Atlanta-based chef Todd Richards shares his super simple recipe for a hot sauce you'll want to put on everything. 
Mom's Fried Catfish with Hot Sauce
Credit: Victor Protasio

When most people reach for a hot sauce at the dinner table, they’re usually going for the good old reliable bottled stuff—maybe Cholula, or Tabasco—not something they made themselves. In fact, many home cooks might even think that there’s some magical formula for achieving the ideal balance between spice and flavor. Well, Todd Richards, James Beard Award-nominated chef and author of Soul: A Chef’s Culinary Evolution in 150 Recipes, which came out this week, has news for you:

Making your own hot sauce at home is actually quite simple. It's all about two key ingredients: vinegar and chilies.

“Sauté the vinegar and chilies together with a little bit of onions and garlic," Richards says. “Then, let it stand for a little bit.”

This part is key: You have to let the sautéed mixture rest before you toss it all in the blender. “The longer it sits, the more intense the flavor gets,” Richards explains. “I typically let it stand for about 15 minutes.”

Once the mixture has rested, pour it into your blender. And take it slow at this point—don’t turn the blender all the way up to 10 immediately after adding your ingredients.

“It’s just like a car engine,” Richards jokes. “You can’t just turn it on and rev the engine. Turn your blender up slowly. Let it build up gradually until it’s all the way emulsified, then turn it on high. Do the exact same thing on the way down.”

Richards tends to reach for apple cider vinegar when making his hot sauce. You’ll want to use one with five percent acidity or above—anything lower than that won’t impart any flavor into the chilies.

The trickiest part of this process might just be choosing what chilies to use for your hot sauce. Richards is lucky—he grows his own chilies at home. However, he usually uses jalapenos, habaneros, or serranos, which are easy enough to find in stores.

Don’t let inexperience with spicy food discourage you from trying Richard’s hot sauce recipe. He says there are easy ways to regulate the spice level.

“You can start with regular peppers, like roasted red or green peppers,” he says. “If you take the seeds out of the jalapenos, it won’t be as hot. Little steps like that are easy to do.”