Thanks to the lasting influence of Good Eats, we really make a point of not trying to buy unitasker gadgets for the kitchen. Admittedly, I’m a bit more susceptible to doing this than Michael, but I usually see it as a challenge to explore other ways of using something. (On a related note, definitely watch this video of Alton Brown mocking unitaskers, even if you’ve seen it already because it’s so good.)
A perfect example of this is the iSi siphon. While I primarily use it to make creamy, foamy desserts, I’ve also made Albert Adrià’s famous sponge cake with it a few times in the summer to go with macerated strawberries. When I was poking around and looking for other ideas for applications I came across a recipe for carraway-infused whiskey from Richard Blais which completely piqued my interest, and subsequently decided to try a combination of strawberries and bourbon so we could make strawberry-bourbon juleps for a dinner party we threw a few months ago. Those came out remarkably well, and later I tried infusing strawberries with tequila and that came out OK, but my attention was drawn elsewhere and I didn’t really do much more with it.
Then, when poking around Amazon looking for an idea to put on my Christmas list, I came across iSi’s kit to help turn the siphon into a proper tool for infusions. Previously I had just used a cup to capture any liquid that escaped when venting out the gas, but this setup allowed the siphon to remain level on the counter for the process which did feel a bit more stable. It also came with a host of recipes for how to infuse not only alcohols, but also ways to make your own vinegars, bitters, and even infused olive oils even faster than I had previously realized.
Many of the infused liquors came from Dave Arnold, a bartender/mixologist at Dax and Booker, David Chang’s take on the inventive cocktail bar, as he started playing around with the idea of using a siphon for this purpose back in 2010. Since N2O adds more pressure than a CO2 charger, it forces the alcohol into the cell walls of whatever you’re flavoring with, and then depressurizing them forces them back out. Michael also noted while I was doing this the first time that essentially we were taking out a substantial amount of the naturally occurring oxygen in the canister, and then adding more only adds to that effect. (I may make him draw some diagrams about this phenomenon to better illustrate it.) A cocktail that kind of resembled a French 75 in appearance caught my eye in Dave Arnold’s recipe section while I was checking out the book initially, and so for New Year’s Eve I felt it was the perfect drink to start the evening off on a high note.
When I first made this, the only deviation from Arnold’s recipe that I made was that I did not clarify the lemon juice, a process that involves combining heated lemon juice with agar agar and then combining that with a whole lot more lemon juice to basically remove any pulp or other solids from the juice. The idea is that when you combine this with something that’s carbonated (in this case, sparkling water), the bubbles don’t cling to those bits and bobs in the juice and so the finished product looks really good. This is a fine notion to have when you’re charging $14 per drink in New York, but for the home cook, it’s not as necessary as all that. You can tell the drink is cloudy in the pictures here, but it doesn’t take away from the taste.
OK, I did make another deviation–he has you measure out all of these different peppercorn types to make a pepper bitters, but I ended up not doing that either. I did throw in the recommended amount of grains of paradise, but largely I used black peppercorns because we recently bought a bulk bag of them. I assure you, the bitters came out really well regardless.
Now we come to the final deviation: when I set about to make this again for the sake of taking a proper photo of the drink which I failed to do on New Year’s, I intended to make it as-is but the freaking Teet had two stalks of lemongrass in stock so I had to punt a bit. I liked the idea of adding a little more of a lemon kick to the drink so adding peel to the lemongrass felt like the best solution, and so I’m sticking with it here. (If you want to stick to the original recipe, just use 6 whole stalks of lemongrass with no lemon.)
One thing I really like about infusions is that they can definitely add some interesting color to the finished product, and here the lemongrass vodka turns into the palest green color. The pepper bitters, unsurprisingly, turns a dark brown but since you don’t use that much of it in the drink it doesn’t affect the final color all that much. Sparkling water finishes everything off and gives it a pleasant fizz without having quite the same oomph as a French 75, so it’s ideal for starting off a long evening of festivities.
Now that I’ve gotten my feet wet it’s only a matter of time before I start making more of these, but I have to say that next on my list is rapidly infusing olive oil because the concept sounds much more appealing than having to heat up olive oil to get the same result, and it would be a great way to dress up some otherwise less-than-amazing olive oils.
A unitasker, this tool is definitely not.
Adapted from Dave Arnold
300 ml/10.2 oz 80 proof vodka
2 stalks of lemongrass, sliced into discs
Peel of one lemon, pith removed and cut into small pieces
Rest of drink (makes one drink)
2 oz Lemon-Lemongrass Vodka
1/2 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz simple syrup
Generous dashes of Pepper Bitters (see below)
3 oz sparkling filtered water
Combine the vodka, lemon juice, simple syrup, and bitters into a shaker filled with ice; cover and shake for about 30 seconds before getting cold. Strain into a champagne flute and top with sparkling water and serve.
For the vodka: place the vodka, lemongrass, and lemon peel into the iSi Whip (.5 L/pint size) and then attach the Rapid Infusion accessories as instructed in the manual. Charge the siphon with one N2O charge, shake, and then gently vent the siphon, using a glass to capture any liquid that comes out. Charge the siphon again, then let it rest 3 minutes prior to venting (less liquid should come out this time) and then unscrew and strain the vodka into a glass jar or similar and let rest for ten minutes before using.
For the bitters: combine 25 grams of black peppercorns and 3 grams of grains of paradise into a spice grinder and gently pulse to keep the pieces coarse. Combine that with 200 ml/6.8 oz of 80-proof vodka, set up the Rapid Infusion accessories, and charge with one N2O charger. Let rest for 5 minutes before venting and then straining the bitters through a coffee filter, squeezing out as much excess liquid as possible.
(It goes without saying, but none of this was sponsored–I just really like this product a lot and use it quite frequently.)