Fresh Cherry Hot Sauce Is Spicy-Sweet and Smoky

I wanted to do a fresh version of the Cherry Bomb Hot Sauce I made last year, when cherries were out of season (it calls for bottled juice). So I’ve been waiting. But now in California, fresh, sweet cherries are at their peak. And after making Smoked Sriracha back in March, I’ve had this idea for a hot sauce that combines smoke and cherries. The rest is the splattery masterpiece you see here. It tastes like the perfect summer hot sauce to me: vibrant, really bright, a natural to enhance all the lively, fresh flavors going around right now. Mix it into Greek yogurt to make a smoked cherry dip to serve with roasted cauliflower and carrots, or spoon some onto a grilled pork chop or a plain old hot dog.

Smoked Fresh Cherry Hot Sauce
Makes just under 2 cups

1 pound fresh sweet cherries, pitted (they should weigh 14 ounces after pitting, about 2 heaped cups)
1 to 3 fresh habanero peppers (1 for mild, 2 for hot, 3 for incendiary)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup cider vinegar

Step 1: Set up a hot smoker with wood chips over medium-high heat (I wanted to use cherry wood chips but had to settle for hickory instead). Add the pitted cherries and whole habanero (or habaneros) and smoke for 12 minutes. Remove the cherries and habanero(s) and cool until they’re easy to handle, about 10 minutes.

Step 2: Cut open the habanero(s) and remove the seeds (if you open and seed them before smoking, the interior flesh absorbs too much smoke).

Step 3: Add the cherries, seeded habanero(s), salt, and vinegar to a blender. Process until very smooth (you want to get it really blended). Strain through a medium-mesh strainer three times, and that’s it. Boom, done. Bottle and store in the fridge for a couple of weeks.

Photos and styling by Chris Rochelle