Chef Aidan Kidson found his passion for fermentation while working at the prestigious London restaurant St John. An excess delivery of chillies led him down the rabbit hole of salting, brining, pickling and experimenting with the ways that salt and time can transform simple ingredients into complex flavours.
After he had returned to Australia and found himself stuck in a COVID-19 lockdown, revisiting those experiments became a way to ground himself.
“When I wasn’t working, I was trying to do things that felt like work to stay focused, so I just kept fermenting and pickling,” he told Region.
The result? Shakewell Hot Sauce. A micro-business making small-batch, fermented hot sauce.
Aidan had noticed the growing trend for SUPER hot chilli sauces, or sauces that have a lot of other ingredients and flavours in them. He says there’s definitely a place for those products, but he found himself craving a simple, savoury hot sauce that he could pop on his eggs every morning without completely blowing his head off.
“The ones that are super hot, you’ve got [the bottle in your pantry] for like six years and you never use it because it’s too hot! You can’t even spread the dot far enough across your food because the flavours are too full on.”
The ingredients list for the Shakewell Hot Sauce is stunningly simple: chilli, water, onion, garlic, salt and time.
Time is the crucial component of fermentation. Aidan says he has to “check in” with each batch to see how the weather and other environmental factors impact the fermentation process. A mid-winter batch might take 10 weeks, while a batch made in summer might only take three. Working with what is essentially a living ingredient adds an element of unpredictability.
For each batch of hot sauce, the fermented chilli and garlic pulp is blitzed and strained with the resulting liquid becoming the hot sauce. For the latest batch, Aidan plans to cook and preserve the leftover pulp in oil – a technique called confit – with lemon peel and bay leaves. The result is a tangy, delicious condiment that’s perfect for tossing through pasta or using as a marinade.
“We were just eating it at home, and I loved it, and I thought, ‘Why am I not giving this to people as well?'”
The last few bottles of the current batch of Shakewell Hot Sauce are available for sale at Sandoochi’s city location, or you can shake a few drops over your egg and bacon roll at their EPIC farmer’s market stall. The next batch is just about ready for bottling and Aidan hopes to sell it at an upcoming Christmas market and release limited stock through his Instagram page.
“I want to keep it Canberra local. I think that’s nice. Canberra likes Canberra. We like feeling a little bit exclusive,” he said.
Aidan’s contacts in the Canberra hospitality community have supported his hot sauce passion project by allowing him to borrow space to prepare, make, and store his ferments which he acknowledges can get a bit stinky!
Aidan is currently working at Paranormal Wines while he finishes an English Literature degree and is hopeful that as he moves towards a teaching career, his hot sauce side hustle will keep him connected to cooking and his passion for food.
Keep up to date with where to find Shakewell Hot Sauce through Instagram.