Friday, July 11, 2014

Raspberries Revisited and Renamed

In 2012, when I began the blog, one of the first shrubs that made its way on here was a raspberry number, I named Pink Flag, after the album by seminal post-punk band Wire. At the time, I thought this was a great idea, but in retrospect, it seemed like a bit of a missed opportunity.

Originally, the original raspberry shrub was supposed to have lemon verbena and black peppercorn in it, neither of which really came out in the shrub at all. As time went along, I started to have two versions of a lot of the fruit based shrubs, one that was basically just for the fruit alone, and one that was a little more experimental with different spices, herbs, or vinegars, or in some cases, a combination of any of those things.

I came to the conclusion recently that I am going to try to revisit some of the spirit of that very first shrub that didn't work out, but rather than using the very potent and unmistakeable black Tellicherry peppercorn, I will give the fruitier, more delicate pink peppercorn a shot in its stead. It seems like a no-brainer to me to reappropriate the Pink Flag moniker for this new raspberry pink peppercorn concoction.

I'll hopefully be doing that one and sharing the results soon, but that left me with a bit of a naming conundrum; what shall I name the plain raspberry one since Pink Flag is out of the running?

I have some ideas, but I would love to hear from you, the readers. Take a look at the picture of the finished shrub below and let me know what you think it should be called in the comments. I'll look at the suggestions and make a decision next week.

Extra points for interesting references and/or puns.

While we're waiting for a name, I think this is a good time to share the updated recipe for whatever this raspberry shrub will be called as it has changed a little bit from the last time I posted a recipe for it.

For Shrub:
16 oz raspberries
12-13 oz white sugar
16 oz white wine vinegar
Large, sealable non-reactive container
Muddler, blender, or immersion blender
Sealable glass bottles with non-reactive lids
Metal Mesh Strainers of decreasing fineness
Funnel, preferably a canning funnel
Large Measuring cup
Making Raspberry Shrub:
In a large, sealable non-reactive container such as a bale jar, place 16 oz raspberries. Cover with 12-13 ounces of white sugar and muddle raspberries and sugar until a thick syrup forms. Close container and place in refrigerator for 3-6 hours.
Alternatively, you may blend 16 oz of raspberries and 12-13 ounces of sugar with an immersion blender in an immersion blender safe container, or in a standard blender, pouring the sugar and raspberry mixture into your non-reactive container. Refrigerate for 3-6 hours.
After 3-6 hours have passed, open container and add vinegar. Shake or agitate vigorously until combined. Close jar and add to refrigerator once again.
Hold in refrigerator for one week, agitating occasionally.
After one week's time, remove the container from the refrigerator and place strainers over measuring cup. Carefully pour contents of the jar into the strainers, pushing on solids to express as much liquid from the mash as possible. Set aside strainers.
Place funnel in glass bottle. If using a tea strainer, place inside the funnel. Slowly pour shrub from measuring cup through tea strainer, pausing to scrape the bottom or rinse the tea strainer if the pectin causes it to become blocked.
Continue, leaving a small amount of space in the neck of the bottle and close bottle.
Place in refrigerator for one more week.
Shrub should stay good for at least a year, but likely longer when refrigerated.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Cookin' With Shrub: Enchiladas Al Pastor-ish

I've always felt that one of the hidden talents of shrub is its ability to stealthily slide out of its supposed restraints of beverage bondage. If you want to get creative, there are a lot of ways to sneak some of this fantastic drink into any number of dishes, savory and sweet alike.

I've done some minor experiments with this notion in the past, but it was always kind of a quick affair, reducing some shrub here for a glaze, or straight as a topping for ice cream or such, but I had never concocted a recipe from the ground up that wasn't adapted from somewhere else specifically.

Until now.

Don Whoa!, the pineapple shrub we've talked about before, has long haunted me with its gustatory potential. Pineapple and vinegar are both well known tenderizers of meat, with their acids and enzymes and what have you. It's probably no wonder to most people, when I say that when I start gathering a mental picture of meat and pineapple my mind immediately goes to the South of the Border favorite, tacos al pastor.

