Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Bitters Makes it Better, part II

First off, a big apology to all for my recent lack of posting - I've had some serious computer issues & am even now attempting to restore my machine following the installation of a new hard drive. That said, here's a short one for those of you who've been leaving the site muttering, "post something already!"

Let me get this out right now: I love Orange Bitters, without which the Martini would be much reduced in my humble opinion. I thank Bacchus every time I'm behind the stick for Gary Regan's #6 and greatly enjoy the other varieties which are commercially available (including the newly-available Angostura & Fee's West Indies O.B.) as well.

I likewise enjoy the complexities of the various & sundry citrus fruits, enjoying not only their inherent flavors but the new flavors they can highlight or arouse from the other ingredients a given drink contains. The season for Honey Tangerines is just winding down here, (and in many places they are available year-round) and in addition to adding their fragrant mandarin-esque flavors to a great many cocktails, I became curious to see how a Tangerine bitters would compare to my beloved Orange...

Now, if you've been reading this blog, you've doubtlessly seen the first, rather epic, post I'd made which involved both citrus & bitters in which I waxed poetic on the role of bitters in cocktails - a feat which I shall not strain your eyes or patience further by replicating. Instead, short & sweet, I'll give you a recipe for another type of citrus bitters (which make a bloody fine Martini):

Honey Tangerine Bitters
9¼ oz. dried Honey Tangerine peel, chopped finely
1½ Teaspoons: Coriander
1½ Teaspoons: Quassia
1 Teaspoon: Cardamom, removed from pods
¼ Teaspoon: Caraway seeds
3 whole Cloves
1½ Cups: Neutral Grain Spirits
¼ Cup: JW&N Overproof Rum
¼ Cup: Plymouth Gin

1. In a small saucepan over low-medium heat, toast the Cardamom, Coriander & Caraway seeds for approximately one minute. Peel fresh Honey Tangerines, being careful to remove as much of the bitter pith as possible & dry in the low-temperature oven for approximately two hours.
2. Place the listed ingredients in a clean container. Add the alcohol, pushing the ingredients down so that they are covered by the liquid. Seal the jar & shake vigorously every day for two weeks.
3. Strain the alcohol from the dry ingredients by your preferred method (coffee filter, cheesecloth &c). Squeeze the filtered ingredients tightly to extract as much of the liquid as possible. Place the dry ingredients into a strong bowl or mortar, reserve the alcohol mixture in a clean container & seal tightly.
4. Muddle the dry ingredients with a pestle or muddler until the seeds are broken & the other ingredients are well-bruised.
5. Place the dry ingredients into a non-reactive saucepan & cover with 3 Cups of Water. Bring to a boil over a medium heat, cover & reduce the heat to simmer for about 10 minutes. Allow time to cool, covered. (about 40 minutes).
6. Place the (formerly) dry ingredients & Water mixture in a clean container, seal and leave for seven days, shaking vigorously each day.
7. Strain the Water-mixture from the dry ingredients by your preferred method (coffee filter, cheesecloth &c), discarding the dry ingredients. Add the Water-mixture to the Alcohol-mixture.
8. Allow to stand for an additional seven days, straining liquid by preferred method from any sediment.

9. Allow to stand for seven more days, straining liquid by preferred method from any sediment (there will be very little this time), then bottle & use/store/brag to your friends about what you've made.

I'll be sure to upload some pictures of these once I re-install my camera's software. Give them a try & let me know what you think. For my part I'll be sure to return to my typical posting schedule (?) now that my computer has returned to life.

On a parting note - a huge thanks to the fantastic folks at both Martin Miller's Gin and Death & Co. not only for allowing me to participate in the New York round of the Gin & Tonic competition yesterday but for putting up with the nervous mess I became behind the bar - it was an honor. Likewise, congrats to the winner(s) and other participants!


Sunday, June 8, 2008

A Touch of Franglais

There I am, minding my own business, when I get a text message from some old friends reading something like, "We're at the market, what do you know about duck?". What indeed? In the course of inquiring after the relevant details (wild/domestic, frozen/fresh) of the duck they were speculating over I learned that they had never sampled the savory stuff before...

Desolé, le canard non?! Je ne comprends pas, comment?!

