Thursday, June 21, 2012

Infusion #6: Limoncello

Summer's cosmically here, and you should sip some chilled limoncello to welcome it properly.

Limoncello is an Italian lemon liqueur which is prolific in Italy and, if you've been so fortunate to have visited the place, that would already be clear to you. Anecdotal evidence has told me that just about every serious meal in Italy is followed by a small chilled glass of limoncello, and it's almost offensive if you refuse it. It's generally served neat and chilled, though you can really take it any way you like it, and you can even mix with it.

The bad news is that limoncello, for some reason, isn't very easy to find in stores. The good news is that it is easy as hell to make. The better news is that once you've mastered making limoncello, you've unlocked an easy way to make tons of kinds of your own liqueurs at home.

Making your own limoncello follows a beautiful and modular process that's easily adapted:

Step 1) Fill a vessel (preferably glass... empty booze bottles work) with an amount of vodka.

Step 2) Place into the same vessel an amount of lemon zest.

Step 3) Let vessel sit for an amount of time.

Step 4) Strain the zest out of the vodka, and add some amount of sugar.

(All ingredient and time amounts are nebulous because it's all to taste. A higher and lower spirit/flavorant balance will require more or less time for a proper infusion, respectively.  You should at least be using about 1 lemon's worth of zest for each cup of vodka.  The infusion should probably sit undisturbed for at least a week before straining.)

As I've been quoted saying in articles before, this is a GIGO situation: infusing crappy vodka with lemon peels doesn't improve how the vodka tastes. You don't need to use Grey Goose, but a middle shelf alternative should be fine.

Tradition dictates your lemon zest should be completely devoid of pith, which is bitter. But if you like a bitter note to your limoncello, you won't hear me complain. You can avoid pith in a variety of ways. I like to peel the lemons with a vegetable peeler, and then use the flexible tip of a sharp knife to shave most of the pith off from the back (I'm not a perfectionist). But if you want no pith at all, I would say the easiest way is to use a micro-plane to zest the fruit very lightly. Whether your zest is in long wide strips or fine flecks, it doesn't matter.

After letting the mixture sit, strain out the solids using a coffee filter. To this infused spirit you can add sugar. Since sugar does not dissolve well in alcohol, you should firstly make a syrup by dissolving the sugar into water, and then add the syrup to the spirit. You can make a simple syrup or a rich simple syrup, depending on how much additional water you'd like to add to your spirit to sweeten it, thereby lowering its proof.

Once you add your sweetener, you're ready to drink.  Chilled in the freezer and served neat is traditional, but I'll take it any way.

What's a good limoncello cocktail?  I might first direct you to my own Southern Soprano...

The directions above are an easy guideline which you can use in more generic ways than it seems.  All you need is 1) a solvent, 2) a flavorant, and 3) a sweetener.  In the case of limoncello, those 3 variables end up looking like: vodka, lemon peel, and sugar

I'll leave you with a list of variations that I myself have tried with varying degrees of success, some of whose names are made up and some of whose are not...

Meyer limoncello: vodka, Meyer lemon peel, sugar
Limonmielo: vodka, lemon peel, honey
Limettacello: vodka, lime peel, sugar - my personal favorite
Pompelmocello: vodka, grapefruit peel, sugar
Pomelocello: vodka, pomelo peel, sugar
Uglicello: vodka, Uglifruit peel, sugar
Gimoncello: gin, lemon peel, sugar
Mojitocello: white rum, lime peel & mint, sugar