Monday, November 21, 2011

Flavouring Vodka

Naga Chilli Vodka
Mango, Lemon, Lemon Grass, Naga Chilli and sweet spices, Five Spice,  Blueberry, Raspberry, Kaffir Lime are just some of the Vodka flavours I have been using off late! Flavoured Vodkas have been a rage in Mumbai ever since haute nightspots discovered they allowed for phenomenal creativity! And overnight all the hip happening places began to create their own creative flavours and cocktails with them. I remember because I did an article at the time. But I only clued into how fantastic they were to play with when I made a Naga Chilli Vodka for my beginners cooking class for men.

That day as I skewered Naga chillies on toothpicks, and placed them in bottles, adding spices and pouring in clear crisp vodka, I realised that I had an idea with immense potential before me; from subtle to sophisticated, simple to exotic, infused vodkas could be crafted to suit every mood and taste. Not only did they give my home bar new things to play with but they’ve brought incredible ideas into my cooking as well. They also make ideal gifts for any occasion.

Flavoring and infusing vodka is a tradition as old as vodka-drinking itself and requires VERY little time and no special equipment. But you do need a little imagination, a grasp of flavours and lots of patience. You just need a good base vodka to start with and quality ingredients to flavour it with. Yes it is as easy as that! Most homemade liqueurs begin with vodka because it is a colorless flavourless spirit that makes it the ideal base for anything. Think of it as a blank canvas for you to paint your flavours onto!

There are two ways to add flavour to Vodka: either mix flavoured extracts into it, or add the flavouring ingredients in their raw form and allow them to steep in the alcohol for a while. Using extracts is faster and in some cases better but more often than not, the best results come with slow infusion. For example, fresh lemon zest will impart a flavour that is a million times better than lemon extract. Also using fresh ingredients allows much more variety since there just are not as many extracts and essences as there are fresh and dried ingredients. How much? Don’t worry too much about quantities, infusing vodka is not an exact science - the variety and quantity of flavouring you choose is up to you and if flavours get too overwhelming, they simply need to be diluted with more of the base liquor.

Piercing blueberries to make Blueberry vodka
And now comes the most fun part: choosing your flavors! If you are worried about going wrong, start with creating copies of your favorite branded flavoured vodkas and then progress onto creating innovative new flavours and combinations of your own. I usually make a strong infusion of 200 ml and then dilute it to the strength I want later. Ingredients that work for flavoring ideas are endless.

To start with fruit, just about any soft fruit would fit the bill. (Whole fruit should be sliced or chopped fine, not smashed, with the skin on so there is maximum surface area in contact with vodka to allow the flavour and juices to fully leech out). When it comes to Berries; strawberries, cherries are all good, but I recommend you leave them whole, just puncturing them with a needle. It is a little tedious but the result is a clear flavoured vodka that takes the color of the fruit but not cloudyness from crushed fruit. Also friends who had my Blueberry Vodka loved the pop of the vodka soaked berrie in their mouths. Stone fruit is also great for flavouring vodka they Cherries, plums, peaches.. but don’t stop there there are tons of fruit to play with; watermelon, pomegranate, persimmon,  Kiwi...  I have also had great success with Zest from Citrus fruit such as Orange, Lime and Lemon and Kaffir lime is a special favourite.

Herbs and Spices - Any aromatic herb or spice is brilliant for flavouring Vodka from exotic whole Vanilla beans to everyday things like coriander seeds, peppercorns, chillies, even garlic (for flavoured vodkas for cooking). There is so much to pick from; lemongrass, cinnamon sticks, cloves, nutmeg, whole coffee beans, dill, thyme, basil, tarragon, rosemary. And here is here is where the most impotant things comes into play,  - your creativity! Let it loose, play with flavours - apple-cinnamon, chile-lemongrass, lemon-tarragon, orange-cranberry, raspberry-vanilla you will find that the results are very satisfying! Just don't go overboard and pack too much in because you won't be able to distinguish any flavours then. Also be very careful with cloves and nutmeg because too much of these can produce a numbing effect in your mouth!