For those of you who haven't been lucky enough to try this Mexican marvel, the short version is that "Al pastor" is essentially a style in which pork is loaded up on a vertical spit device called a trompo, which is very similar to Middle Eastern schwarma. The pork, having been marinated in spices, dried chile, and pineapple, becomes juicy and tender as the gentle heat crisps the outside of this pig mountain as it turns. Pieces are shaved off with a sharp knife, and the meat with onion and other accompaniments(including pineapple pieces) are either served in tacos or a few other manners.

Delightful, no? Despite the amazingly tasty nature of a dinner involving the al Pastor style of meat management, this method posed a few problems for an apartment dwelling gent who would love to have his own trompo, but who unfortunately used up the entirety of his half of the kitchen space allotment by buying 900 different coffee devices and commandeering his very patient wife's lid drawer for spices.

There are other ways to get closer to an authentic reproduction, such as this brilliant method by the ultra-brilliant J. Kenji Alt-Lopez(one of my culinary heroes), but I didn't want to borrow a recipe and just shoehorn the shrub in. Since there was no possible way I could compete on grounds of authenticity, I decided I would have to strive to be aces in flavor to make up for it.

So I guess rather than me inaccurately calling this creation Enchiladas Al Pastor, we could think of this as an homage to its vibrantly spicy, tangy pineapple flavors; perhaps a sort of fanciful tangent if you will.

I give unto you Enchiladas Al Pastor.

Er, I mean I will...let's take a look at how we got there.

As it turns out, my first attempt to pair Don Whoa! and pork was far, far less successful. My first thought years ago was that the magical enzymatic beatdown that takes place when pineapple and/or its juice comes into contact with meat made me think that using it by itself as a marinade would a great idea. After all we have the sharp tang of vinegar, the sweetness of both pineapple and raw sugar, and the gentle citrusy heat of habaneros rounding out the package.

On paper, this sounds like a real ass-kicking roundup of flavor. As it turns out, however, the result proved to be slightly tangy, not hot, and pretty damned sweet. Decidedly not tasty.

The reality was that despite all of those elements being present in the shrub, the marinade itself was quite thin and watery, as vinegar does have a pretty sizable amount of water along with our old sharp pal, acetic acid. After thinking long and hard about the Epic Marinade Failure of '12, I finally realized a couple of the key components that a good marinade has that shrub alone is missing.

First, salt. You can season the pork all you want, but if you don't put any in the liquid it's going to be bland and lacking in a general savoriness. The other glaring hole in this equation was a medium that would carry flavor, preferably one that had some fat to better absorb the flavors.

Armed with this new way of thinking I assembled a very simple marinade involving salt, oil, our pineapple shrub, and the additions of the potent, resinous Mexican Oregano and the earthy, pungent funk of toasted cumin. In the interim, I cubed the pork shoulder and put the chunks in a bowl, finally pouring the marinade over them and sealing the bowl with a lid. It would then rest there for at least a couple of hours. 

With the pork presumably taking on some real flavor in the fridge, it was on to the big show piece of the dish, the enchilada sauce. This was going to be tricky; not only was the sauce going to go over the tortillas before their final triumph bronzing in the oven, but this was also going to be the liquid that the pork shoulder would be simmered in.

I have always heard that the basis of a good enchilada sauce was the use of whole dried chiles and spices, and who am I to argue with conventional wisdom?

One benefit of making things up as you go along is the ability to use whatever chiles you damn well please. I have seen a lot of red sauces that are very ancho heavy, but I was curious to do something different; ancho still had a solid place in my mix, but guajillos were going to be the leaders of this pack. Backing them up was a ragtag band of misfits such as Aji Mirasol, for mild heat and fruitiness, ancho for earthiness and depth, and pequin for clean, bracing heat. 

With my pepper selections complete, I halved and seeded the chiles and dry toasted each type of pepper individually over medium heat. There is a delicate balance in toasting these things; take them out too early and they haven't become aromatic or begun to tap into their full flavor, but if left too long, your final results will be bitter and acrid. You should just be able to smell the aromas before pulling them. I advise being particularly careful with tiny peppers such as the pequins as they take practically no time at all. tossed the into some warm stock so they would soak up some liquid and become soft and pliable. 

