How to Make Homemade Ají Picante (Hot Sauce)

3 Oct

Ají Picante

Hot sauce isn’t for everyone, and it took me years until I started loading it up on my food, from sandwiches to chicken wings and more. In college we used to order chicken wings from Wings Over Amherst, where they had five levels of hot sauce, and on a couple of occasions I tried “Afterburner”, the hottest of them all. The first time I tried it my friend and I spent 20 minutes spitting in the sink and throwing water in our mouths, leaving our stomachs in shambles. This is overdoing it.

Ecuador taught me real appreciation for ají picante, or hot sauce. Mainly because after a while the food gets to be so bland and similar that you need to put something else on it to shake things up. Putting some hot sauce on rice or chicken added a kick to the meal, and with varying levels of spice, you could either use a lot or just a dab. There are different kinds as well. We’re more familiar with the liquid kind with red color in the United States. That’s basically a ground up, blended version of the solid form, but because it’s a liquid you generally use less.

Onion, tomato, cilantro, ají

The kind that I made yesterday was a solid form, allowing me to pile it on my steak while also using the juices to keep things moist. My coworker gave me some ajís from his plant at home after I told him that I loved hot sauce but couldn’t find any here. A new cooking challenge was ahead of me: to make a truly authentic hot sauce. I thought it would be pretty complex, but it was actually very easy and the only tricky part for you back home might be finding the really hot peppers which are prevalent in other parts of the world. For example, in Ecuador they use tomate de árbol, or tree tomato. This little guy can do some damage if you’re not careful, and in some cases is spicier than any other red pepper I’ve tried in the States.

Here are the ingredients I used:

  • 3 Red spicy ajís * (You should use your judgment on how spicy you want it to be. I like it a bit spicier, and this was fairly spicy, but not 5 alarm. There are also sweet ajís, which aren’t very spicy in my opinion.)
  • 1 finely diced onion
  • 1 diced tomato
  • Finely diced cilantro, aiming for the same amount of cilantro as onion used
  • 1/4 cup of fruit vinegar
  • 1/2 spoonful of lemon juice *(Use judgment, maybe a little more is better)
  • 2 spoonfuls of normal cooking oil
  • Salt


1. Finely cut and dice up your onion, tomato and cilantro. Don’t worry about using the stems from the cilantro. Once it’s all finely cut, add it to a large bowl or container where you’ll keep everything.

2. In another bowl, mash or grind the ajís. Initially the ajís are pods, which when crushed open up and release the seeds inside. More seeds make the sauce spicier. Keep your seeds together and add salt. Add the vinegar and pour this juice into the bowl with the onions, tomatoes and cilantro.

3. Lastly, add the lemon juice and cooking oil. Mix it up a bit and see if it’s too spicy/not spicy enough. If you want it to be spicier, repeat the process with the ajís to your liking. You may also wish to add more lemon juice or salt, depending on your liking.

Keep it in Tupperware

Later, keep the hot sauce fresh by keeping it in a jar or Tupperware with a top, which will let you continue to use it for a week. You can keep it fresh in the refrigerator or leave it out if you like, though I prefer to keep it in the fridge just in case.

The mix can be used to top rice, chicken, beef, sandwiches or whatever else you might need a little spice on. Likewise, you can blend this mix together to get something more liquid, though I personally feel that the taste of the fresh vegetables is more evident when it’s in solid form.



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