Monday, June 16, 2008

Kumquat Gastrique

It was quite some time ago that I began to hear rumblings of mixologists beginning to turn from things such as house made syrups for flavoring and beginning to experiment with other, more culinary, agents of flavor. One of the ones which I found particularly interesting was gastriques (essentially a reduction of vinegar, sugar, and fruit -- A fairly versitel sauce that tends to show up most paired with meats).

At this point you're probably thinking, as I did at first, that cocktails and vinegar are two things that very much belong on opposite sides of the room. But as I thought more about it (and read some compelling writing on the subject) the idea became less of one which made me wince in tangy pain. I began to imagine that the difference between a gastrique and citrus juice wouldn't be monumentally different. It quickly become one of the many booze related DYI projects that get put on the shelf to be promptly forgotten.

That changed when I went to the finale shindig for San Francisco cocktail week at Absinthe. One of the drinks on the menu for that evening contained a cherry gastrique. It added a really interesting, and tasty element to the drink, and I was determined to dust off the idea and see what I could come up with.

For a while there had been a rasher of kumquats rolling about Elixir (Ed and I deployed some for one of our experiments), and they were one of my childhood favorite fruits so I snagged some and took them home to serve an extended tour of duty on my kitchen stove. Generally, gastriques are made using "soft" fruits that will boil away into juice or just fruit juice -- Since I was uncertain that the kumquats would really boil away due to their tough skin, and there was no way I was going to juice kumquats, I gave the whole thing a jump start by halving the kumquats and macerating them in one and a half cups vinegar over night.

The next day I chucked the lot into a sauce pan and added in a cup of sugar. Then began the long process of reduction. I started with a low heat until the sugar was dissolved, and incorporated into the vinegar, then I cranked up the heat to get a good boil going (let me tell you, there's nothing like the smell of boiling vinegar to wake you up in the morning!). I let it reduce down until it was thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, jarred it, and tossed it in the fridge to cool down.

When thinking about how to debut it, I almost immediately thought that it might make a nice variation on the Daiquiri. I decided to use the Scarlet Ibis I recently procured as I thought its higher proof would stand a better chance against the more pronounced bite of the vinegar, and decided to omit the sugar as there was plenty in the gastrique itself. Stabbing a bit in the dark I went for two ounces of Rum to one ounce of the gastrique.

Well, it sure was tart. The gastrique actually worked well in the drink, giving it a nice bite, and playing well off the rum, but it did seem a bit much. I also wasn't really getting a lot of the kumquat. A quick tasting of the gastrique on its own revealed that I had gone too light on the kumquats. I had used them sparingly as they are a potent flavor, and I was afraid that too many might lend too much of a bitter edge to the finished product. I went for another round, and this time went for 2.5 ounces of Rum to .5 ounces of the gastrique. This result was not as good, with the gastrique just not working its magic as much.

On balance I think I have to call my first gastrique experience a bust. I definitely could have used more kumquats, and I think that equal parts vinegar to sugar (which, I believe, is generally the method) may have created a better balanced product. I still want to play around with it using Gin, and perhaps Rye, but overall it's safe to say I've got some more work ahead of me in sussing out how to really get the most out of it. Fortunately, with summer here there's a ton of great produce just calling out to me for more gastrique fun!

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