While peppers make up the bulk of the sauce, we'd be nowhere without the aid of aromatics. An onion was divided, and half of it was blistered in the pan the chiles were toasted in. This slightly caramelized the onion and gave it a little bit of that rich, smoky element that comes with that process. To balance that out, the raw half was also used along with some raw garlic cloves, and more of the cumin and Mexican oregano that we used in the marinade to echo those flavors that should have been making their way into the pork at that very moment. 

To the aforementioned items, more pineapple shrub was added for an extra bit of vinegary acidity, pineapple sweetness, and to help thin the mixture a little. This mixture was transferred to the Vita-Mix and blended into a thick paste. The mixture was strained to get rid of lumps and/or any excess seeds through a metal strainer, until the paste was about the consistency of a Kansas City BBQ sauce.

I am not sure if it was the use of pork shoulder in this dish, or the use of vinegar, but I took a page from Indian cooking and decided to stew the pork cubes much in the same manner I make vindaloo. The pork was browned in batches, and the sauce mixture was poured over the meat. After bringing the mixture to a boil, and a tight fitting lid was placed over the pot, and the heat was reduced to a simmer.

This went on for nearly an hour, and by the time I checked on it, the meat had become fork tender.

At this point, the finish line was in sight. Sarah helped me fill the tortillas and get them situated in our glass baking dish. 

After being nestled snugly together, the sauce that the pork was cooked in was then ladled over the enchiladas, and blanketed in a generous layer of shredded cheese. 

After a brief stint in the oven we were greeted with the following results:

Now I give unto you, Enchiladas Al Pastor-ish.

So after five hours of working at this, what did I learn?

First, authentic or not(in this case, clearly not), these things are damned delicious. 

The shrub, while subtle, does lend flavors of fruit, sweetness, and acidity in both the pieces of pork from the marinade and the sauce. It brings a really great sharpness that balances the rich chile sauce and keeps it from feeling too heavy. The pork shoulder falls apart when stewed in this manner, but also has a more substantial feel than shredded pork sometimes does. With a healthy dose of gooey cheese, there is not much to dislike, barring dietary or religious restrictions. 

That said, even when something is pretty great, it would be disingenuous to say there was no room for improvement, so there are a couple of small items I might consider tweaking in the future.

I might add a few more ingredients to the marinade; perhaps some garlic in there would be nice, and I am toying with the addition of a few drops of Maggi sauce or Tamari to boost the umami factor a little bit. 

In regard to the sauce, I love this blend of chiles, but I could see it as a basis to rotate in and out some different chiles, such as cascabels, or for some smoky undertones, use a little bit of Pasilla Oaxaca to anchor it, though a little goes a long way, unless you're hankering to eat a bacon-y campfire, in which case, go nuts.

I think I would also reserve some of the sauce and not use the whole amount to simmer the pork in. As it cooks the heat of the chiles dissipates a fair amount and the whole thing melds into a really deep, mellow mode that while rich in flavor, does lack some of the bite of the raw sauce. I would like to try ladling the raw sauce over the assembled enchiladas to see if it retains a little more of that bright, snappy heat when only cooked over the enchiladas.

The only other variant that I thought might be fun would be to adapt a dish that I used to enjoy at a Mexican restaurant my family went to often when I first moved to Seattle. They called it "Enchiladas Texas Style" aka "El Paso Enchiladas." I cannot say what made these enchiladas particularly aligned to that region per se, but I do know that they were stuffed with a metric ton of jalapeño and sour cream in addition to shredded chicken. 

Just do everything the same as above, but when assembling the actual enchiladas, add generous helpings of diced habanero and sour cream before baking. And if you really want, maybe some grilled pineapple if you're into that sort of thing.

From the ashes of disappointment to triumph on a plate, Enchiladas Al Pastor is a culinary comeback kid I think we can all get behind, authenticity be damned.

Enchiladas Al Pastor-ish

1.25 cup pineapple shrub
1 tbsp Mexican oregano
2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 to 1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tbsp salt

Enchilada sauce:
5 dried guajillo chiles
2 dried aji mirasol chile
1 dried ancho chile
3-4 pequin chiles
2 tsp salt
1 onion, halved
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup pineapple shrub
2 cups chicken stock
1 tbsp Mexican Oregano
2 tsp cumin, ground

3 pound pork shoulder, cubed
Flour Tortillas
Cheese, shredded

For Marinade:

If using whole cumin seeds,  place seeds in a small, dry skillet, toast whole cumin until fragrant. Let cumin cool, then grind in spice grinder. If using ground cumin, disregard this step and continue assembling marinade.

