During the first few months or so of prepping for the Sidekick launch my mate Ben kept banging on about how I should make a ketchup, a spicy ketchup to be precise. We would usually meet up every now and then for a beer and end up talking in-depth about various ideas and the conversation would always seem to come back to his favourite topic.
Granted, he is a bit of a ketchup fiend, but I wasn’t easily convinced. Taking on the subtle balance between the sweet-sour-salty-savoury umami-filled wonder that is a tomato ketchup always seemed way too daunting to take on.
But I gave it a shot, and v1 wasn’t actually that disastrous, especially when my mate Mike who’s a chef approved. I then set out to make a ketchup that had a kick, obviously, but also had quite a different, intense vibe with a unique blend of spices. I settled on the 2 spices that intrigue me the most, cardamom and allspice.
I chose cardamom as I’ve always been slightly obsessed with how unbelievably good it goes with sweet things, like the various Indian desserts such as Kulfi (which I could eat by the bucket). Allspice was the other key addition to the mix and I love the way it ticks the boxes of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves in one hit.
In terms of the tomatoes I started my testing with a certain brand of Italian tomato paste, which is just deliciously sweet every time, and we still use that same brand today. The final ingredients to select were to bring the crucial sweet and sourness to the sauce: demerera sugar for its caramel flavour and Aspall white wine vinegar.
Aspall is my favourite vinegar supplier due to it being the best tasting in my opinion, British and none of their products contain any sulphites – a key requirement for our ‘no added bad guys’ promise.
After 8 test batches I settled on my recipe for a 2 litre batch which produced only about 8 bottles or so. But I was happy with the outcome and named it ‘White Hot’. It started to go down well at Hood restaurant’s brunch service in Streatham.
But, as always with food, the biggest challenge came as we scaled up the batch size. Going from 2 litres to 20 litres at a time proved to be a real headache.
The main problem, surprisingly, was the heat level. Although I had named it ‘White Hot’ it had started coming out way too damn hot! Cayenne is nice at the right levels but too much of it just seems to bring an unpleasant, pointless burn and numbs the tongue. We literally had to half the amount of cayenne in the larger batch to keep the same heat level, which seemed crazy.
Meanwhile the other challenge was texture – to achieve the best balance of flavours you need to simmer it for hours. This in turn means you need to manage the evaporation over that period to achieve just the right amount of thickness.
Our ‘Hot Tom’ spicy ketchup launched as part of range and has been a strong seller since, attracting all sorts of fans from all over.
Everybody loves a ketchup, which means everybody has an opinion which has been fascinating to hear – I’m always surprised at how opinions vary.
Thanks for reading and I hope this ketchup continue to finds a few more fans along the way!
James @ Sidekick