Aji Chombo (Panamanian Hot Sauce)

First, some background. Five years ago I spent five weeks in Panama. I contracted dengue fever, but that’s another story. While there, I was introduced to what became and has remained my absolutely favourite hot sauce:

I bought a case of it. What you see photographed here is my LAST BOTTLE. Needless to say, this is a tragedy. So, when I came across the Sweet Heat Challenge (this month’s challenge: a condiment!), it seemed like the perfect opportunity to stop feeling sorry for myself and rationing my Aji Chombo and instead try to duplicate it. Aji Chombo is pretty much Panama’s national condiment, particularly on the Atlantic side. It’s traditionally made with vinegar but I tried it with two kinds of vinegar and then lime juice, and felt the lime juice brought the sauce closer to how it should taste.

This hot sauce is bangin’. It is also SPICY – not for the faint of hot!

Ingredients:

Four scotch bonnet peppers

2 jalapeno peppers

1 strong tasting sweet red pepper (don’t use red bell; a fresno or pimiento would be ideal)

1 medium yellow onion

about 3/4 cup water

½ teaspoon hot dry mustard, such as Colman’s

2 to 3 teaspoons salt (I used 3 teaspoons, because I think that as a condiment this should be salty)

Juice of ½ lime

Method:

Roast peppers and onion whole in their skins under your grill (broiler) until peppers are dark and onion has started to soften and release juice, turning peppers so they are browned on all sides, and turning onion once. The onion should take about 15-20 minutes longer than the peppers.

Carefully peel and deseed the peppers. If you are unused to handling hot peppers, do this with gloves on. Remove all the hard skin and tough ends from the onion and quarter. Combine these ingredients in a small saucepan and add just enough water to cover. Boil over medium-high heat until onion is fork tender (but not mushy), and most of the water has evaporated.

Remove from heat, allow to cool to room temperature, and then purée ingredients thoroughly using an immersion blender or mini food processor. Stir in salt, dry mustard, and lime juice, and purée until smooth. Serve as an accompaniment to everything, as I do, or with scrambled eggs, or with tostones (then you’ll really be channeling Panama).

Chilis are an excellent preservative. This should keep in your refrigerator for at least four weeks if not longer. Makes about 1 cup.

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13 thoughts on “Aji Chombo (Panamanian Hot Sauce)

  1. I travelled in Central America a few years ago. Before I went I was rubbish with hot food but soon acclimatised and now love a bit of spice – particularly hot sauce. I keep meaning to make my own – this recipe looks great.

      • I was stationed in Panama while in the Navy in the late 80’s I lived near Colon on the Atlantic side. I would buy a condiment from street vendors that came in any old bottle they could find. It was a very thin yellow liquid. I’m guessing a vinegar base. It had lots of these small yellow seeds that looked like small soy beans. They would settle in the bottom of the bottle along with some other unknown ingredients. I never found it commercially produced. Young kids used to walk through our work areas and sell empanadas (5 for a buck) out of a filthy syrofoam cooler. It was a dough case with mystery meat inside. They were SO good, although by the end of the day we would pay dearly for it. Tropical climate + hot meat empanada + god knows what the meat, or where it came from = extended bathroom time. But they were irresistable! They were flavored with this condiment. It’s been 24 years since I tasted this and I simply must find out what that stuff was. If you have any idea, please let me know. I’m guessing that whatever those seeds were that were in the bottom of the bottle were the primary flavor of this concoction. Thank you for any information you may have. Eric Milford

        • Hi Eric,

          Thank you for your comment and this wonderful story. I suspect that the yellow seeds were mustard seeds, since this is a common hot sauce base in the Caribbean, but I’m going to ask some people who might know and do some investigation and see what I can find out. The other possibility is that the yellow color comes from fresh turmeric, which is also commonly used in some Caribbean hot sauces (although it is more prevalent in the West Indies). I will report back with anything I find out.

  2. Hi Susan:
    For sure Delidas is the best hot sauce in the world, now you can purchase your D’Elidas Hot Sauce online. Check the web: delidasusa.com they represent the company in USA. So it’s the same sauce.
    Regards,
    Nora

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