In a large immersion blender friendly container, combine oil, shrub, salt, and ground cumin. Crumble Mexican oregano between your fingers into marinade. Using an immersion blender, thoroughly blend the mixture until uniform. If you do not have an immersion blender, place all marinade ingredients into blender cup, and blend until uniform.

Trim pork shoulder of excess fat and cut into 1 to 1 1/2 inch cubes. Place cubes in a sealable container such as a bowl with a lid or zip top bag and cover with marinade. Refrigerate for 2 to 6 hours. 

For Enchilada Sauce:

Start a medium skillet over medium heat, toast each individual type of chile separately, gently turning until chiles become aromatic and removing right away and setting aside. Overly toasted chiles will give the sauce an acrid taste, so be careful not to over toast them.

Warm chicken or vegetable stock on stove or in microwave until hot, but not boiling. Gently place dried, toasted chiles in hot stock and cover for thirty minutes. 

Meanwhile, pour 1 to 2 tbsp vegetable oil in the same skillet the chiles were toasted in and turn heat up to medium high until shimmering. While waiting for oil to heat, halve an onion. When oil has gotten to temperature, place onion half in oil, watching carefully and turning frequently until browned and lightly charred. Remove onion and set aside. 

After the chiles have soaked in stock for thirty minutes, pour chiles and stock into blender with garlic, both onion halves, shrub, salt, and ground cumin. Crumble Mexican oregano into mixture. Blend until smooth. Alternatively, you may use an immersion blender on this mixture in a large immersion blender safe container.

Strain sauce mixture through a metal strainer over large measuring cup or bowl. If mixture seems exceedingly thick, add 1/4 to 1/2 cup water to thin to desired consistency. 

Sauce can be made ahead of time and should be good refrigerated for up to 72 hours.

Stewing pork:

Remove pork in marinade from refrigerator. In a large heavy bottomed pot, heat vegetable oil on medium high heat until shimmering.

Working in batches, brown pork cubes in pot until they have taken on color, and set aside. After last batch of pork has been browned, add all other browned pork cubes back into the pot and cover with enchilada sauce. Bring the mixture to a boil, the reduce to medium-low heat and cover with tight fitting lid. Simmer, stirring, very occasionally, for 45 minutes to an hour or until pork cubes are fork tender or otherwise falling apart.

Assemble enchiladas:

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees.

Spoon stewed pork chunks into tortillas, with some sauce from the stewing mixture, and add generous sprinkling of shredded cheese, careful not to overstuff enchilada. Place tortilla seam side down in 9 x 13 glass dish. Repeat process until glass dish is full of completed enchiladas. Ladle sauce from stewed pork over the enchiladas, smothering in sauce. Sprinkle generous amount of cheese over the sauced enchiladas. 

Place glass dish into oven, watching carefully until cheese has become fully melted and gooey. 

Remove dish and serve immediately.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Don Whoa! Redux

Continuing the parade of old favorites that are finally being accompanied by recipes, we have the unusual, yet delightful Don Whoa!, a shrub whose primary flavors are pineapple and habanero in which raw coconut vinegar becomes the major vinegar component.

Before I knew much about the different kinds of vinegar, I must admit that my initial assumption was that it would be a no-brainier to use coconut vinegar with pineapple. One look at that combination is enough to start a montage of piña coladas dancing through one's fevered imagination set to an obligatory Rupert Holmes soundtrack. If you go back and read my initial post on this shrub, I talk about the unexpected butterscotch notes that cropped up. While it wasn't what I envisioned, it was an exciting detour in flavor that people who have had this have really come to enjoy. 

But my guess is that you are really here for the recipe rather than a retread of the old post, so without further ado, here it is...

Well, almost. 

Taking a page from what we have learned about adjusting the heat level of you shrub when using chiles, one minor adjustment I would make when making this recipe would be to warm the raw coconut vinegar slightly and steep some halved habanero peppers in it until you have reached your desired heat level. After a few years of trial and error, it is really the best way to reach a consistent level of heat. 

