Thursday, May 8, 2008

A Dash of Flavor: Orgeat &c.

In the flavor-alchemy of cocktails, syrups can be the principle modifier which turns an otherwise un-interesting or unbalanced beverage into a quaffable masterpiece. Particularly in basic drinks, they provide needed sweetness or additional flavor elements which are quite often the key to balancing out the sour or acidic characteristics of a libation's other ingredients. The French syrup Orgeat is certainly one of these, with its sweet almond flavor & dry whisper of orange flower complexity, it stands up admirably to other ingredients, rounding out the overall flavor of such diverse drinks as Mai-Tai’s, Fog Cutters or Japanese Cocktails. Despite its complexities, Orgeat is a fairly simple thing to make, as it's merely an emulsion of almond oils in water with a few other ingredients thrown in…

As fellow cocktail blogger
Darcy O'Neil describes, oil emulsions such as (or similar to) Orgeat have been made for centuries, even millennia, primarily because of their textural similarity to milk, yet without any of dairy's inclinations toward spoilage. Historically, the emulsion of choice was barley & water, but numerous other nuts & roots were often used. Religion further complicated matters with the observation of fasting or 'famine' days, wherein the use of animal products (particularly fats) was ostensibly forbidden. As cooking developed into an art, or at least an applied practice, in many cases the rather bland flavor of barley was supplemented by such alternatives as almonds, walnuts, tigernuts and melon seeds as available.

Early examples of this progression can be seen recorded in such historical texts as "The Closet of the Eminently-Learned Sir Kenelm Digby", made available by the wonderful folks at the Gutenberg Project (all of you cordial-makers & homebrewers out there should check out this book asap). Many of the recipes presented therein, in 1669 no less, describe the preparation of an obviously well-known emulsion of barley, with the 'pap' recipe (p.136) describing the addition of mace, nutmeg & almonds, as well the optional addition of rice, oats, or pine nuts for extra flavor. Approximately a hundred years later, the fifth edition of "The Compleat Housewife" lists a 'Fine Syrop of Almonds', while some centuries later cocktailian author Charles Barker notes the first mention of Orgeat (by name) appears on an 1817 reciept.

As Mr. O'Neil has covered the subject of ordinary Orgeat quite extensively & provided a 
wonderful recipe for the stuff, I had thought to focus on a few of the different regional variations on the standard beverage/syrup - many of which make quite the excellent addition to any number of cocktails. It bears mentioning that the first two recipes are not typically made as syrups, rather as drinks in their own right – so I’ve included my method for concocting syrups (which are more shelf-stable and versatile) from them:

Horchata de Melón
The Spanish term for Orgeat, this particular emulsion likely stems from the abundance of melon species found in the agricultural regions of Spain. A great way to use a part of the melon otherwise bound for the trash, I was introduced to this variant in Time-Life’s “
Good Cook: Beverages” book. This incredibly-useful reference was recommended to me by a certain Flighty mixologist and I now heartily recommend it to you, along with this modified recipe:

2 Cups: fresh Melon Seeds
3 Cups: Water, boiling
3/4 Cup: white Sugar
2 Teaspoons: ground Cinnamon (or other spices depending on the Melon used)

Wash the seeds (you can use any variety of melon, from honeydew to cucumber) thoroughly, then grind them fine in a food processor, shells & all. Combine the remaining ingredients in a bowl & stir well. Cover & refrigerate, stirring occasionally, for 12 hrs. Fine-strain through cheesecloth to remove all solids & bottle.
To produce a syrup for cocktails: Omit the sugar from the basic recipe and proceed as directed. Measure the strained liquid and mix in 1.25x this volume of white Sugar. Stir well to mix & bottle.  
Enjoy it in this cocktail (©):

Melón de Rosa
1 oz. white Rum (I like Brugal here)
½ oz. Grappa (Nonino or Nardini are great)
½ oz. + 1 Teaspoon: Horchata de Melón syrup
½ oz. fresh Watermelon juice
1 dash Angostura bitters
Shake well with ice & strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a spear or fan of fresh Melon.

