Friday, November 4, 2011
Infusion #6: A Food Network Monstrosity
I love television. A great deal of my time watching TV is centered on the Food Network. I love the cuisine and personalities on the Food Network, but I’ve learned to disrespect most of the alcoholic beverage recipes that I see on the channel. Most of them contain some sort of soft drink (Sandra Lee is running out of ways to mix vodka and lemon-lime soda) and the rest are usually sweetened beyond balance and into the realm of mass commercial appeal.
But a few weeks ago I found my face even more contorted in astonishment than usual while I was watching Claire Robinson’s “5 Ingredient Fix”. Her show is a pretty good one: each prepared dish contains only five ingredients, and I’m generally pleased by her recipes, though I feel she dumbs her techniques down a bit.
Anyway, Ms. Robinson was infusing vodka. Normally I wouldn’t pay much notice, but this time she was infusing with squash. The recipe is for “Spicy Pumpkin Vodka”. I decided that it was so crazy that I had to do it myself.
The recipe is simple: one infuses 3 cups of vodka with 2 cups of pumpkin or kabocha squash, 2 vanilla beans, a stick of (cassia) cinnamon, and 3 pieces of candied ginger.
To prepare the squash, you lightly roast it in order to purge a bit of moisture and to get the flesh sweet, then cut it into small chunks in order to increase the surface area for the infusion. I used pumpkin, as I could not find any kabocha squash.
This infusion calls for an infusing time of 3 days.
At the end of the infusion, I was quite surprised with the result. I thought that the thick, dense flesh of the pumpkin would impart very little flavor to the vodka, but I was very wrong.
While the nose of the stuff is vanilla and alcohol only, the sip offers something more intriguing. The warmness of the cinnamon and the sweetness of the pumpkin combine immediately with sharp spiciness of the ginger to create a flavor very much like gingerbread, a flavor I’ve seldom come across in the spirit world. The cinnamon comes back mid-palate with the vanilla rounding it out. The swallow brings vegetal pumpkin and ginger notes that border on maltiness as it goes down.
Ms. Robinson insists that you chill this vodka and consume as a shot, but I found that doing so dulls all of the flavor into mediocrity. Sipping this at room temperature is quite enjoyable, and I bet it'd be great if you put a half ounce or so into a Manhattan.
This is a good little recipe, but it's not cheap to make. Depending on how cheap you can find your pumpkin or your ginger, and especially using 2 whole vanilla beans for 3 cups of vodka, the end product's value isn't high. Also, the yielded infusion is even less liquid than you’d think, since the pumpkin does a good job of soaking quite a bit up. But it’s a fun experiment nonetheless. Go out and make some now, just in time for Thanksgiving and Christmas parties. You can still find pumpkins and kabocha in the markets – I promise.