Don Whoa!
12 oz raw coconut vinegar
4 oz white wine vinegar
16 oz pineapple, roughly chopped
12 oz Sugar In The Raw
1-3 habanero peppers, halved, seeded and membranes removed depending on desired heat level

Pyrex measuring cup
Large glass jar or non-reactive receptacle
Muddler, immersion blender, or Vita-Mix
Metal strainers
Funnel, preferably canning funnel
Tea strainer
Clean glass bottles

Cut peppers in half, optionally seeding and removing membranes to reduce heat level. Set aside.

Pour white wine vinegar into Pyrex measuring cup and microwave until hot but not boiling. Gently immerse hot peppers into hot vinegar and cover with lid, plate, cling wrap or other means of holding in heat. Agitate gently, and check every 15-20 minutes to see if desired spice level has been reached. Remove peppers and any seeds that may have become loosened during steeping process. Set steeped vinegar aside.

Remove top, bottom, and outer skin of pineapple, slicing into rough chunks, until there are 16 ounces of pineapple chunks. You may macerate the pineapple with 12 ounces of Sugar In The Raw by either placing pineapple and sugar in the jar you will be making shrub in and muddling or using immersion blender until a syrupy pulp forms, or alternatively blending pineapple and raw sugar in Vita-Mix and pouring blended results into the glass jar. In either case, put jar of pineapple/sugar mixture into refrigerator for at least 1 hour, or up to 5.

Remove jar from refrigerator and add both coconut and chile infused white wine vinegar to pineapple/sugar mixture. Agitate vigorously and place back in refrigerator for 1 week.

At the end of one week, place two strainers over a large Pyrex measuring cup. Carefully pour contents from the jar into the strainer, occasionally pausing to press on solids to squeeze out excess liquid. Discard solids. 

To bottle, situate tea strainer in funnel, and gently pour shrub through tea strainer into clean bottle. Refrigerate. Shrub should keep bottled in refrigerator for at least six months and likely up to 1 year or more.

Depending on fruit, may yield 16-24 ounces of shrub.


Thanks for reading, and I hope you'll pop by later this week, as I will show you some other remarkable permutations of this tangy, tropical beverage.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Bucks, Mules, and Friends With Frankie Teardrop

If I wrote a shrub FAQ, the question that would probably find itself at the top of the list would be "Now that I have made shrub, what the hell do I do with it?"

Well, my go to is to make a temperance style highball with an ounce or more of shrub with a nice club soda or tonic water, and if we're getting really wild, maybe a dash or two of bitters. 

That said, if one is in the mood for something a little more festive, one could take a page from our colonial ancestors, and take the party in a more bibulous direction. Since we just learned how to make a batch of Frankie Teardrop, we now luckily have a shrub that works in a great number of my favorite drinks from one particular offshoot of the highball family of cocktails: bucks and mules.

At first glance, the two appear nearly identical. Take a base spirit, add ginger beer or ginger ale, some citrus and that's pretty much it. Where most people make the distinction is in whether it is the sweeter, more mellow ginger ale, or the often spicier, drier ginger beer. There are some great drinks that follow this formula, and although our shrub is neither ginger ale nor ginger beer, I don't believe in turning down the opportunity to make a tasty beverage on a technicality.

Frankie Teardrop bears a great resemblance to some of my favorite ginger ales and beers, specifically Blenheim Ginger Ale, which comes in an Extra Spicy version with a red cap. In a buck or mule, these more muscular ginger drinks keep the drink from lapsing into a syrupy mess that ends up doing your base spirit a great disservice, and that is why I urge you to try your hand at adapting this ginger shrub into some of my favorite cocktails that would normally utilize a ginger soda.

To that end, it might be easiest to pre-make some "ginger beer" to add to your cocktail by combining the sparkling water to shrub by a ratio of 3 or 4:1, and then add it as you would normally add ginger beer. There is one exception, where I think it is easiest to just add the shrub to the drink and then add the soda, but I will point that out when we get there. 

For those who prefer white spirits, there is the much beloved classic, The Moscow Mule, a very simple combination of ginger beer, lime juice, and vodka. Traditionally served in copper novelty mugs, I suggest putting them into any clean receptacle that will get the drink into your face in a quick and efficient manner.

Moscow Mule:
2 oz. vodka
1 oz. lime juice
4 oz ginger beer

Fill copper mug or highball glass with ice, add lime juice and vodka.

