Hot honey served with a creamy cheese

The flavor of hot honey is sweet with a spicy backbite that is incredibly pleasant when paired with something rich, like the mellow, deep flavor of roasted squash or carrots or a nice creamy cheese.

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Hot honey has always been a thing, but in the last few years it has become a more popular condiment. Epicurious even dubbed it “the new sriracha” in 2014. You can buy a jar for around $10, but it’s one of those things that’s so easy to make yourself, it doesn’t really make sense to buy.

With hot peppers finally in season, I figured I’d give it a shot. You can make hot honey with just about any kind of hot pepper, fresh or dried, and you can infuse other flavors as well to create your own unique take on it. The flavor is sweet with a spicy backbite that is incredibly pleasant when paired with something rich, like the mellow, deep flavor of roasted squash or carrots or a nice creamy cheese.

I went to the North Adams Farmers Market to pick up honey and hot peppers, but this was earlier in July, and I only found honey, a lovely raw wildflower honey from Fahey Family Farms, which operates more than 300 hives located on different farms in the Pownal, Vt., area.

While I was there, a farmer friend I know asked me “why would you ruin honey?!” I understand this purist point of view, and I suppose I could have used the generic honey at the grocery store, but I wanted some Berkshire terroir. Wildflower honey has the floral undertones of its place of origin, and I thought that slightly fruity flavor would go well with some fire.

Bottle of honey and hot peppers

Locally sourced honey, such as this honey from Fahey Family Farms in Pownal, Vt., will carry the taste of its place of origin. 

I had to wait a little longer for peppers. I grew one nondescript, maybe jalapeno in my own raised bed garden, and got another hot pepper from my CSA at Many Forks Farm in Clarksburg. I also added some peppercorns from my cabinets to build in one more layer of flavor. I ended up with a complex condiment that was well worth the 15 or 20 minutes of work.

The secret to hot honey is low heat. I perused many other hot honey recipes before working this one out, and several I read feature reader comments reporting crystallized, hardened honey that can’t be drizzled. One recipe, from a very famous and established food magazine that had a major fall from grace last year, directed its readers to cook honey on medium heat for 15 minutes, which basically ensures you’ll end up with something very solid and hard to clean out of your pot.

If you cook your honey too long or at too high heat, too much moisture will evaporate and the glucose in the honey will separate from that moisture, leaving a hardened mess that isn’t useful as a condiment. The trick is to warm it slowly and softly, then take it off the burner to cool as the peppers finish doing their thing. A little apple cider vinegar stirred in at the end will ensure your honey stays liquid, and will add some acidity, another nice flavor note.

Try hot honey on top of fried chicken or shrimp, over a bowl of vanilla ice cream, on roasted vegetables, in salad dressings, or, like I did with my hot honey snack test run, on crackers with brie. It’s also great drizzled over pizza. Use your imagination!

HOT HONEY

Hot honey in a jar

A jar of hot honey made from local honey and hot peppers. 

INGREDIENTS:

8 to 12 ounces honey

2 to 4 hot peppers of your choice

4 to 5 whole peppercorns (optional)

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

DIRECTIONS: 

Slice peppers or cut into chunks, using gloves if your peppers are super hot. Don’t remove the seeds; you want to imbue heat into your honey, and the seeds are an important component here.

Add peppers and honey into a saucepan and warm on the stovetop using the lowest setting. Add peppercorns and let honey cook for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until you start to smell the spicy peppers releasing their capsaicin or the honey is bubbling ever so slightly. Turn heat off and let honey sit for 15 minutes more, then stir in apple cider vinegar. Let cool a few minutes longer, then strain into a glass jar and refrigerate. Your hot honey should last around three months, so use it on everything!


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