It's that time of year when my thoughts turn away from warm, comforting Irish Coffees and Hot Buttered Rums. Balmy days like these call for a light, refreshing tipple. Few drinks can match the refreshing power of a personal favorite, the Mojito. Problem is, it's next to impossible to find a well-crafted one in a restaurant or bar. I think all the fruit-flavored variations exist to cover up hideous base products. Good news: It's a snap to make terrific ones at home. I present to you the five sacred ingredients to make a perfect Mojito.
Lime Juice The juice of one decent sized lime. Only fresh-squeezed lime juice will do. Bottled lime juice is far inferior, and Rose's Lime... Ugh, just... no. Select limes that are heavy for their size; those are the juicy ones. They're usually astonishingly cheap at Asian and Hispanic grocers. While there, also pick up...
Mint Use the leaves from two or three sprigs, about eight or ten leaves depending on size. It's easy to grow your own mint at home, but that's another column. Both Asian and Hispanic grocers offer huge bunches of mint at a price much lower than regular grocers' scrawny plastic packs. At the Asian stores, look for plain "mint". At the Hispanic stores, you want "Yerba Buena".
Sugar A heaping teaspoonful or two of plain white superfine sugar. Superfine dissolves easier than regular sugar. The problems with superfine sugar are that it's hard to find, and commands a premium price. Do what I do at the bar, and make your own: Put sugar in a food processor or blender, and whiz for about a minute.
Rum One 1-1/2 ounce shot of silver rum. A proper Mojito is light and bright from the use of silver rum.. Any decent brand will make a fine Mojito, but I find Cruzan and Flor de Caña especially good, and Cruzan is an exceptional value.
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Soda Water Some premium brands out there charge quite a sum for artisan soda water. They're full of it. If it's wet, bubbly, and tastes fine on its own, go ahead and use it. Chill your soda water before you open it! Warm soda water goes flat practically in the blink of an eye.
Putting It All Together With such a simple ingredient list, the devil is in the details. Many people muddle whole lime wedges like they're making a Caipirinha. Please stop. It over-muddles the mint, and the pith adds a bitter note. Squeeze the limes and use the juice. For a grace note, squeeze with your fingers; a little essential oil from the lime zest gets into the drink. Be gentle when muddling the sugar and mint into the lime juice; several taps with the muddler will suffice. Over-muddled mint creates unsightly bits floating around, and makes the drink taste like toothpaste. Since you add soda water to the final product, a gentle stir is all you need to mix; don't bother shaking it. Finally, make sure you use a big mint sprig to garnish. The fragrance you get from the mint will make the drink taste better. To maximize the mint's fragrance, give it a gentle smack between your hands to release the essential oils.
The Perfect Mojito Juice of one large lime, ~3/4 ounce 8-10 mint leaves, plus 1 sprig garnish 2 teaspoons superfine sugar 1-1/2 ounces silver rum Club soda
In a Collins glass, muddle lime juice, mint, and sugar until sugar is mostly dissolved. Add rum, and stir until sugar is completely dissolved. Add ice cubes to fill. Fill glass with club soda, and stir briefly to combine. Garnish with a big sprig of mint, and serve, preferably on a sunny patio.