Top with ginger beer, stir gently. Garnish with lime wedge.

If you tend to lean more toward brown spirits, the ubiquitous Whiskey Ginger is even simpler, and maintains the easy drinking nature of the Moscow Mule, nixing the citrus, but bumping up the flavor in the spirits department. While I personally like Irish Whiskey in these, feel free to use Jack Daniels or George Dickel and the like if those are your druthers.

Whiskey Ginger
1.5 oz whiskey(I'm a Bushmills man, myself)
3.5 oz ginger beer

Fill highball glass with ice. Top with ginger beer, stir gently. Garnish with lime wedge.

Where rum and ginger beer are concerned, the Dark n' Stormy is king. With all due respect to his majesty, I am going to instead share with you a rum and ginger beer cocktail that is nowhere near as well known as that Caribbean Classic, but in my opinion is an unsung hero of the highball world.

I first heard of this upgraded version of the drink via Murray Stenson, Top Gentleman of all Time and Barman Extraordinaire, which I believe came from spirits writer Paul Clarke a few years back. When you first see its spartan, ungarnished presentation it looks quite simple. Humble, even. But brother, it doesn't taste it.

Originally found in the early Twentieth cocktail tome, Famous New Orleans Drinks and How To Mix 'Em, the Tchoupitoulas Street Guzzle was a bit like a Dark n' Stormy with Cuban Rum, which while likely a fine drink in and of itself does little to stir the jaded palates of today's tipplers. Clarke, in a stroke of brilliance, steamlined the original long drink into a spicy, efficient rip-snorter.

By using a ginger beer concentrate with a deep aged rum in equal parts and the addition of warm Angostura bitters, the spice and vanilla barrel notes have been tied together and only lightly kissed with effervescence; whereas the original Guzzle is a Sunday driver, this model is built for speed, turbocharged and ready for trouble.

Tchoupitoulas Street Guzzle
from Famous New Orleans Drinks and How To Mix 'Em/Stanley Clisby Arthur(barely adapted from an adaptation by Paul Clarke)

1.5 oz ginger beer concentrate(for our purposes use straight ginger shrub)
1.5 oz aged rum(I personally dig Bacardi 8 in this)
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 oz soda water

Combine concentrate, rum, and bitters in ice filled shaker. Shake briefly and vigorously.

Strain into chilled, empty rocks glass. No garnish.

As we churn deeper into the heart of summer, there is a definite call for this kind of bracing refreshment as the mercury climbs and mouths become thirsty for relief. While ginger beer is a good and standard way to beat said heat, if you've got a batch of Frankie Teardrop lying around, I urge you give it a whirl in these cocktails instead of the old standby, and as always, please let me know if you have some favorable results.


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Frankie Teardrop vs. New Frankie Teardrop

I was going to write a highly nerdy, technical post about "processes" and "concepts," but then it occurred to me that people read about beverages primarily for fun. Therefore, I have abandoned the navel gazing in favor of a more casual and direct approach, though I do so enjoy a good navel gazin'...

For those of you who are new, you may not have seen the post about a ginger ghost chile shrub that I made called Frankie Teardrop. The idea behind this shrub was to basically concoct a ballsier ginger beer that would stand up to the likes of Blenheim in terms of heat and flavor. If you'd like to read the original post in all of its entertaining glory, please check it out.

One thing I did in my early posts was to selfishly withhold any proportions or detailed processes. In part this post is to help correct that and also explain why my further explorations with trying a different process fell a bit short from the delicious original.

In the past, I used to primarily work backwards from a 1:1:1 ratio of primary ingredient/vinegar/sugar. In most instances, that will certainly yield a pretty good shrub, though a little tweaking can really make the whole affair come into sharper relief. In the case of Frankie Teardrop, I was working from the original ratio when I discovered that unlike some of the previous attempts, this just wasn't working.

What I finally realized was that between vinegar that was steeped with ghost chiles, and a whole pound of grated ginger, the primary flavor component It was like letting an arsonist loose in your mouth, firebombing your tongue with gingery molotov cocktails. What was worse, however, is that the heat also manifested itself in a sort of odd bitterness. In constructing a balance between sugar, vinegar, and fruit, etc. I had always found sugar landing somewhere proportionally between vinegar and fruit. I started to feel a sense of desperation, and in a Hail Mary maneuver I weighed out another two ounces of Sugar in the Raw and threw it in, cautiously tasting a little bit on the end of a straw.

