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April 27, 2014

Food Thread: The Hydrophilic Property of Ethanol -- And Why You Should Care [CBD]

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glass and shaker.jpg

Alcohol (ethanol for our purposes) loves being around water molecules more than it loves being around other alcohol molecules, and that is a very good thing.


Straight ethanol (at the typical 40%-50% concentration) has a brisk mouth-feel and a sharpness that in mixed drinks can be jarring and discordant. But add a bit of water to that, and it smooths out and becomes a more mouth-filling sensation.

But where to get that water? Sure, you could simply add it, but then you are left with some warm gin or vodka or bourbon that has been diluted with a splash of water.

And that's where the shaker full of ice comes in. In one fell swoop you chill the drink, and add that vital bit of water that changes everything. And because alcohol loves water so much, it pulls it right off the ice, so no extra dilution is necessary.

Do a little test: shake an ounce of vodka in cold, clean ice, and pour it into a shot glass. Compare it to the same vodka that was chilled in the freezer but not shaken with ice or diluted with water.

As for shaking as opposed to stirring? I have no idea. I have watched professional bartenders and they seem to shake martinis and stir more complex cocktails, but the frothy drinks are obviously shaken, so......

Straight drinks are obviously a different issue, and I have no complaints about drinking straight whiskey or Scotch. But a cube of ice is an important option. It chills the drink and it adds, slowly and gently, that little bit of water that smooths everything so wonderfully.

And speaking of booze, everyone is no doubt aware of the explosion of craft distilleries across the country.

A similar thing happened in wine country in California in the 1970s and 1980s. And, unfortunately, many of those start-ups are no longer with us, gobbled up by larger wineries, or destroyed by the inexorable march of the market that said "no, we don't like your product."

And like the boutique wineries, these craft distilleries (warning....NYT link) are trying to create a market for their products by touting their uniqueness, and therein lies the rub.

Just because something is different doesn't mean that it is better. There are all sorts of flavors and textures that can be magnified by the distilling, filtering and aging process, but many...perhaps most....are not desirable.

Give me a good quality bourbon made by a big distiller over a boutique bourbon made by a fervent, energetic but inexperienced kid. While it might be interesting to find "interesting notes of pine needle, cat urine and cardboard" in the glass, I'll take a boring old bottle of 23-year-old Pappy van Winkle.


KALE SALAD

•2 Bunches of Kale (stems removed sliced thin)
•1 Large Golden Beet (peeled and sliced paper thin) If you can find packaged beets -- go for it.
•1 Large Red Beet (peeled and sliced paper thin)
•1/2 cup Almonds (toasted)
•1/2 cup Crumbled Goat Cheese
•1/2 Clove Garlic (minced)
•1 Red Onion (peeled and sliced paper thin)
•3 oz Red Wine Vinegar
•6 oz Extra Virgin Olive Oil
•Salt

Place kale, beets and onion in a large mixing bowl and season liberally with salt. Mix and top with the vinegar. Set aside, tossing occasionally (This should be done at least a couple of hours in advance to allow the kale to soften*).

Whisk together the oil and garlic. Toss the oil mixture with the kale, beets and onion. Add cheese and almonds. Mix and serve.

*If it doesn’t look like the kale is softening and becoming tender, add the olive oil and toss. Then, just before serving, add the cheese and almonds.


Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Carbonara is one of my favorite dishes, and Tyler Florence does an excellent job. My only change is a bit more meat, and using bacon instead of pancetta.

•1 pound dry spaghetti or linguine.
•8-12 ounces bacon, cubed or sliced into small strips (Pancetta is the classic, but I love the smokiness of the bacon)
•2 ounces extra-virgin olive oil
•4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
•2 extra-large eggs
•1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
•Black pepper (Fresh!)
•˝ cup Italian (flat-leaf) parsley, chopped

Cook the pasta in a large quantity of salted water until it is al dente. Drain it, reserving a cup or so of the pasta water.

While the water for the pasta is heating, put the bacon into a large sauté pan along with an ounce or 2 of good olive oil. Cook the bacon on medium heat until it just begins to crisp, then add the chopped garlic.

Turn the heat down a bit and continue cooking until the bacon is crispy and the garlic is soft. Be careful; if the garlic browns too much or burns it will add a bitterness to the dish that can only be masked by several large glasses of a good Chianti. Try to time it so the pasta is finished cooking at the same time as the bacon and garlic.

Crack the eggs into a medium bowl and whisk them until they start to become frothy. Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano and whisk until the cheese is completely absorbed by the eggs.

Add the pasta to the bacon and toss until the spaghetti is completely coated with the bacon fat and olive oil.

Add the egg and cheese mixture (do this off the heat), spreading it over the pasta as you pour, and toss again, coating the pasta and lightly cooking the eggs. This is the tough part. The pasta has to be hot enough to barely cook the eggs as they coat the pasta, but not too hot; otherwise you will have scrambled eggs. That’s not a bad combination, but it isn’t Spaghetti alla Carbonara.

Crack some black pepper into the pasta and toss again. I like tossing the parsley in with the pepper, but you can also use it as garnish after you serve it.

As for serving? I use a pair of tongs and try to get a bit of everything into the serving. It looks great if you twist the tongs as you lower them into the plate. It mounds the pasta and makes you look like a professional.


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posted by Open Blogger at 04:00 PM

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