Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Shrub #3: "Don Whoa"

Fruit: Pineapple
Sugar: Sugar in The Raw [Turbinado Sugar]
Vinegar: Raw Coconut Vinegar/White wine vinegar
Additions: Habanero pepper, seeded, membranes removed

While it was fun to see how diverse the results were when experimenting with two styles of the same fruit, it was time to turn my attention in a different direction. Obviously, there is no shortage of tasty Pacific Northwest fruit coming into season right now, but I thought I would table the berries for the time being and cast my gaze in a more tropical direction.

Obviously, there are a lot of choices for tropical flavors, such as mangoes or bananas, but since I despise both of those, the clear choice here was pineapple. Though pineapple almost certainly make for a delicious final product, here at the Feel Like Making Shrub blog, there is nothing worse than making a one flavor shrub. What changes could I make to set this shrub apart from the plethora of pineapple shrubs that have probably been strewn about the internet landscape?

First things first. Like the Six Million Dollar Man, I looked at all the individual parts that could use a bit of an upgrade in the flavor department. Obviously, I bought a whole fresh pineapple, which I carefully cut into large chunks. Then, I looked at the sugar. In both of the previous efforts, I used C & H refined cane sugar, which has a very clean, sweet taste; I don't know about you, but white sugar doesn't particularly scream "Tropical!" to me. So, out with the white sugar and in with Sugar in The Raw. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Sugar In the Raw, it is also known in the US as "turbinado sugar," a partially refined sugar which retains more of its color and flavor than fully refined sugar, named for the turbines in which the sugar spins. In flavor terms, it lies somewhere between the white sugar we all know and love, and brown sugar, which is actually sugar with the presence of molasses. What's important is that unlike white sugar, Sugar in the Raw should give the shrub a greater depth of flavor, with some hints of earthiness.

As usual, one of the biggest decisions to make in a shrub will be the type of vinegar used. Given that this makes up the lion's share of the actual final liquid product, it is also the element likely most responsible for the overall character of your drinking vinegar. In keeping with the theme, I opted for an entire 12.7 oz bottle of Coconut Secret Raw Coconut vinegar, supplemented with a scant amount of white wine vinegar to get the total amount of vinegar to match the weight of the fruit.

There are apparently at least two types of coconut vinegar I am aware of,  both of which are apparently raw vinegars, meaning that they have the active "Mother" bacterial cultures which cause the vinegars' fermentation process, similar to apple cider vinegar. Like ACV, raw coconut vinegar is more acidic, but with a slightly gamier, funkier flavor...kind of the rhum agricole of vinegars. From what I understand, the fundamental difference between the two is what they are derived from; one comes from the sap of the coconut tree, while the other is coconut water that has been fermented with raw cane sugar. So far, I have only used the one derived from sap, so I can't really speak to the differences between them.

With all of the new ingredients assembled, the layout looked pretty intriguing, but felt as though it was missing some sort of je ne sais quoi. Like a spicy thunderbolt from the ether, it struck me. Some sort of hot pepper might go smashingly with pineapple. Jalapeno seemed too pedestrian, and I wasn't sure if bhut jolokia would be too much for a leisurely sipper. Splitting the difference down the Scoville scale, I settled on a good ol' fashioned habanero pepper. Yes, I surmised...habaneros have a slight fruity taste, while waving their bollocks with a keen measure of insouciant attitude. Perfect.

Don Whoa Initial Mash
Per usual, I made the initial mash with pineapple chunks, Sugar In The Raw, and this time, a habanero, smashing each of them with a wooden spoon until the mass became a thick, syrupy pulp. I closed up the jar and waited the requisite five hours before coming back to check on it. I decided to straw test the mash before putting in the vinegar, and it was great. The bright, fresh sweetness of pineapple, with a creeping heat that sneaks up on you, but wasn't too much. I opened the coconut vinegar and poured it into the jar, sealed it up, and hoped for the best.