It worked, and though I was surprised, I was pleased. Not only did the extra sugar eradicate the underlying bitterness and offset the heat of the shrub, it also gave it a pleasant increase in viscosity and made it seem a bit more ginger beer like. This, as the parlance goes, is what I was talking about.

Unable to leave well enough alone, I began dabbling with alternative methods of making shrub last summer. One method was to steep the primary ingredient in vinegar first, incrementally adding sugar to taste. In theory, this has a couple of practical benefits.

First, one can tell exactly what point the shrub is sweet enough. Gone is the theoretical pondering about whether or not your careful postulating will hit the gustatory jackpot. If you add in small enough increments, the possibility of over sweetening is pretty low. Additionally, I found for some odd reason, the shrubs started seeming to be "sweet enough" at far lower concentrations of sugar than in the previous method. Using less sugar is probably good for both the well being of your health and your pocketbook, as I find that ingredients at retail prices can get pretty expensive when you make a lot of shrub.

I recently thought to apply this method to the previously unsullied Frankie Teardrop formula. As it turns out, it didn't seem half bad. Less sugar led to less viscosity which lent a lighter mouthfeel, which was not altogether unpleasant. The lack of sugar also meant that it was less prone to extreme sweetness when I used it to cook with(more on that soon) and in its reduced form, it was slightly less thick and glaze-like.

While those are positive aspects to be sure, in the end after some careful consideration, I don't know that it's the best version of the shrub.  

The problem with some shrubs using this new method is that while the lighter aspects make them quite nice to sample on their own, if you're like me and want to enjoy them in a glass of soda water or mixed against the brutish muscle of your favorite spirit, they will crumple into a flaccid heap like my abs during a sit-up contest. And by contest, I mean sitting up in the morning.

While the original recipe seems highly loaded for bear with the sugar and other ingredients, it's easy to forget that by concentrating the flavors so heavily, the person drinking the shrub has a reasonable amount of room for dilution before losing all of the really beautiful and powerful flavors that have been extracted. Most commercial shrubs recommend a 4:1 ratio of water to shrub syrup. If you dilute in that manner, not only are you able to have a flavorful cocktail or soda, but because you use less, it's also kind of a better value in the long run.

Though I prefer the original, I must say that I'm glad I went off book a little, as I would have always wondered if I could have done it better.

If there is a lesson to be learned here, if we hearken back to the New Coke fiasco of the '80's, we should all be so humbly reminded as I was, that in the end, nothing beats the real thing.

Frankie Teardrop(Original Recipe) *
18 oz Sugar in The Raw
16 oz fresh ginger root, grated or Vita-Mixed
16 oz Ghost Chile vinegar(see note)

Ghost Chile Vinegar
16 oz white wine vinegar(I use Regina)
1 tsp to 1 tbsp of Ghost Chile Flakes or 1 or 2 whole dried Ghost Chiles

Microwave safe glass bowl or container
T-Sac brand loose tea bags
Microplane, Sharkskin grater, or Vita-Mix
Spoon or muddler
Metal strainers
Sealable container
Tea Strainer
Funnel(canning funnels work best)
To make ghost chile vinegar: In a microwave safe glass container, heat 16 oz of white wine vinegar for 1-2 minutes. Remove vinegar from microwave and add either whole dried ghost chiles or scoop 1 tsp to 1 tbsp of ghost chile flakes into a T-Sac, tying a knot in the top and submerging into hot vinegar. Gently agitate T-Sac until vinegar begins taking on color.

Cover vinegar with foil or other covering to keep vinegar warm during steeping. Taste steeped vinegar every 15 to 20 minutes until desired heat level has been reached, usually reached between 30 minutes to 1 hour depending on amount of chiles used.

To assemble shrub: If grating ginger, wash and peel 16 ounces of fresh ginger root. Using microplane or sharkskin grater, grate ginger until it is a mass of soft pulp. If using Vita-Mix, wash ginger and place in blender container with about an ounce of water, blending until ginger is a mass of soft pulp.