After a fashion it was determined that this state of affairs could not stand - and a nice Long Island duck was summarily brought into my kitchen. Now, I suppose I can see why many people shy away from the delicious fowl - it's a touch trickier to dress & cook than your standard chicken and the occasional horror story of a smoke-filled kitchen often turns people off of the idea.

Duck is much richer in fat-content (though also in protein & iron) than most other poultry, it's true, but so long as one is careful in the preparation & cooking, le canard makes for quite the princely dish. And even though 'oven season' is quickly waning, now is the prime season (depending where you live) to purchase duck fresh. If you're terribly concerned about the fatiness of the little bird, with a little extra investigation, one can find the much-leaner wild duck (muscovy) with little trouble. But what about how to cook it? Read on, gentle reader & see moi plat du jour:

Le Canard de Miel avec Lavande et l'Estragon
4½-5 lb. Duck (Long Island)
½ Cup: fresh Orange, pith removed & coarsely chopped
6 Tablespoons: Orange Blossom Honey
3 Tablespoons: Lavender, dried
2 Tablespoons: EV Olive Oil
1½ Tablespoons: Dubonnet Rouge
2 Teaspoons: Tarragon, dried
1 Teaspoon: fresh Orange zest
½ Teaspoon: ground Mustard seed
½ Teaspoon: Sea Salt, fresh ground
½ Teaspoon: black Pepper, fresh ground
1. Preheat oven to 350º.
2. Clean & dress duck, being careful to remove all excess fat, giblets & wing joints. Using a skewer or fork, prick the skin of the duck between the layer of fat & the meat beneath. Season the duck inside & out with the salt & pepper (which can be adjusted to personal taste).
3. In a bowl, combine the Orange, Orange zest, 1½ Tablespoons: Lavender, ½ Tablespoon: Dubonnet, & 1 Teaspoon: Tarragon. Stir well & stuff the duck with the mixture. Seal the duck by your preferred method (skewers, truss, &c).
4. In a large skillet heat the Olive Oil on medium-high heat & saute the duck until a light golden-brown on all sides. Remove from skillet & place on a roasting pan (preferably with a resovoir for the juices).
5. In another bowl combine the Honey & Mustard with the remaining Lavender, Tarragon & Dubonnet, adding 2 Teaspoons of the Oil & rendered fat from the skillet. Whisk with a fork & brush the duck with approximately half of the total mixture.
6. Place the treated duck in the oven & bake for 35-40 minutes. Brush duck with remaining Honey & spice mixture and bake for another 20-25 minutes. When a skewer inserted into the duck's thigh yields clear juices (or when a meat thermometer reads poultry/duck) the bird is done.
7. Remove from the oven & allow to rest for ten minutes in a warm place before carving. Reserve the liquid & orange from the duck for use as a condiment & enjoy.

As this delightful, if unplanned, exercise in hospitality occured fairly late in the evening (& in a very hot kitchen), we didn't bother with any additional courses, but all agreed that the duck would be well-accompanied by (decadent, I admit) potatoes a'la duchess whipped with the addition of some garlic, sage & shaved gruyere. For a lighter alternative, perhaps a fresh salad or some fresh steamed green beans almandine?

Finally, while a glass or three of Pinot Noir would be de riguer for such a dish I sadly haven't a drop on hand, so we enjoyed it with a spot of cold Boddington's Pub ale, whose clean flavor complimented the rich poultry quite nicely. Danielle, who does not enjoy the subtlties of beer, indulged in a mild cocktail made a'la minute to highlight the various semi-sweet flavors of dinner:

Jasmine a'la Minute
1 oz. Dubonnet Rouge
1 Teaspoon: French Vermouth
1½ oz. strong Jasmine tea, chilled
1 oz. fresh Orange juice
2 dashes: Regan's Orange bitters #6
1 Teaspoon: Orange Blossom Honey
Combine ingredients & shake well with ice. Strain into a glass & garnish with a wedge of fresh orange.

Cheers & Enjoy!

