There are certain people who just know exactly what to get someone for Christmas. I'm very fortunate to know someone just like that.
A very good friend picked up a copy of a very fascinating new cocktail book, Liquid Intelligence. Author Dave Arnold has penned one hell of a book, practically a bartender's version of the landmark Modernist Cuisine.
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There's all manner of fun things to try. Reading the part about vacuum sealer infusions really makes me want to get one. There's also an indispensable section on how to get crystal-clear ice in your home freezer.
As I leafed through the book, the part that caught my eye the most was a new way to muddle drinks. It uses a little something that I got to first experience in college.
No, not that. It was liquid nitrogen. Muddling is a great way to get flavor into a drink. However, muddling herbs has its problems. Specifically, if you muddle a drink like a Mojito for too long, the chlorophyll in the herbs' veins gets released. And just like that, your drink goes from refreshing and bright to mildly bitter and tasting like toothpaste.
Freezing the herbs with -320° F (yes, that's minus three hundred and twenty degrees) liquid nitrogen sidesteps the issue. When you muddle the cryogenically frozen herbs, the essential oils all release into the drink, but the clorophyll stays behind. You get all of the flavor, none of the toothpaste effect.
There are, of course, a issues with this method. Liquid nitrogen is quite hazardous to work with because it's so cold, and it's not like you can just stop at the corner store to fill your liquid nitrogen tank.
Thankfully, there is a solution that's probably already in your home: the blender. If you buzz together the herbs and liquor together and then strain out the little flecks of herb, you get an effect that's pretty darn close to the liquid nitrogen method.
The blender method can be a little difficult to deploy. It's terrific to make drinks in volume (indeed, making a flock of mojitos has never been faster), but most blenders out there won't do much of anything with one drink's worth of liquor. If you happen to have a mini-blender or mini-chopper around (many immersion blenders come with one as an accessory), you can make one drink in there just fine. If all you have is a full-size blender, I hope you either have friends over or are in the mood for a double.
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By the way, when you're done blender-muddling your drinks, you'll want to make extra-sure that the blender jar is clean. Those tiny herb bits can be sneaky.
Thai Basil Daiquiri (adapted from Liquid Intelligence) 2 ounces light rum 7 large Thai basil leaves 3/4 ounce strained fresh squeezed lime juice Scant 3/4 ounce simple syrup
Blend rum and Thai basil in a blender for a few seconds, until basil is fully pulverized. Strain through a very fine mesh strainer into a cocktail shaker. Add juice and syrup, then fill shaker with ice cubes. Shake hard until well chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.