Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Flavor Affinities & Fusion Cocktails

 It's been exciting to see bartenders and chefs bridging the gap between the kitchen and the bar over the past few years.  I've had the opportunity to work with and learn from some great chefs throughout my career, infusing the bar with several techniques and ideas borrowed from the kitchen.  Speaking of that bar/kitchen connection, I've had a lot of fun lately using ingredients from diverse cultures to create exotic, unexpected flavors in cocktails.  

A couple of years ago, I entered one of my drinks into a competition.  That cocktail was the Andalusia, and it drew inspiration from its namesake region in Spain, in particular the flavors found in Gazpacho and Sherry.  The basic idea was "how can we use the ingredients/flavors found in Gazpacho in a delicious, savory cocktail with Sherry?"  The event was sponsored by a vodka company, so I used their cucumber flavored vodka as the base spirit.  Flavored vodka?  I know, I know.  But hey, it worked, and that particular vodka was a great way to incorporate cucumber into the drinks flavor profile.   I always wanted to tinker with that recipe--using gin as the base--and find another way to incorporate the cucumber element into the cocktail.  Last week, I had the opportunity to do so, and was very pleased with the results.

The original Andalusia called for cucumber vodka, amontillado sherry, roasted red pepper syrup, and fresh lemon juice.  Not too long ago, I had a really interesting and unique Gazpacho that worked elements of toasted sesame seed into the mix.  Traditional?  No, but it totally worked, and it got me to thinking "how can I infuse sesame seed into the Andalusia cocktail?"  I can't help but think of alcohol and cocktails when eating and enjoying certain flavor combinations!

I've had some great results using the fat washing technique with spirits.  You take something like hot bacon fat, pour it into a jar filled with a spirit (bourbon works well with bacon fat), and then you put it into the freezer for several hours.  The fat separates to the top and hardens.  You simply scoop out the fat, and strain the now bacon-washed bourbon into a new jar.  It smells and tastes like bacon, and is ready for mixing in a cocktail.  So, using a variation of the fat washing technique, I was able to infuse gin with toasted sesame seed oil.  Since toasted sesame seed gin was now my base spirit, I needed to find another place for the cucumber.  Instead of making a straight roasted red pepper syrup, I made a cucumber/roasted red pepper puree.  The results were fantastic!  A real fusion of flavors.  The cocktail is crisp, savory, and delicious!

Andalusia (Updated Version)
glass = chilled cocktail
method = shake and fine-strain
garnish = skewered cherry tomato, cucumber, cocktail onion

1.75 oz. Toasted Sesame Seed Gin*
1 oz. Cucumber/Roasted Red Pepper Puree
1 oz. Lemon Juice
just over 1/2 oz. Amontillado Sherry
Shake well with ice
Fine-strain into chilled cocktail glass with special spice mix on 1/2 the rim**
Garnish with cherry tomato, cocktail onion, and cucumber

* Toasted Sesame Seed Oil-Washed Gin
1 750ml bottle dry gin
2 ounces toasted sesame seed oil
Pour gin into a saucepan
Add the toasted sesame seed oil
Stir over very low heat for 20 minutes
Transfer into a glass jar.  Seal and store in freezer for at least 12 hours
Using a spoon, remove the hardened sesame oil from the top of the jar
Fine-strain the gin into a new glass jar, seal and refrigerate

**Special Spice Mix For Rim
black peppercorns
sea salt
smoked paprika
toasted sliced almonds
spice grinder

For the release of a new rum, I was working on a simple cocktail that highlighted the prominent vanilla flavors in the rum that came from its extended aging in ex-bourbon barrels.  I've always loved the marriage of bay leaf and vanilla:

glass = footed pilsner
method = shake and strain
garnish = bay leaf for aromatic garnish in center of drink; lime twist

2 oz. Aged Rum (aged in ex-bourbon barrels)
.25 oz.+ 1 Bar Spoon Macadamia Nut Liqueur
.5 oz. Tamarind Puree
.75 oz. Bay Leaf Syrup
1 oz. Lime Juice
Shake well with ice and strain into footed pilsner glass
Fill glass with crushed ice
Form a mound/mountain peak of crushed ice above the rim of glass
Gently dribble Angostura bitters into the crushed ice mound
Place a bay leaf in center of ice mound for aromatic garnish
Wrap a long lime twist around two thin straws and place into the ice


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