As a semi-addendum: serious congratulations to Mr. David Wondrich for his shiny new James Beard Award! Similar, and equally serious, congrats to Mr. Dale DeGroff for his nomination for a J.B. Award, as well as to Mr. Fritz Maytag for his Lifetime Achievement Award! Keep the dream alive guys - we're with you all the way!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Flirting with Flora: Martin Miller's G&T Competition

I was recently made aware of a shiny new cocktail competition, this one being organized by Martin Miller's Gin - a company whose well-traveled product is "born of love, obsession and madness". The challenge? Put a creative spin on the classic Gin & Tonic of course. This nifty competition appealed to me for four reasons:

1. I love a spot of Gin & the award-winning Miller's is a pretty fine example of the spirit.
2. I'm fairly partial to G&T's and, as I've said before, I love to mess with the ingredients of the classics.
3. Anything born of "love, obsession & madness" has got my vote nailed down, as I've an over-abundance of the last two (but if you're reading this you probably already knew that).
4. A (long) shot at the prize: a trip to this year's Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, which I won't otherwise be attending for reasons of finance - pretty sad, I know - I'll get out there one of these years...

So what did yours truly bring to the table? Given my relatively-recent obsession with flora as a flavor element in cocktails, as well the fact that the (crazy) weather has settled some, I turned to my backyard for some inspiration which I found in the form of:

Honeysuckle is a flowering vine which inundates large portions of the East Coast's wooded areas from mid-spring to summer. The flowers, aside from their pleasant aroma contain tiny droplets of a delicate, subtly-sweet nectar - which I recall madly imbibing huge quantities of in the summer months of my childhood. My backyard is filled with the stuff which, due to the weather, has only just begun to fully bloom.

Tarragon is a common kitchen herb, in fact, one of the four fines herbes crucial to French cuisine (& a much-loved addition to much of my own cooking). With its pungent, anise-esque flavor it also serves as an interesting addition to certain cocktails, as the folks over at Imbibe have just reported. I had just plucked a bit from the planter & had been drying it out on the windowsill anyway, so...

To my feeble palate Martin Miller's has some nice botanical notes combined with a rich, almost silky, mouthfeel. In considering the ingredients that I spied both inside & out, I settled on a savory, almost bittersweet approach to the standard G&T. In spite of my recent tinkerings with home-made Tonic water, as inspired by Jeffery Morgenthaler's fantastic article on the subject, I wasn't sure my syrup was up to snuff, so I settled on the pretty solid-tasting Stirrings Tonic water for my entry (©):

A Midsummer Night's Tonic
2 oz. Martin Miller's Gin
1½ Tsp: Pimm's No. 1 Cup
20 fresh Honeysuckle flowers
¼ Tsp: Tarragon, freshly-dried
2 dashes: Regan's Orange bitters #6
5 oz. Stirrings Tonic water
Combine ingredients (except Tonic) in a shaker & dry-shake (without ice) for 30 seconds.
Prepare a chilled Highball glass by twisting long strips of Lemon & Lime peels into an approximation of a "vine" & crown with a pair of fresh Honeysuckle flowers. Add a few large ice cubes & fine strain the shaken mixture into the prepared glass.
Top with Tonic water, stir & serve ice cold with a smile like Puck himself...

The folks over at Martin Miller's have limited the competitions to locations in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami & Atlanta and entries are due in by June 15th. Short notice I know, but with a starting point as versatile as the Gin & Tonic, I doubt many of you clever readers will have any trouble at surpassing my little attempt, so if you're a bartender located in or around any of the locales toss up an entry. We need more quality Gin-based libations in this Vodka-soaked world after all...

Cheers & Enjoy!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Mind the Tail...

If you haven't already noticed, it's quite rare that I'm satisfied (at least completely) with a good thing. That is, if I enjoy something I eat or drink, like many of you readers I just love to mess with the flavors & combinations thereof - add something here, subtract something there.

Now, Victor Bergeron once said, "Bartending is a bunch of hokum; you add an ingredient here, change a quantity there and you've got a new drink", and this is quite the valid explanation of (part of) what we do when experimenting as mixologists. By taking a proven classic libation & changing proportions or flavors, while preserving the delicate balance of flavors between the ingredients, we can create new drinks, which are often radically different in character than the originals they're based around.

Sticking with this notion, as well as combining some recent posts of mine on flavor elements like flora & orgeat in cocktails, I'd like to stay with my man 'Vic for a moment longer. The Trader, among other exotica exponents, was rather fond of a large type of drink which was often prepared for many people to enjoy communally - not quite a punch, but always a libation which packed one. One such 'cocktail bowl' was the Scorpion - an infamous, mostly rum-based beverage named largely for the sting it possesses.

