Growing up in Venezuela, I remember my father kept an old and very ornate cognac bottle in the refrigerator filled with peppers, onions, and herbs suspended in a clear liquid. He would take it out on occasions and add a few drops of the liquid to one of his favorite dishes, and would brag about it as he offered it to friends that came for lunch or dinner.
Unlike the hot sauces sold commercially, or those that leave you sweating, with swollen lips and a destroyed digestive tract, Venezuelan picante (also known as ají, pronounced ah-he) focuses on adding extra flavor as it adds a bit of heat to the food. There is not one specific recipe, as with many traditional foods every family changes it to make chdp
kiyit their own, and that is where the bragging part comes into play.
In a sterilized bottle put the equivalent of a 1/2 medium onion cut into wedges, 3 slightly crushed garlic cloves, and 5-6 well washed hot peppers with the tops removed, and with slits down their sides. Do not remove the pepper seeds, that is where a lot of the heat is packed.
Using a funnel, add 1/2 tsp coarse salt, a few whole grains of black pepper, and fill the bottle 3/4 of the way up with white vinegar.
Carefully place sprigs of cilantro, chives, oregano and/or basil to the bottle making sure the plants are not all clumped in one place. These herbs not only add flavor, but also add color and texture to make the bottle more appealing when brought to the table.
Add two tablespoons of olive oil, and top it off with more white vinegar. Shake the bottle and/or turn it upside down a few times before refrigerating.
The picante can be used in as little as 3-5 days. It gains flavor and aroma, and increases in heat as time goes by. As the liquid level drops in the bottle, add more vinegar to it. I usually start a new batch only when the picante does not look appetizing any longer, however it rarely goes bad. Don’t like too hot? put less hot peppers. Like it hotter? use more peppers, or hotter varieties.
Try it and tell me how you like it.