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Make Puerto Rican Egg Nog Now, Enjoy It Later

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Ring the bell, it's time for Last Call, where JK Grence, bartender at Shady's, serves up booze advice and recipes. Got a burning question for your bartender? Leave it in the comments and it might be answered in a future column.

I'm getting a little stir crazy waiting for cold weather. If the timing on this article is right, the first big chill of the season is going to happen this weekend. I have my fingers crossed. Whether it chills off or not, make this recipe right now. You see, this drink improves with age.

Coquito is a drink served during the holiday season in Puerto Rico. It's similar to a traditional egg nog, but it gets a tropical boost from coconut cream. One problem with coquito is tracking down a recipe. Much like Texans and chili, every Puerto Rican who makes coquito thinks theirs is the best, and guards their recipe with surprising zeal.

Since this is an egg nog, there are eggs in here. To keep it rich, only the yolks are used. Sweetened condensed milk is practically mandatory in a good coquito. Unsweetened dairy can come in a bunch of forms. Evaporated milk adds body without putting the fat quotient over the top. I'm not saying future batches won't add some half-and-half; just that my basic recipe is all evaporated milk. Vanilla and cinnamon (along with a pinch of salt) provide extra flavor depth.

The thing that makes coquito unique among egg nog is its use of coconut. Some people grate their own. If you're that ambitious, more power to you. I reach for canned coconut cream. This isn't coconut milk. Coconut milk is unsweetened, and readily available at Asian markets; coconut cream is sweetened, and found in liquor stores and well-stocked grocery stores next to the mixers. There is precisely one coconut cream brand worth buying: Coco López, the Puerto Rican original. Everything else I've tasted is like suntan lotion. The last ingredient you need is rum. Specifically, silver rum. Bacardi is the obvious choice since it's from Puerto Rico, but I'm partial to Cruzan from the nearby US Virgin Islands.

Now that everything is assembled, it's time to mix. The best way to get everything together is in the blender. The hard part is that coquito is made in batches much bigger than your average blender. There's a few ways to go about mixing. I whisk everything together in a very large bowl or pitcher, then run it through the blender in batches.

Now, the semi-scary part: Stick it in the fridge, and leave it. You can drink it immediately, but it improves dramatically after three days. A week or more is even better, all the way up to keeping it for a month. While the alcohol content usually keeps questionable bacteria at bay, raw eggs and dairy products still bring potential for things to go wrong. If it gets foamy, changes color suddenly, or smells off, chuck it and start over again; remember when in doubt, throw it out.

Coquito (Puerto Rican Egg Nog)
Makes 1 gallon, at least 16 servings

6 egg yolks
2 cans Coco López coconut cream
4 12-oz cans evaporated milk
1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 750-ml bottle light rum
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt

Whisk egg yolks until light and foamy. Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Blend together in batches in a blender until well-blended. Pour into clean sealable bottles or jars. Store in the refrigerator for at least three days, up to one full month. Whisk to recombine before serving. Serve in small glasses. Garnish with a little fresh-grated nutmeg if you wish.

Variations:

Coquito Especial (Extra-Strength) Increase the rum to 1 liter (generously poured), and add ½ cup heavy cream.

Virgin Coquito Omit all of the rum. Serve immediately, storing in refrigerator up to two days.

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