Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Finding Just the Right Mate for the Negroni

The deep red glow of a Negroni will entice you with its bittersweetness.

We received an urgent e-mail from a reader named Karina.
I was checking out your blog for a food pairing. I’m looking for types of food that would go well with a Negroni. Do you have any suggestions? We pick out a new cocktail each summer for our week at the Jersey Shore and Negroni is the winner this year (leaving in 1 week—yay).
A Negroni is an acquired taste. You either love the bittersweet bliss of Campari or despise it if the number of taste buds on your tongue are off the charts. Regardless of where you lie in the spectrum of love/hate, the Negroni has withstood the test of time and has reemerged as one of the must-have before-dinner cocktails in this new millennium (can we still say “new millennium”?). Historically ascribed to Count Camillo Negroni, who in 1919 Florence asked a bartender to exchange the club soda in his Americano for gin, the Negroni, when it comes to pairing with party food, can be a difficult child. After all, Campari always asserts itself in sometimes the smallest amounts. Here is our advice, dear Karina.
We always make our Negronis 1:1:1, sometimes on the rocks, sometimes up, sometimes with soda, sometimes with an orange twist as garnish. The one thing that holds true for all versions is that the flavor is unmistakable. You know when you’re sipping a Negroni. Because the flavor is so pronounced, you need food that will stand up to the strength of its flavors. Anything salty is a good place to start. Salumi, such as prosciutto or salami, or bacon hors d'oeuvres such as bacon-wrapped dates, would work nicely. If not, we recommend blue cheese on the thinnest wafer-like cracker. A Piedmont blue cheese, with hints of nutty sweetness to counteract its sharp, salty blueness, works ideally.

We also like making french fries, but french fries only work with a Negroni if you dip them in something salty. We make a mayonnaise with salt and dried tiny fish that we find in the local Asian market. This is a bit esoteric, but can steer you in another direction if you like salty fish such as sardines and anchovies, especially used as flavor enhancers. You can mix mayo with some anchovy paste to get the same effect. Tomato and pepper products such as ketchup and sriracha don’t enhance the Negroni that much unless you add, say, capers to the mix.

We hope this helps. We’re always experimenting with the Negroni, but really love the blue cheese with it. You can try other salty cheeses such as hunks of Romano or Parmesan, or make a cheese plate. It sounds traditional, but sometimes the less outré works best.

Up or on the rocks, the Negroni works both ways depending on your mood.

(adapted by Cocktail Buzz)

1 ounce gin (we like the light, citrusy notes in New Amsterdam for pairing)
1 ounce sweet vermouth (try Carpano Antica)
1 ounce Campari
orange twist, garnish

Stir in ice for 30 seconds. Strain into chilled glass (or a rocks-filled glass, if you prefer). Add garnish.


We just received this e-mail from Karina and her husband Norman:
Here’s a picture of our Negroni paired with delicious salty blue cheese, on an Adirondack chair at the beach! Thanks for the helpful advice.
(P.S. We used a bit less Campari than 1:1:1 because the flavor was a bit too strong, plus a little extra orange.)
Karina & Norman

What could be better than sitting on beach, watching the sun set, a Negroni in one hand, some blue cheese in the other, and the evening ahead of you.

First two photos © Steve Schul, Cocktail Buzz
Thanks to Laura Bruskin at DeVries Public Relations for turning us on to New Amsterdam.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Fresh Summer Produce Makes a Cocktail Swing: Part IV: Blueberries and The Blue Moon on Monday Cocktail

A seasonal miniseries showing you how to use farm-fresh ingredients in your cocktails.

The Blue Moon on Monday, bursting with the fresh flavors of summer blueberries and rosemary, is a perfect drink to pair with food at your summer cocktail party.

Blueberries, those North American natives that inspire summertime pies, muffins, and, for the culinarily adventurous, homemade ice cream, inspired us to make a cocktail. The Blue Moon on Monday. It abounds with fresh summertime flavors, and isn’t loaded with alcohol, so you can sip several over the course of an evening as it pairs well with many different kinds of food. Rosemary is the secret ingredient. Just get some fresh from the farmers market, or clip some from your garden, and you’re ready to start muddling it with some fresh blueberries in a little crème de cassis. Add some moonshine, Carpano Antica vermouth, and round that out with the fresh orange taste of Combier, and a dash of Regan’s orange bitters, and you’re ready to start shaking.

Blue Moon on Monday
(created by Cocktail Buzz for Piedmont Distillers)

 2 ounces Junior Johnson’s Midnight Moon Carolina Moonshine*
1/2 ounce Carpano Antica vermouth (an Italian sweet vermouth)
1/2 ounce Combier orange liqueur (a clean, orange liqueur)
1 teaspoon crème de cassis (black currant liqueur)
2 dashes Regan’s Orange Bitters No. 6
sprig of rosemary
12–16 blueberries**
3 plump blueberries and a sprig of rosemary, as garnish

 In a shaker, muddle a sprig of rosemary in crème de cassis, then add the 12–16 blueberries, and gently muddle. Add Midnight Moon, Carpano Antica, Combier, and bitters; fill three-quarters with ice; and shake. Double-strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with 3 blueberries speared with a rosemary sprig (or you can drop the 3 blueberries and the sprig into the drink).

