Puerto Rican food is, for the most part, not spicy hot. Is it well seasoned? You bet it is. But hot-pepper hot? Not really, with the exception of pique, pronounced PEE-keh, Puerto Rico’s all-time favorite vinegar hot sauce. A small glass bottle with a shaker top sits on just about every table and every bottle is different. Everyone has their own recipe adding everything from culantro leaves to whole cloves to a generous splash of rum. I’m partial to the rum. You see, it rounds out the sweetness of the sauce, adds more spiciness to the pineapple juice and has a total love affair with the bay leaves. Pique has vinegar included in the recipe but the other ingredients play a huge part in building the flavors of the sauce. In Puerto Rico pique is splashed on roast pork, cutting the richness of the pig with its acidic command.
On the other hand, pique is sprinkled on tostones, fried green plantains, as the pineapple base coaxes the buttery, earthy flavors out of the salty plantain. It’s the kind of pepper sauce one would shake over a glistening bowl of forest green collards. Or a deep-fried, corn meal dressed snapper or mahi filet. Let me add, the hush puppies sitting next to the fish would also be given a spring shower. And you just can’t have a bowl of black-eyed peas without flavoring them up with some peppa sauce.
This spicy vinegar sauce can be used on so many dishes. Typically pique is stored in empty rum bottles, sealed tightly with a cork, however, I’ve found empty rice wine vinegar bottles repurpose beautifully due to their shaker tops. Any clear glass jar or bottle will be welcome. When my bottle of pique gets a bit low I simply pour a little cider vinegar over the peppers until they’re covered. When the sauce loses all its heat and flavor I make a new batch. If you have any pretty bottles, keep in mind this sauce makes a super hostess gift or given at Christmas time pique is a thoughtful goody with far fewer calories than a plateful of Christmas cookies. I always use disposable rubber gloves when I prepare this sauce to avoid rubbing my eyes and inadvertently burning them. I cut some peppers in half and leave some peppers whole. I use a BBQ skewer or a chop stick to pop a hole in the unsliced peppers and also to push down any garlic cloves or bay leaves which float to the top. It’s important that all the ingredients added be covered with the pique to avoid mold. Feel free to explore other additions to this terrific sauce. Your pineapple-vinegar base remains the same but try adding cilantro leaves, whole cloves, fresh lime juice, a sprig of fresh oregano or other hot peppers. Enjoy!
Pique, Puerto Rico's Hot Sauce
- 3 cups water
- peel of 1 entire pineapple plus the core, set aside the flesh for snacking, smoothies, salads or any other use
- 9 scotch bonnet peppers, remove seeds and ribs for less heat
- 6-9 jalapeno peppers, remove seeds and ribs for less heat
- 1 generous tablespoon black peppercorns
- 5-6 bay leaves
- 3-4 tablespoons golden rum
- 5 garlic cloves, some sliced and some left whole
- 2 cups apple cider vinegar
- In a large pot combine water, pineapple peel and core. Bring to a boil and cook uncovered for 20-25 minutes.
- Allow mixture to cool then transfer to a large glass jar. Cover jar with lid but do not tighten completely. Leave it loose.
- Leave the jar on your counter to ferment 2-3 days. I leave my jar outside in my courtyard. When the mixture is ready is will smell and taste tangy and fruity.
- Have your bottles or jars with lids, clean and dried. Any peppers left whole are to be pierced to allow their flavor to come out and it helps cut down the peppers floating to the top of the container.
- Into each container drop a few peppers, peppercorns, garlic cloves and bay leaves. Add any other solid flavorings such as cloves, culantro leaves, etc.
- Strain pineapple mixture, discarding peel and core, and to it add vinegar, rum and any other liquid flavoring you may be using such as fresh lime juice. Mix well.
- Pour pineapple mixture into glass containers covering solids completely. If any float to the top they can easily be pushed down with a chop stick or BBQ skewer.
- Screw on the lid of each container tightly and set the containers aside for a week for the flavors to ripen and marry.
- Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 months.