Food in Cuba’s western provinces, like Spanish food, is well seasoned but almost never hot and spicy. Cachuchas, the hottest chiles found at farmers markets in Havana, resemble the fiery habaneros and Scotch bonnets popular on other Caribbean islands, but are surprisingly mild.
Don Justo, who has traveled the world as a ship’s cook, grew up in Oriente, Cuba’s easternmost province, where there is more Jamaican, Haitian, and Dominican influence in the cooking. At his small neighborhood paladar in Havana, he seasons the food to suit Havana palates, but keeps a bottle of homemade hot sauce in the pantry, to give fire eaters from the other side of the island a taste of home.
When handling hot chiles, it’s a good idea to wear rubber gloves. Though it is usually not refrigerated in the Caribbean, I prefer to store this hot sauce in the refrigerator. Either way, it will keep indefinitely.
Wash and rinse a
Place the chiles in a colander and rinse under cool running water. Drain thoroughly, and remove the stems. Place the chiles and garlic in the bottle. In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the vinegar, salt, and sugar just to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar. Using a funnel, pour the vinegar mixture into the bottle and set aside to cool thoroughly. When cool, close the bottle with a cork or other nonreactive top and store it in the refrigerator. The sauce will be ready in a few days, but will get hotter as it sits. Until the peppers lose their heat, just top up the bottle with vinegar, or even a little rum, as needed.
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