I find that there are pros and cons to tasting a work in progress. On the one hand, it's nice to be able to adjust spices or flavors that could use some help, but there is also that paralyzing fear when your shrub has been sitting for a week and is unbelievably funky from raw vinegar. The coconut vinegar is a mighty beast, and I got worried. Luckily, Sarah was there to convince me that this would probably mellow out just like the other ones had, and that I should just bottle it and wait the next week as I normally did. Of course, as with so many other things, she was absolutely right.
Mash ready for vinegar

A week later, I pulled the bottle out and straw tested it. While the sharpness of the coconut vinegar remained, it had blended nicely with the sweet, bright pineapple, and the lingering heat of the habanero had become a bit more assertive without being abusively hot. Overall, this combination was a bit of a risk that really paid off in the end. If I were to change anything about this recipe, I might opt to change the ratio of raw coconut vinegar to white wine vinegar, just to round off the gamier edges of the shrub, but then again, some people might actually appreciate that, so it's really up to your own personal tastes.

More than the first two shrubs featured on this blog, I would highly recommend drinking this one with a bit of water; the syrupy and spicy nature of it really lends itself to at least a little dilution. Some of the people who have tasted it suggested that this might also make a nice marinade for meat, or that it might work in a more spirituous application when paired with the right base spirit. My guess is that rum would likely be a safe bet, and perhaps in the right manner, gin may work as well.

As for the name, well...as most of the ingredients here are very Hawaiian, I thought it would be good to name the shrub after a famous Hawaiian entertainer of some sort. The first famous Hawaiian that came to mind was the talented and much loved singer Don Ho. While discussing this with Sarah while we tasted the syrup, she didn't taste the habanero at first, but it quickly snuck up slowly, taking her unaware.

"With the heat of the habanero, perhaps instead of Don Ho, I should call it 'Don Whoa!'" I chuckled.

"Yes," she said, with a mischievous look crossing her face. "You're very proud of that one, aren't you?"

Yes. Yes, I am.

Don Ho's Greatest Hits
Buy Don Ho's Greatest Hits Right Here!


JD said...

How exactly do you remove the membranes/what exactly are the membranes. I am being somewhat lazy, I did a google search and did not find a satisfactory answer/picture.

I ask because I recently tried infusing tequila with jalapenos seeds and all and mistakenly left it there for 4/5 hours rendering the tequila undrinkable.

I did do another version with trader joes dried chili mango and removed the dried fruit after 2 hours and replaced it with regular dried mangoes which came out great. The dried fruit did steal 2/3 of my tequila though. It's too bad you don't like mango otherwise I would highly recommend it.

Anyhow if I figure out how to remove these membranes I might dare to try to introduce some spice to my shrubs.

Another infusion I heard that was interesting was using roasted peanuts but alcohol absorbs fats and it might not work as well with a shrub.

Alexander Kern said...

Hi JD,

When I talk about seeds and membranes, I refer to a couple of things. First, there is kind of a core that attaches itself to the inside of the pepper. You want to cut the obvious tissue that connects it, then use a paring knife to scrape out the core and all the seeds. There may be some ridges still sticking out on the inside of the pepper, and you can cut those out if your knife is at a flat enough angle. Really though getting that core with the seeds attached is the most important part .

It is funny you mention using nuts in a shrub, because I have thought of doing some nut shrubs. While alcohol is one the most effective solvents, vinegar is no slouch at extracting flavor, either. The fats in the peanuts are exactly why an infusion in vinegar might actually be so potentially successful. This is something to keep in mind when you want to make any kind of flavored infused vinegar. Things with high oil contents can make really flavorful infusions. The only caveat is that sometimes ingredients need to be heated to draw out soluble oils, such as cinnamon sticks. There are plenty of other spices whose oils will go to town, such as vanilla beans which can actually give off too much flavor. You may have to experiment, but to me, going all Mr. Wizard in the kitchen is part of the fun.

If you have any other questions, I am happy to help.