* You can substitute another clear moonshine, or vodka, if this is not available in your area.
** If you’re using Maine blueberries, which are smaller and sweeter, you may want to adjust the level of crème de cassis, or eliminate it altogether.

Another cocktail we love to have with brunch or dessert is the Farrah Fawcett. With its homey tropical flavors, the Farrah Fawcett is reminiscent of coconut–banana cream pie. You can even serve some up at your summer tiki luau with spare ribs dripping with your favorite tangy sauce.

Although the Farrah Fawcett only uses blueberries as a garnish, they are an important element to the overall beauty of the cocktail.

And don’t forget about peaches, especially white peaches and nectarines. They’re enjoying a banner summer. Already we’ve been assaulted by the intoxicating aroma of fully ripe specimens every time we walk by them in the kitchen. If you’re looking for some recipes that’ll showcase what makes peaches so special, you can try either the Smash Daddy, a sweet peachy lowball, or a Tokyo Momo that introduces dark cherry flavors into the mix.

And if none of these ideas float your boat, or you don’t have certain ingredients on hand and need to make something intoxicating with your blueberries and peaches tonight, then by all means experiment. You are the bar chef. Muddle your fruit, add a base liquor and perhaps a liqueur or two, and give it a little taste. Make adjustments to suit your taste buds. Enjoy.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Mayahuel: Where Food and Cocktails Pair Like Magic

Winner of the 2010 Tales of the Cocktail World’s Best New Cocktail Bar.

If you are a regular reader, you know we like cocktail and food pairings. Preferably small bites, as big plates of food are usually too cumbersome to match with all the disparate flavors, alcohol level, and acid inherent in any given cocktail.

Arachnophobes need not fear the spider chandelier that presides over the East Village bar and restaurant Mayahuel, where the spirit of the Aztec goddess graces every sip and nibble. [photo from Mayahuel Web site]

Mayahuel, a bar and restaurant in Manhattan’s East Village, serves small plates that pair remarkably well with the agave-based cocktails on its extensive drink menu. The smells coming out of the kitchen are redolent with the aromas of Mexico, Oaxacan, and a single bite will confirm what your nose already knows: this isn’t your ordinary bar food. In creative chef Luis Gonzalez’s hands, bold combinations of traditional herbs, spices, and all kinds of peppers combine with new techniques and surprising, revelatory combinations of flavor, all making you want a Margarita, or something akin. Master bartender and shaman of flavor, Philip Ward, is there to help. Phil opened Mayahuel (named the Aztec goddess of the maguey plant [agave spp.]) to proclaim his passion for Mexican cuisine and the highly prized spirits tequila, mezcal, and sotol (a Chihuahuan agave spirit). The menu also boasts an array of sherry and beer cocktails, if that’s where the spirits of ancient Mexico lead you. There’s something for everyone.

Recently, we visited Phil and the gang for a simple happy-hour pairing of cocktails and small plates, in the dining room located on the second floor of Mayahuel. A huge chandelier in the guise of a techno spider hovers over the room not in a menacing, but a carnival-like way. High banquets upholstered with abraded leather adorn the corners of the room offering both style and comfort. But what’s so cool about the dining room is the skylight, underneath the spider, that allows you to peer down at the bartenders carefully crafting your just-ordered cocktail. Steve had a Kurling Cocktail made by the illustrious Katie Stipes, who, when challenged to create a cocktail with cedra, a grappa-based liqueur made from the peel of the cedro lemon, came up with this smooth beauty, balancing sweet and sour by adding three spirits (pisco, blanco tequila, mezcal), a generous pour of white vermouth, and some spicy yellow chartreuse; Paul sipped on a Nicosia, a complex, smoky blend of mezcal, Cyprus Commandaria (a dessert wine), and Amaro Lucano (a less bitter amaro that is extremely popular in Italy).

Kurling Cocktail
(created by Katie Stipes, Mayahuel)

1 ounce Barsol Pisco
1/2 ounce El Tesoro Blanco Tequila
1/2 ounce San Luis del Rio Mezcal
3/4 ounce Dolin Blanc Vermouth (white vermouth)
1/4 ounce Yellow Chartreuse
1/4 ounce Acqua di Cedro (lemon liqueur)

Stir in ice and strain into a chilled glass.

Both cocktails opened up our palates for the food we were about to receive, and we both shouted “Amen” after eating just the tortilla chips that accompanied three fresh and tantalizing salsas: one tomatoey, served warm, with a blast of chipotle (smoked jalapeños) and onions; a hot salsa verde; and one of the creamiest guacamoles ever to grace our gullets. A shrimp and black bean quesadilla fulfilled our seafood and bean craving, but the chorizo croquettes that Phil surprised us with made us realize that standard bland croquettes have no place in this cuisine. Using chorizo in this appetizer, with its strong pimentón flavor, was a revelation, one we hope to imitate at home.

Another thing to note about Mayahuel, besides its friendly staff and creative chefs, is the space itself. There’s a quiet area as you walk in that’s separated from the general din of the main bar. If you like to sit at the bar, which we love to do, you will be entertained by the men and women behind the stick making your drinks to perfection. There are several stools in various alcoves, and small tables to round out the first floor, and of course the main dining room on the second tier. Summer’s a perfect time to visit Mayahuel to nosh on some drinks and eats using fresh produce (the air conditioning will keep you cool as you decide on your second drink), but be warned: it fills up quickly. Best to go early to be guaranteed a seat.