How, indeed? Not sure. And even after making this rather elaborate cocktail, still not sure. I am, however, sure about one thing: this cocktail is DELICIOUS! And beautiful! And a little complicated. My goal in this post is to offer some thoughts on simplifying this so you’re more likely to try it. Trust me, it’ll be worth it!
To begin: simple syrup. That was easy. Next.
Back up a second: the recipe calls for micro red shiso and micro mint. And it requires liquid nitrogen. Got all that? I didn’t think so. Nor did I. Nor does your grocery store.
Let’s start with the herbs. Several recipes in The Aviary Cocktail Book call for micro herbs, and I was eager to use them. I’ve eaten these little bundles of flavor at plenty of top restaurants, but they’re not the kind of thing carried by your local Piggly Wiggly, so you need to get creative. There are some online purveyors of micro herbs, like www.gourmetsweetbotanicals.com. This seems like a pretty good option, until you get to the shipping. The order requires overnight service, and the estimate I was given was $35. For herbs. I’m committed, but that felt excessive.
So I did the next best thing: I ordered seeds from www.johnnyseeds.com! Unfortunately, I couldn’t find micro mint seeds anywhere, but later I tell you how I handled that. In the meantime, I got to growing some micro shiso, and along with that I went ahead and planted some micro cilantro, micro fennel, micro sorrel, edible marigolds, and a few types of micro basil. All of those seeds combined cost less than one order of micro shiso shipped overnight. They were pretty easy to grow, too. I used 20 row flats and some potting soil. Just sprinkled the seeds right on top of the soil and watered them in. In about two weeks I had micro herbs. It was a fun project with the kids, and now I’d got a veritable micro herb garden on the back porch!
Unfortunately, I ordered fresh finger limes from www.shanleyfarms.com at the same time I ordered the seeds . This was dumb. The finger limes would go bad before the seeds could be planted and grow into herbs. So, learn from my mistake, and order the finger limes a few days before you intend to use them. OR…learn from my solution and do what I did…freeze the finger limes! I sealed them in a vacuum bag and tossed them in the freezer. They thought out perfectly and tasted just as good as they when they were fresh. Very cool! It’s also important because these little limes are only available June through January, so you may need to plan ahead. Oh, what’ a finger lime? Glad you asked. They look like little gherkins, but when you cut them in half you can squeeze out tiny little pearls that are bursting with a bright lime-ish flavor. They make a very nice garnish and are a fun food to play with.
Alrighty then. You’ve got your shiso, your finger limes. Next: Peychaud’s Pudding. I felt this had a lot of promise, but really failed to deliver. Frankly, I found it to be a stunning waste of a $9 bottle of bitters. The recipe actually calls for 250 grams of bitters, which is more than my 5 oz bottle contained. So I halved the recipe. Even at half it produces 20 times more than you need for this recipe, and I simply don’t know how else you would use this. Not to mention, the preparation failed in my case. Let me explain…
You start by mixing water and sugar with agar agar. This is a seaweed-derived powder that acts a lot like gelatin, except it’s plant-based and extremely fast acting. Agar agar will solidify a liquid into a gel in a matter of minutes. Once you have your basic gel made, which I achieved successfully, you blend it along with cold bitters. Presumably this should turn back into a gel, and then you blend it again and pass it through a fine mesh strainer. My imagination suggests that the final product should be the consistency of a strawberry gel condiment (the kind you can squeeze onto ice cream). But, in my case, it never turned back into a gel. It just remained a liquid. About a lifetime supply of liquid! It was probably a full cup, which is simply way more bitters than you could possibly use in a single recipe. The original recipe calls for 2 grams of agar agar. Since I halved it, I used 1 gram. I can understand that it would be difficult to scale this recipe down much more because it would be hard to measure much less than 1 gram of agar agar. But, my instinct tells me that this needed more agar agar than called for. So, if I had halfed the recipe again but used the same amount of agar agar I may have gotten a better final result. In the end mine was nothing like a pudding. I may as well have just used a few dashed of bitters. And, if you make this recipe, you may want to do just that. There’s your first simplification.
Now, onto the ginger snow. This requires liquid nitrogen. What? You ran out? Well, just pop into your local welding supply store and get some! But be sure to bring your dewar. I ordered this 3 liter dewar which I was able to get filled for about $30.
