Find your Hot Spot

9 Recipes
A small dish filled with chile oil with a spoon next to it
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

9 recipes for hot sauce with moderate to atomic heat

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Some 4,000 types of hot chiles are used to make hot sauces around the globe, and the recipe is different in every neighborhood, sometimes in every household. In truth, making hot sauce is a rather simple endeavor and once you’ve got the basics down, you can customize it to your taste.

A good place to start when choosing what hot sauce to make is with the desired level of heat. Each type of chile produces a different level of burn based on its concentration of capsaicin (the heat-producing agent). The concentration is measured in Scoville Heat Units (SHU) and chiles are ranked on the Scoville scale (a system developed by scientist Wilbur Scoville and named for him in 1912). Bell peppers have 0 SHU and are at the bottom of the heat scale. At the top is the Carolina Reaper, which has peaked at 2.2 million SHU. To put that in perspective, the widely popular and beloved jalapeno, which is called for in basbaas (green Somali hot sauce), ranges from 2,500 to 8,000 SHU and the searingly hot habanero and Scotch bonnet chiles (used in Caribbean-style jerk sauce) range from 100,000 to 350,000 SHU.

If you want something relatively mild, look for a sauce made with Ancho, guajillo and/or California (a.k.a. Anaheim) chiles, such as salsa macha or harisa. The Fresno chiles (a.k.a. red jalapenos) used in Sriracha-style hot sauce will take the heat up a notch, though the vinegar and sugar in the recipe will tame that heat somewhat.


Zhoug made with serrano chiles takes the heat even higher but also uses acid in the form of lemon juice as well as oil, both of which curb the hotness. The brilliant-yellow aji amarillo table salsa uses oil to gently soften its sting. The even hotter burn of Tien Tsin (Chinese chiles) used in extra crunchy chili crisp is augmented by the tingling sensation and unique flavor of Sichuan peppercorns. Chili crisp adds texture to the hot sauce game with roasted soybeans and crispy fried onions and the oniony oil mitigates some of the chile’s bite.

Hunanese chopped salted chiles are all heat. No acid. No oil. No sugar. No other flavors — just the chiles and some salt. On my plate, a very little bit would go a long way. If you like it even hotter, start with the Caribbean-style jerk sauce.

All of these recipes are wonderful as is and any can also serve as a stepping-stone to making a hot sauce of your own with just the right amount of heat for you. And a bottle of homemade hot sauce makes a great holiday gift!


Basbaas (Green Somali Hot Sauce)

Intense with fresh green chiles, garlic and onion, this bright sauce is a flavorful condiment eaten with all sorts of Somali dishes.
Time 10 minutes
Yields Makes 2 cups

Extra Crunchy Chili Crisp

This homemade chili crisp recipe inspired by Lao Gan Ma Chili Crisp is the best condiment. It's savory, crunchy, oily, and spiced, but not too spicy.
Time 30 minutes
Yields Makes about 1 cup

Hunanese chopped salted chiles

Fresh red Thai chiles are mixed with salt, packed into a jar and sealed. A few weeks later, they pack an irresistible wallop of heat and salt -- a perfect condiment for congee.
Time 10 minutes
Yields Makes about 1 3/4 cups

Tacos 1986 Salsa Macha

Salsa macha combines dried chiles and garlic with olive oil, and this Tacos 1986 recipe includes sesame seeds for a nutty richness and orange juice for brightness.
Time 10 minutes
Yields Makes about 1 ½ cups

Sriracha-style hot sauce

Pick chiles for desired heat: Anaheim, jalapeno, habanero, Scotch bonnet, whatever. Add garlic, vinegar, sugar, salt. Chop, simmer, puree, strain.
Time 25 minutes
Yields Makes about 1 1/2 cups sauce

Simple aji amarillo table salsa

This vivid yellow-orange, mild to moderately hot table salsa is made from the Andean aji amarillo chile.
Time 20 minutes
Yields Makes about 1 ½ cups

The Exchange zhoug

From the Exchange restaurant in Los Angeles, a heavy dose of cardamom added to the standard cilantro, chiles and garlic gives this zhoug its unique character.
Time 15 minutes
Yields Makes about 4 cups

Caribbean jerk-style hot sauce

The flavors of Scotch bonnets or habaneros, are rounded out with fresh ginger, green onion, lime, a blend of spices and a touch of dark rum to make a sweet and fruity hot sauce.
Time 30 minutes
Yields Makes about 3 cups

Harisa (Tunisian Spicy Chile Paste)

Dried chiles are reconstituted by soaking, pounded in a mortar with garlic, caraway and coriander seeds and mixed with extra-virgin olive oil to the consistency of thick tomato paste.
Time 1 hour 15 minutes
Yields Makes 1 cup