Sunday, June 17, 2012
Lemongrass: Citrusy Complement
I imagine that, like me, when you hear “lemongrass,” you think: Thai food. That’s pretty much been the extent of my use of it, anyway. But I’m beginning to change my pigeon-holing of this somewhat odd ingredient, thanks to a new book out on cocktails—as previously mentioned, my latest culinary inclination—by Katie Loeb. Self-described bartendrix and Aphrodite of Alcohol (don’t you love that?), Katie has produced a book that fits more into the genre of cookbook—one of my few true addictions—than any of the other recent, and often laudable, rethinkings of the cocktail book. While others raise the cocktail to the artisan, craft level, Katie brings it closer to the realm of, well, food. Her book, Shake, Stir, Pour: Fresh Homegrown Cocktails, has all the characteristics of a cookbook, too. Her recipes are more fully developed and individually introduced, and are accompanied in many cases by step-by-step technique photos as well as photos of the finished drink. The explanations and overall tone are clear and unpretentious—some of the cocktail stuff lately has gotten a little gee-whiz—and the book itself is attractive and user-friendly, lying flat in its nicely trimmed and designed spiral binding.
I should say that I don’t know Katie. Except that I sort of do, in a virtual kind of way. She is one of the many professionals on the e-gullet forum, a culinary micro-world where the technically ideal and the palatably sublime are in a constant search for perfect balance. And where, I’ve noticed recently, all things drinking-related are starting to gain a curious primacy. Chefs and alcohol, no real surprise there, but still, an unexpectedly dominant theme. Apparently, I’ve been sucked in. And can’t believe I never met Katie all those years I lived in Philly, where she presides over the imbibing needs of lucky locals.
Anyway, back to lemongrass and cocktail-making as cooking. Lemongrass is, as its name suggests, a citrusy grass. Its stalks have a kind of sheath, rather fibrous, that should be removed before you slice and, to release the flavor, lightly bruise the centers. You can slit the length of the sheath with the tip of a paring knife or a sharp fingernail to remove it. Lemongrass serves the function of an aromatic, like leeks or garlic, in this case one that is more fruity and sweet, almost perfumey, than pungent and savory. I would not have thought of using it to make cocktails, but a recipe in Katie’s book for Ruby Red Grapefruit-Lemograss Cordial inspired me. Her 50 recipes include classics like grenadine and cocktail onions and, close to my heart and equally opinionated, cocktail cherries (see mine here). Thanks, Katie.
I had both lemongrass and local ruby grapefruit on hand, so the cordial recipe called to me. I made this drink, also with things I had on hand, with a slight adaptation of the cordial recipe (subbing coconut water for some of the called-for grapefruit juice and jasmine water for the rose water, which appears to be lost in my kitchen). I named it for the beautiful glowing color of the cordial.
2 oz vodka
1 oz lemon juice
1 oz orange juice
¾ oz Ruby Red Grapefruit-Lemongrass Cordial from Katie’s book
2 dashes orange bitters (I used Regan’s)
Shake well with crushed ice til very cold; strain; garnish if desired with a twist of orange or lemon.