So, the method for making this snow is as follows: Juice a bunch of ginger (it required two of the biggest pieces I could find at my grocery store to get enough), then let the starch settle and pour off the juice. Mix this with strained lime juice, simple syrup and water. Strain the combined liquid and then put into a siphon canister then chill thoroughly. Charge this with three N20 cartridges. This makes a sweet ginger/lime foam. You pour some liquid nitrogen into a big stainless bowl and then squirt the foam into the liquid nitrogen and break up the resulting frozen mass with a muddler. I was a little nervous about this. I was worried that the pressurized foam would cause the liquid nitrogen to splash all over the place and cause untold damage. Didn’t happen. I would recommend wearing some protective gloves. This is very much like how they make ice cream in liquid nitrogen at those frozen nitrogen ice cream shops that have been popping up. Which got me thinking…
It was cool and fun to play with liquid nitrogen. But I’ll bet you could create a very similar product using an ice cream maker. It’s basically a sorbet, which is defined as “a dessert consisting of frozen fruit juice or flavored water and sugar.” I didn’t try this, but if you’re looking for an alternative the whole liquid nitrogen ordeal, give it a shot. I don’t think the final product will be much different, and, as you’ll see, the final product ends up melting into the cocktail after the presentation, so even if the consistency isn’t the same I think you’ll still wind up with the same drink. There’s the second simplification.
Next up, the cocktail base. This is a very simple mix of Karlsson’s Gold Vodka, water and simple syrup. Nothing to it. I was unable to find Karlsson’s Gold Vodka locally, so I had to order it online. Now, I have committed to making each of the cocktails in the book using the spirits called for in the recipe. But I must be honest with you—I think the Karlsson’s Gold Vodka (from Sweden, made from potatoes) is a really nice vodka. And I also think that Sobieski Vodka (from Poland, made from rye) is very nice. I buy Sobieski from my local liquor store for about $10. I know. I know. Cheap. But I think it’s the best vodka I’ve tried. Cost is not necessarily an indicator of quality. As I write this I am sipping Karlsson’s Gold and Sobieski, right next to each other, out of two separate cups. I don’t think one is better than the other. I think they’re both very good. And I think they would both create an equivalent final product. I would urge you comfort if you choose to not order in Karlsson’s when you make this cocktail for yourself. There, simplification number three.
Next up, lemongrass swizzles. I was not impressed by these. It’s probably a lack of skill, but my swizzles didn’t come out that nice. Maybe my stalks were too dry. I followed the directions and cut an X right above the root end, but when I bent back the pieces they snapped rather than bent. I feel like if I had done this farther up the stalk I would have had a better outcome, but I had already trimmed the stalks to the length specified. I hope you have better luck than I.
Garnishes: micro shiso, micro mint, fresno chili sliced into small discs, finger lime. We’ve discussed the shiso and the finger lime. The fresno chili is straight forward. Ahh…the micro mint. I couldn’t find any. But I did notice that regular old mint springs at the grocery store often have tiny little mint leaves at the very top. That’s what I used. I thought they were perfect. There’s simplification four.
OK, time to put it all together. Scoop a serving of the ginger snow into a glass. I used a big balloon wine glass. My ginger snow hardened after “warming up” up in the freezer overnight, so I had to beat it up with an ice pick to make it scoop-able. Now dress the snow up with a few micro red shiso leaves, micro mist leaves, fresno chili discs, and finger lime clusters. You’re supposed to squeeze a few dollops of the Peychaud’s Pudding onto the snow, but when I did that it just disappeared into the snow. But I didn’t figure it mattered because I’d still have the flavor, I was just lacking the aesthetic of having little dollops. My wife didn’t seem to mind.
Finally, you serve the cocktail base in a small carafe alongside your beautifully garnished glass of ginger snow. You pour the cocktail base into the snow and use the lemongrass to swizzle everything together. The result is that the snow begins melting immediately, which adds a ton of flavor to the cocktail. The whole thing is a complicated riff on a Moscow Mule (vodka, ginger, lime, sugar). The garnishes swim around in the pool as you sip, and I found myself thinking this would be the fifth simplification: skip (or alter) the garnishes. But as I started near the end of the drink, my sips started containing shiso and mint and finger lime and fresno chili, and, you know what? I wouldn’t change a thing. The subtle licorice flavor of the shiso and the mild spiciness of the fresno chili and the mintyness of the mint (duh) created a beautiful polyamorous marriage of flavor that became the perfect ending to this wonderful cocktail. I loved it.
I think you could really speed up the process by using some of my simplifications and this could become a cocktail you enjoy on a frequent basis. Enjoy!