Much to my mother’s dismay, I am a drinker. And to make matters worse, my preferred time to relax with cocktail in hand is at dusk, in clear-ish daylight. For those among you more respectable than I, I salute you and will account for you in today’s recipe. For my happy hour brethren, stand proud: you, too, can benefit from learning about infusions.
To make an infusion, oil or water is heated up and poured over a flavoring agent. Simple as that, and sometimes heating isn’t even necessary. The ingredient should steep for 15 minutes to 4 hours or even longer. Infusions are generally preferred to muddling or blending because the flavor permeates evenly. A good infusion isn’t heavy handed but nuanced and interesting.
Photo by dianapappas
When flavoring liquor, you needn’t heat up the alcohol. Simply pour it into a prepared seal-able container that’s holding your ingredient of choice (berry, cucumber, chili, herb, etc.) or add the flavoring agent to a bottle that’s two shots shy of full and seal. Set in a cool place and check on flavor development after a few days. For strong ingredients like horseradish or chilies, 3 days should do. For delicate fruits and herbs — think mango, melon or tarragon— a week or more may be best. To remove your flavoring agent, pour the liquid through a sieve to remove the extra ingredients and then pour it back into the bottle.
When infusing simple syrup, anything goes. Mix equal parts sugar and water together in a saucepan and heat until the sugar dissolves. Add the ingredient (ginger, vanilla or rosemary, for example), then cover and let infuse for 30 minutes to 4 hours. Strain the simple syrup and store in the fridge until ready to use.
Photo by BroomhillPictures
Some people can be scared off from flavoring oils by the fear of botulism (from introducing water to the oil). My solution is to work with dry ingredients and to store your oil in the fridge. Work with sterilized containers and strain out the ingredient after a few days. Cooks Illustrated ran a nice series on spice-infused oils with good ideas worth checking out, like cumin-infused oil.
As March 20 marked the first day of spring, I’d hoped to find a newly sprouted herb or blossom to infuse a simple syrup. But it’s still cold in Brooklyn (and upstate there’s even snow) so I took what was at hand: citrus, ginger and hot peppers. Here are the two recipes, for the lushes and the teetotalers:
Meyer Lemon Ginger Syrup
Zest and juice 2 cups worth of Meyer lemon. Whisk in 2 cups worth of sugar (add fresh grated ginger too, if you like — a peeled 2-3 inch knob should do). Set aside and let infuse for 1 hour.
Refrigerate for later use or mix with enough bubbly water to taste. In the Eatsy kitchen we mixed with twice as much water as syrup and poured it into a flat pan to freeze. We scraped it twice with a fork and served the Granita as a refreshing meal’s end.
Chili Lemon Vodka
Pour out 2-3 shots of vodka from your preferred bottle. (Do with this what you may.) Wash and dry 2-3 hot chilies and shove them in the jar. Peel two washed lemons and add the strips of zest to the vodka. Store in a cool place. Serve over ice, use in a Bloody Mary, or serve shaken with a bit of simple syrup and fresh lemon juice. Ahhhh…