August 4, 2008
What good is tasty food if you don’t have an equally tasty beverage (preferably alcoholic) to wash it down with? With that spirit in mind, I’ve decided to take a cue from Kayoko and start a column called Happy Hour, dedicated to all things alcoholic that make us, well, happy–we’ll leave the sad part to AA.
For this installment I’m sharing with you a chile pepper infused vodka and a cocktail I made with it. It’s really easy to infuse your own liquor, and vodka is my vehicle of choice because its neutral taste really enables it to take on the flavor of whatever you’re infusing it with. You can virtually use anything, from vanilla beans to fruits to spices.
Infusing liquor has been a very common practice throughout history, usually as a means of masking the flavor of spirits that were harsh, unrefined, and often homemade. In Iran it’s quite popular to infuse vodka (usually of cheap bootlegged or smuggled variety) with cherries.
It goes without saying that the higher quality your ingredients, especially when it comes to your choice of liquor, the better final product you’ll have. It may seem counterintuitive to “dilute” a high quality spirit with other ingredients, but a cleaner and purer liquor will make for more effective flavor infusion. So when it comes to vodka, the more times it is distilled, the cleaner and purer it is. I opt for vodka that’s at least triple-distilled; this time I used Svedka vodka, which is distilled 5 times, and not as expensive as some of the better known brands.
While I normally stick to fruits–I was set on using mangoes–this time I made a departure at the behest of my wife, and decided to infuse the Vodka with spicy chile peppers. I used a bunch of chiles of different varieties: Anaheim, Golden Cayenne, Holland, and Serrano. In order to make sure the peppers effectively release all that good heat and flavor, I took a knife and cut a slit down the side of each chile.
The next step was to add them to the jar, pour in the vodka, and store the jar somewhere away from direct sunlight. The length of time really depends upon the level of flavor infusion you’d like to achieve. For peppers I like to infuse for at least a couple of weeks, but then again I have a higher heat tolerance than most–and believe me, this vodka was no joke when it came to heat!
Here’s a drink I call a Dragon Tail, created from the spicy vodka and inspired by the upcoming Beijing games, and that will hopefully make you forget how badly the Olympics suck:
1 part Passoa passion fruit liqueur
2 parts chile pepper infused vodka
4 parts mango juice or nectar
Chile pepper for garnish
Combine all ingredients in a shaker filled with ice. Shake and strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with the chile.
*Why not add some of this chile pepper infused vodka into your Bloody Mary? It’ll cure your hangover quick!
Come back every Wednesday for Paystyle’s weekly Happy Hour column.