Aviary Cocktail: Another Caucasian, Gary

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The Dude might not recognize this lovely complex drink as his favorite indulgence but the folks at Aviary, the Chicago and NYC cocktail bar, created this in his honor. It is a refined take on the White Russian and named after one of thousands of memorable Dude quotes from the Coens’ The Big Lebowski.

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The classic white Russian cocktail is vodka, coffee flavored liqueur (like Kahlua), and cream or milk. The Aviary cocktail book is a beautiful piece of work that gives us a look into what it means to take modern cocktails to the next level. Have I mentioned that it is an absolutely beautiful book? It really is and the story of how it was put together is really fascinating too. The Aviary, from the same team as the three star Alinea restaurant, treats drinks as complex dishes. The recipes employ all kinds of techniques, hydrocolloids, equipment and service pieces.

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While time consuming, this is not a difficult recipe and requires no specialized tools or ingredients (unless you consider a large ice cube mold specialized in which case you can probably use smaller ice cube molds). The four major components in the “Another Caucasian, Gary” – I do love saying that- are: large milk ice cubes, chicory syrup, rum and Galliano L’Autentico. 

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Obviously, I did not have to do much to the booze beyond buy it. I got a bottle of Appleton Estate rum, one that I am fond of actually and is usually in my bar. The Galliano on the other hand is new to me. It’s in a class of Italian liqueurs that are considered Aperitifs or Amaros. Typically one of a kind recipes whose exact ingredients are very well-guarded and ranging in alcohol content all across the board from slightly more than wine’s ABV to stronger proofs. Galliano L’Autentico is around 30% ABV and has dominant notes of vanilla and anise. It makes a lovely Old Fashioned cocktail as well used instead of the sugar in that recipe.

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Milk ice cubes make up the dairy portion of the cocktail. Why not? They look cool, dissolve slowly and change the flavor, texture and dilution of the drink making it enjoyable till the last sip. So, just pour some whole milk into large ice cube molds and freeze. That’s all.

Chicory, for those here in the US and especially in the states close to Louisiana, might best know it as an additive to the famed New Orleans coffee. It’s a root that is bitter with notes of coffee, cocoa and some funk. It is usually sold dried and coarsely ground. To make the syrup it is first toasted and mixed with sugar and water, vacuum packed and “cooked” sous vide at 90 C for an hour. I then strained it and reserved the liquid in the fridge.

Chicory Syrup

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With the syrup done and the milk ice ready, the cocktail can be easily put together. The syrup, rum and Galliano are shaken with ice and poured over the milk ice cube. It makes for a complex drink that initially is bracing and has a lot of bitter boozy tones. As the ice melts we start getting more floral and herbal flavors from the liqueur, the dairy and coffee meld more and the drink starts to echo a White Russian. I doubt The Dude would love this version, but i sure did. It’s a much better cocktail than his beloved “Caucasian”.

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Carbonated Mojito Spheres

What do I do after weeding my garden and ending up with a crap load of mint? Mojitos of course! Initially I was going to make a few regular Mojitos that would use a fraction of the mint I had. However, I had so much mint that even after drying half of it for the pantry I still had more than enough to make the carbonated Mojito spheres from Modernist Cuisine. Actually the original recipe is credited to chef Jose Anders, the wiz elBulli desciple at Minibar in Washington, DC.

The recipe relies on reverse spherification, just like the basil in the crab recipe here and the yogurt in the recent short rib post here. The sphere mix is made just like a typical Mojito with sugar, water, lots of mint, lime and rum. Into that  mixture I blended in Calcium Lactate and Xanthan gum. The Calcium Lactate will react with the Sodium Alginate in the water bath later and form the skin on the outside of the sphere. The Xanthan is there to give it some body and substance. Without the Xanthan the mixture will be too liquidy. It will not “sink” into the Alginate bath and the mouth-feel will be too watery. Chris over at eGullet.org has a very good pictorial of how to successfully “drop” the mixture into the Alginate bath to make the spheres. It is not too difficult, but it helps to see it.

To carbonate the Mojito spheres, they go into an iSi canister. After getting two charges of CO2, it sits in the fridge for a few hours. Now, to serve it, at Minibar they just put it on a spoon I believe. In Modernist Cuisine, it is pictured in a cocktail glass filled with soda water. For both taste, texture and aesthetic, I opted to serve it in a large porcelain spoon on top of a “Mojito” granita. Right, I still had a good bit of mint which I used along with lime, sugar and water to make a base (no rum). That went in the freezer in a shallow container and got scraped and fluffed every thirty minutes or so to make a nice granita. The end result overall was delicious and the texture was perfect, although I am not sure if the carbonation was worth it for me. Many of the spheres got popped during the transfer to and from the iSi canister. The ones I did serve did not seem like they where carbonated enough to justify the effort and loss. So, I am not sure I will do that part again, but sphere cocktails are very cool especially if you have guests who have never experienced this before. I would love to make maybe a Mai Tai next on a base of coconut or pineapple granita.

Banana Rum and Agar Clarification

I enjoy playing with my food a lot, so why not spend some time playing around with drinks. It’s really a pleasure to come home from work and take five minutes or so to make a proper cocktail at home. My regular indulgences include classics like the Old Fashioned, Sazerac, Negroni and a gin Martini (with 3 olives please). This Bananas Justino is a bit more involved than those drinks. The idea for the drink comes from Dave Arnold at Cooking Issues, a fantastic blog and podcast for those curious about food and cooking.

Dave uses a centrifuge to spin a blended mixture of banana, rum, vanilla beans and Pectinex SP-L. The Pectinex is an enzyme that breaks down cell walls…I think. You know those neatly “peeled” orange segments you get in a cup from the supermarket? All their peels are removed using a similar enzyme. Cooking Issues  has much more information about that here. Once the mixture is spun in a centrifuge everything gets separated by density. So you end up with a sludgy sediment of all the solids and a crystal clear liquid with all the flavor (and booze) in it. That’s a very neat trick.

Well, I have no centrifuge and have no plans of spending a paycheck or several on one of those. So, I decided to use another one of Dave’s tricks to attain a similar result. I also did not use the Pectinex. I used simple Agar clarification. In short here is what this process entails:

For 750 gr of liquid, boil 250 gr of the liquid with 1.5 gr (0.2% of total liquid weight) agar. Mix that with the remaining 500 gr of the liquid and allow it to set. Then gently whisk  the gel to break it up and dump it into a cheesecloth. Gently massage the mixture to get the clear flavored liquid out and leave the solids in the cloth. Take care not to squeeze too hard or the agar will start to seep into the clear liquid through the cloth. Since I was clarifying an alcoholic beverage, I did not want to boil it. So I used a full bottle of rum (Colombian “Ron Caldas”) and boiled the agar in about 2/3 cup of water. Obviously this is one downside to using this process as opposed to the centrifuge, but the rum was not significantly diluted as far as I can tell and tasted delicious. Another benefit to using the centrifuge is high yield (probably over 95%). My yield was less than that but still very good. I ended up with a full 750ml bottle of rum. It’s pretty cool to see how a viscous sludgy banana-rum mixture can be clarified into the clear booze in the pictures below:

The final clear rum smelled of bananas and vanilla  and tasted just as good. I used it to make two drinks so far. The first was Bananas Justino (the picture opening this post) with lime juice, coconut water ice cubes and star anise. The other (pictured above) was a classic daiquiri with lime juice and simple syrup. Both were wonderful and I still have enough booze for a lot more of them.