Though many recipes for exotica drinks like the Scorpion Bowl exist, having sampled several different recipes I feel the one Vic published in his 1946 Book of Food & Drink is among the best - a drink which, to quote him once more, "does not shilly-shally or mess around in getting you under way". This twenty-person recipe, for those who should like to try it unaltered, goes as follows:
1½ bottles white Puerto Rican Rum (Brugal is good here)
½ bottle white Wine (I like a Chenin Blanc here)
2 oz. Gin
2 oz. Brandy
16 oz. fresh Lemon juice
8 oz. fresh Orange juice
8 oz. Orgeat syrup
Mix ingredients thoroughly in a punch bowl & fill with cracked ice. Allow to stand for two hours & add more cracked ice. Garnish with two sprigs of fresh mint & a few gardenias.

A 'limit one' cocktail to be sure, but quite the masterful bit of chemistry: for a beverage with about 41 ounces of spirit (& another 12 ounces of Wine), one would scarcely notice - until you stand up that is. So what's wrong with the recipe as printed? Absolutely nothing. But, as I said, I couldn't resist making some changes to the ingredients - beginning with the primary modifier/sweetener.

In a previous article I waxed poetic about different regional variations on the stuff, and in my most recent I did the same on using flowers as a flavor element. Now, a key ingredient to making normal orgeat is the addition of an aromatic Orange Flower water (occasionally Rosewater) - but what about differently-flavored extracts? Turns out, I was recently given a bottle of Jasmine water; add this to the discovery of a lonely Vanilla bean in my spice rack & hey, presto - yet another Orgeat variation (©):

Vanilla-Jasmine Orgeat
1 Cup: blanched Almonds
1¾ Cups: white Sugar
1½ Cups: Water
½ Tablespoon: Jasmine water
1" piece: whole Madagascar Vanilla bean
1¼ oz. Alcolado Pisco (BarSol)
1. Soak the almonds in water for about 20 minutes. Drain & discard this water then grind the almonds fine in a food processor. Combine the almonds and the water in a clean bowl and allow to sit for two hours. Strain the mixture through a damp piece of cheesecloth, pressing to remove the liquid. Add the almonds back into the strained mixture & repeat the process two more times to extract all the almond oils.
2. Discard the almonds after the third pressing & combine the sugar and liquid in a non-reactive saucepan. Slice the vanilla bean in half and scrape the seeds from the inside. Add the whole thing to the pan & simmer on medium for fifteen minutes, stirring to incorporate the sugar, then remove from the heat.
3. Allow to cool for five minutes before whisking in the Jasmine water. When completely cool, add the Pisco (which is both a preservative & a slight aromatic element in its own right), strain out the vanilla bean husk & bottle.
Enjoy it most anywhere you would normal Orgeat (it makes a wicked Mai-Tai or Japanese cocktail), or with eight friends in a (©):

Falaknuma Bowl
13 oz. white Rum (Brugal)
4 oz. Rhum Agricole Blanc
6 oz. white Port
1½ oz. Gin (Bombay Sapphire)
1½ oz. Pisco (BarSol Alcolado)
8 oz. fresh Lemon juice
4 oz. fresh Orange juice
1 oz. fresh Lime juice
5 oz. Vanilla-Jasmine Orgeat

Combine ingredients in a punch bowl & fill with cracked ice. Allow to stand for about twenty minutes under refrigeration & top with fresh cracked ice. Garnish with edible flowers & serve with long straws. Sip.
These ingredients were chosen to highlight & enhance the aromatic qualities of the drink: the Port provides a touch more sweetness - held in check by the addition of Lime. Likewise the R(h)um, Gin & Brandy selections play off the subtleties of the Jasmine with their own interesting notes of spice & aroma. The name, incidentally, is that of a scorpion-shaped palace in Hyderabad, India - the region from whence my Jasmine water came.

On a parting note - it bears mentioning that if you'd rather not wait the full 20 minutes in preparing a drink like this one, the ingredients may be shaken with ice prior to combining them over ice, which will reduce your proper-dilution wait-time to more or less nil. Or you could do what I did - prepare it as directed, then nip out to your local quality bar (like Catherine Lombardi's, for any of you NJ-area folks) for a fantastic drink or two. Just make certain to mind the tail on your gleeful return...

Cheers & Enjoy!