Get a large sealable container, (large glass bale jars or restaurant quality food containers are best) and fill with ginger pulp. On a kitchen scale, weigh out 18 ounces of Sugar In The Raw or other turbinado sugar and pour over ginger mash in container. Using a large spoon or muddler, thoroughly mix sugar and ginger mash together. Close container and let stand in refrigerator for 3-4 hours. 

After resting, remove container and check contents. The sugar should have pulled more juice from the ginger, creating a sort of syrup in the container. Open the container and add 16 ounces of ghost chile vinegar. Close container and shake contents vigorously. Put in refrigerator for a week.

After one week, double strain liquid through metal strainers or other straining apparatus into large measuring cup with handle that is easy to pour from, pushing on ginger pulp to extract as much liquid as possible. Using funnel with tea strainer attached, strain again through tea strainer into clean glass bottles. Let bottles stand in refrigerator for one additional week, letting flavors marry. 

Kept refrigerated, this shrub can last at least one year, but often longer.


*I have found that if you like this shrub and you'll go through it quickly, you may want to consider scaling up the batch size. It's only a slight amount of work more to make a lot of shrub as it is to make a small yield. If you are, however, I really suggest you use a Vita-Mix as it will save you from the unpleasant spectre of carpal tunnel syndrome that you may get from grating more than a pound of ginger at a time. I would caution anyone using anything less powerful than a Blend-Tec of Vita-Mix, however, as the fiberous nature of the ginger may be too much for a normal blender and could harm your machine.


Monday, June 16, 2014

Redux and Recipes

The most commonly asked question in regard to the blog pre-departure was, "Why are there no recipes?"

Truthfully, I actually had a few up in the very early going, but as I began to think I could do this commercially, I decided that it wouldn't be a good idea to give away "trade secrets" as it were.

As I am no longer in the shrub business, my loss is your gain. My intent in getting back into this blog is to go back through and give the recipes to a bunch of the shrubs that people have been curious about in regard to ingredient ratios and such, and contrasting them with newer versions I have made.

I'm going to probably start tomorrow with one of the most popular flavors, Frankie Teardrop. It's one that I not only get asked about the most as far as the recipe goes, I just recently did an experiment in which I altered the recipe, which yielded some interesting results.

In any case, stay tuned over the next few days and weeks if you have ever wondered about exact amounts, and specific instructions of some of the earlier shrubs I put up.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

We're Back.

Hello again.

Well, that was an interesting couple of years.

In my time away, I have learned a lot more about making shrub and quite a bit more about myself and what I really wanted out of making shrub. Moreso, I discovered what I didn't want out of making shrub, and that was to be tied down as a commercial producer of one of my favorite beverages.

On the one hand, I have a lot of feelings of trying at something and not succeeding, which quite honestly kind of smarts a little. However, I also realized that I have done more with shrubs since I decided not to pursue it as a business than I have done since that whole endeavor began.

I forgot the real reason I love making shrubs was to experiment and be creative and share my knowledge with people. It's still amazing that shrub is that one beverage that is always just under the surface on every yearly trend list, but never quite becomes the next big thing, and it's equally puzzling that for all of the blogs about liquor, beer, coffee, tea, kombucha, and whatever else, that there are so few resources primarily devoted to shrub.

Which leads me to my unceremonious return to the blogging universe. I would like to take a revised approach to talking about shrub. For several posts, I almost exclusively talked about how I make shrub. While I think this will be a good topic of discussion and a creative springboard for others, I think that this new incarnation of Feel Like Making Shrub should take on shrubs in much the way other beverage blogs talk about their beverages of choice: as a living, breathing scene where people who love it can hear about new commercial shrubs or happenings with other people in the restaurant and bar industry who are just as in love with this magical drink as I am.

I know it's been a while, but hopefully this new version of the blog will take root and get people excited about the prospect of drinking vinegar once again.

If you have anything drinking vinegar related you'd like to see me cover, be it reviews of commercial products, or people involved with shrub who you'd like to see profiled, or even just more of my personal attempts at cranking out bizarre flavor experiments, I am enthusiastically waiting to hear what you, the reader wants to know about.

I left this blog seeking a wider recognition and perhaps a mild windfall, but the truth is that in the end, all of the kind comments and readers leaving inspired is worth a thousand commercial ventures.

Welcome back.