Horchata de Mexico
A riff on the Old World Horchata(s) which often use nuts (such as Almonds or Tigernuts) exclusively, this Mexican adaptation utilizes rice & almonds as its base. I was first introduced to this delightful, if time-consuming, drink by my Oaxacan coworkers in the kitchen of my first food-service job & years later developed it into a cocktail syrup:

5 Cups: Water, boiling
1½ Cups: white Rice, raw
1 Cup: white Sugar
½ Cup: blanched Almonds
1x Canella Cinnamon stick (~3”)
½ Teaspoon: fresh Lime zest
¼ Teaspoon: Vanilla Extract (optional)
Lightly toast the Rice and Almonds in a pan over medium heat; don't allow the rice to take on too much color, but both ingredients should be fragrant. Place the toasted mixture in a food processor & pulse briefly to break the particles down slightly - don't process to a powder or your final product will be gritty. Combine mixture with remaining ingredients in a covered container & steep for 12-24 hours, stirring occasionally. Fine-strain through several layers of cheesecloth to remove all solids & bottle.
To produce a syrup for cocktails: Omit the sugar from the basic recipe and proceed as directed. Measure the strained liquid and mix in 1.25x this volume of white Sugar (or a mixture of raw and white Sugars). Stir well to mix & bottle.  
Enjoy it in this libation (©), based on the venerable Japanese Cocktail & named for one of my former co-workers:

Fausto Cocktail
2 oz. Quebranta Pisco (I like BarSol in this)
¾ oz. Horchata de Mexico syrup
¼ oz. fresh Lime juice
1 dash Peychaud’s bitters
1 dash Regan’s Orange #6 or Spiced Lemon #1 bitters
Shake with ice & strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of fresh Lime.

This thick mixture, more of a spicy paste than a syrup, hails from Northern India where it is blended with milk & ice to make a delicious cooling beverage. Both Jaggery (an Indian palm sugar) & bottled versions of this are available at most Indian/Eastern groceries, but why hunt for it when I’ve developed this recipe:

1 Cup: blanched Almonds
3 Tablespoons: fresh Watermelon seeds
2 Tablespoons: fresh Cucumber seeds
1 Tablespoon: dried Pumpkin seeds (unsalted)
1 Tablespoon: dried Sunflower seeds (unsalted)
4 Tablespoons: grated Jaggery (or substitute ½ brown Sugar + ½ white Sugar)

1 Teaspoon: ground Cardamom
½ Teaspoon: ground Galingal (or substitute ½ Ginger + ½ Mace)

¼ Teaspoon: white Pepper (optional, to taste)
2 oz. Water
¾ oz. fresh Lime juice
2½ Teaspoons: Rosewater

Combine dry ingredients in a food processor & blend until powdered. Slowly add liquid ingredients, blending to incorporate (you may need a spatula to incorporate all ingredients). When smooth, remove from processor & store in an airtight container; I find a small squeeze bottle ideal for storage & portioning.
Enjoy in this libation (©), its name (and composition) is a play on the “Japanese” Cocktail – try & figure it out:

Isodo Cocktail
1 oz. Cognac (VS or better)
1 oz. Batavia Arrack
1½ Tablespoons: Thandai
1 Teaspoon: fresh Lime juice
1 Teaspoon: fresh Lemon juice
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 dash Simple syrup (optional)
Dry shake (without ice) well to mix. Add ice & shake again, then strain into a cocktail saucer & garnish with an edible flower.

Let me know if/how you like them & what libations you can whip out which incorporate any of these syrups.


Unknown said...

Good article.

Tiare said...

Very good article! and as you said, its right up my alley..

When i`ve whipped up something from
these syrups i`ll let you know.

Tony Harion said...

There are some great ideas in this article that i just HAVE to try!


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