. It's a condiment used to add a little tang and a hint of spice to many Southern dishes. Most frequently, you'll see it on greens (mustard, collard, turnip... even spinach), but you can put it on just about anything. While peppers are used in making it, it's actually the flavored vinegar you want. This is a quick and easy way to use up any extra peppers in your garden.

Picking peppers

The best part of homemade pepper vinegar is that you control the flavor and spice level. The biggest controlling factor is the peppers you choose. You can use any kind you want, though traditional pepper vinegar is made with green tabasco peppers. Tabasco peppers are small, thin and a bright yellowish-green color. The flavor is quite sharp and it has a biting heat that dissipates quickly once soaked in vinegar, so you'll get a burst of heat from any dish you add it to, but it won't linger and intensify with each bite the way hot sauce or cayenne pepper can.

When choosing your peppers, try to look for a smaller, thinner variety (something that will fit easily into a bottle-neck jar). If you want bigger peppers, they can always be cut up, but cutting them does make the vinegar spicier (with a more lingering heat in the case of some peppers). Get enough peppers to fill the number and size of your jars almost all the way up stuffed pretty tightly.

And make sure you wash them thoroughly! If you don't, any pesticide or other residue on the peppers will get into the vinegar you're putting on your food.

Sterilize the bottles

You can use just about any type of bottle or jar so long as it's sterilized. We like bottles with thin necks that can take a pour spout (like the ones you buy for liquor bottles) because it makes the pepper vinegar easier to use.

To sterilize the bottles, wash them in the dishwasher so they get hotter than your hands can take and you're sure all the soap was removed. Alternatively, you can boil them (if they're glass) for about two minutes, and then use tongs to move them to a safe area to cool. Do not attempt to use cold water or ice to cool them faster, as this can make them break. Make sure your lids are nonmetallic if they'll come into contact with the vinegar.

How to make pepper vinegar

Supplies:

  • Sterilized bottles or jars
  • Enough peppers to fill your bottles or jars
  • White vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt per 3 cups vinegar
  • 1 chopstick

Optional add-ins:

  • Turmeric (just a pinch)
  • 2-4 garlic cloves (whole, roasted if desired)
  • Whole peppercorns (just a handful per jar)

Directions:

  1. If desired, slit your peppers to add more flavor to the vinegar. Trim the stems.
  2. Add the peppers and any add-ins to the sterilized jars. If you're using multicolored peppers or add-ins, try to create a pretty pattern, especially if you're using them as gifts. You want the jar filled pretty well, but not so full that there's no room for vinegar. If you're using a bottle, don't let any of the ingredients go into the bottle's neck. Use the chopstick to help you stuff them down.
  3. In a saucepan over high heat, bring the vinegar and salt to a boil and let it boil for about 3 minutes. Using a cup with a spout and a funnel, slowly pour the vinegar into the peppers, making sure the ingredients are completely covered, but there's no vinegar in the neck of the bottle.
  4. Store it in a cool, dry place for at least a week before using it. For added longevity, put it in the refrigerator after the first use. When you run out of vinegar, you can reuse the peppers once or twice more (depending on how fast you go through it) by just replacing the boiled vinegar and salt mixture.

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Pepper jelly recipe
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Heather Barnett is a freelance writer and foodie whose work has been featured in blogs, websites, magazines, and TV and radio ads. She spends her free time relaxing with her soulmate, Keith; her dog, Mosby "The Fly Slayer;" and Felix the Fish. You can follow her on Twitter @HireHeather.

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