Once you've chosen decided on your flavourings, you can put them straight into the bottle if they'll fit through the neck. (Pour some of the liquor out into another bottle to make room) otherwise, any glass, earthenware jar or bottle will work as long as it has a tight-fitting lid. Leave the container in a dark place at room temperature and stir or rotate a couple of times a day (don’t stress do it when you remember). Depending on how potent your flavour selections are you'll need to let them steep for anywhere from a day to a few weeks. (Fruit usually needs a full two to four weeks for all the flavor to be transferred to the alcohol, where as chilles, and most fresh spices only need a couple of days) Feel free to smell and taste to check on progress... just remember to leave some for the final result!
Love this picture ! Love this Flavour!
When you are satisfied with your concoction, strain the final product to remove sediment. Line a strainer with a coffee filter and slowly pour the liquor through it. A lot of people don't bother to save the fruit that's been soaked in the booze - it flavour is all sucked out -but I like to puree it, swirl it through vanilla ice cream and refreeze it.  Homemade vodkas and liqueurs can be substituted in a traditional cocktails with wonderful results - make amazing martinis with infused vodkas, or have fun inventing your own brand new signature drinks – but I find homemade infusions are wonderful unadorned, straight out of the freezer and liqueurs are also lovely when stirred into a fresh cup coffee or drizzled over a scoop of hand churned vanilla ice cream.

And now for my favourite part. All these Vodka Infusions need not be relegated to the bar alone, flavoured Vodka also makes a great cooking ingredient. There are numerous ways vodka can augment the cooking process. In some recipes, vodka can cause a chemical reaction in a dish. When added to marinades, for example, it can help break down tough fibers and tenderize meats. When added to cheese and cream sauces it lowers the boiling point which prevents curdling. And just like wine, it is very effective for to deglazing pans in order to dissolve and impart alcohol-soluble flavor compounds to sauces. Vodka may also be added to a dish to provide a last minute burst of flavor, to complete the cooking process, or to enhance presentation – as in a flambĂ©. But where I love it most is to add intense flavour. When vodka is cooked in a dish, it evaporates due to the heat but leaves behind all the flavours it leached out of the ingredients that were steeped in it along with a hint of its inherent subtle bitterness.

My Drunken chicken - marinating in Naga Chilli Vodka.
If you'd like to turn your fragrant new vodka into a sweet liqueur, this is when you add the sugar. However, don’t just add sugar directly to the alcohol - it takes forever to dissolve and you can’t ascertain exact levels of sweetness. Instead, make a simple syrup combine two parts sugar to one part water simmer until the sugar is completely dissolved. Cool to room temperature and sweeten the vodka infusion to suit your taste. Once sweetened, your vodka infusion will need to "age" for a month or so, allowing the flavours to mellow and blend thoroughly. Like this, it is great to serve as it is with dessert or to add to boozy desserts!
It’s the season for gifting and flavoured vodkas make very pretty gifts. For display and gifting "Garnish" each finished bottle by dropping in a small quantity of the original ingredients (a few berries, kumquats or coffee beans; a twist of citrus zest; an herb sprig; a chile pepper, etc). And make custom labels for your fine, handcrafted liqueurs!
Jus put down a bottle of Orange Anise Vodka. 

News Gyaan and Links!
I was very honoured to be in the current issue of India Today this week. Also the new class schedule is up and we have a VEGETARIAN beginner cooking class for those of you who asked for them and a very special Tadka - spicy Cooking with Alcohol class. Details are here


Saee Koranne-Khandekar said...

Ok, so now I need to go vodka shopping.

Scarlett O'Hara said...

Awesome ideas, all of these. I first read about the Naga Chilli vodka flavor in your article for Times Crest. :)

Scarlett O'Hara said...

Awesome ideas , all of these. This Naga chilli vodka has caught my fancy ever since you mentioned in your article for Times Crest on Naga Chillis.

sona said...

can you give some recipes, rushina, for a fruit or cinnamon infused vodka cocktail?