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 was...hot. 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
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
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.