Monday, October 9, 2017

Chinese cocktail redux

I’ve been a hooch maker for as long as I can remember. Something about making my own alcoholic beverages just tickles me for some reason, and I think that I like the process and the magic of it almost as much as the end result. 

In fact, when we moved last year, I ended up with approximately 30 gallons of homemade booze in my new basement. Not that that is a bad thing.

One of the first things I made long ago was peach booze, since I had a big white peach tree that ripened over the span of about two days, and I would always panic at this sudden onslaught of fruit threatening to decay on my kitchen counter. I found that after I had prepped enough for the freezer and jam, there was still enough starting to ferment on its own, so I just let it have its way, and before long I had some pretty tasty stuff to drink.

French prunes & Italian plums
I also am a big fan of elderberry wine, which is delicious, but is tedious to make, since each tiny berry has to be dislodged from the stems, which are also often havens for a variety of insects. If you have an elderberry bush in your neighborhood, the wine worth making if for no other reason than that it is pretty much impossible to find if you don’t do a homebrew.

However, today we are doing something much easier. This is a continuation of last week’s sojourn into making your own plum liqueur, because this is simply so easy and so delicious. 

A friend gave me some of her bumper crop of Italian plums this summer, which I then supplemented with a bunch of fresh French prunes, and these turned out to be really tasty when turned into booze. I used slab sugar instead of rock sugar, and the color is fantastic! I ended up with a lovely amber liquid that looks as good as it tastes.

And since my apple tree dumped a ton of windfall fruit all over the yard, these were snatched up and turned into another type of drink, as were some Asian pears that were sitting around.

Amber deliciousness
You can, therefore, use whatever you like here. Frozen berries work just fine, and pineapple is delectable. The only limit is your imagination…

Chinese-style fruit liqueur chez Huang
Huángjiā shuĭguŏ jĭu  黃家水果酒
Makes around 3.5 quarts (3.5 l)

3 pounds ripe fruit (see headnotes)
1 tablespoon sea salt, optional
Water, as needed
1 pound yellow rock sugar, slab sugar, or piloncillo – use more, if needed
2 (1.75 l) bottles soju or other white liquor or vodka or gin (add another bottle if you prefer a drier brew) 
Optional: a few star anise, dried licorice slices, a vanilla pod sliced open, some dried wolfberries (gouqi or goji berries), a few slices of fresh ginger, or what have you

Slash the skins of stone fruit
1. Rinse the fruit carefully and toss out any that are moldy or squishy or damaged. Small imperfections are all right as long as you discard those bits. If you are using whole fruit, like stone fruits or grapes, remove the stems and then slash the fruit skin all around so that the juices can escape; soak these in cool water plus the salt for a couple of hours to get rid of any bitterness in the skins (see the directions in last week's recipe). If you are using berries, just wash them carefully and drain. Other fruits (like mangoes and pineapples) should just have their inedible skins removed, and be sure to carve out the cores of apples and pears, as well as pits of things like mangoes.

2. Place the fruit in a 1 gallon (4 l) jar, add the sugar and alcohol, as well as any spice or herb you’d like, and then keep the jar lightly covered so that gases can escape. Stir this mixture every day for about a week, then secure the lid and let it age for a couple of months or, ideally, for much longer. Strain out the liqueur and bottle it, if you like.

Some cocktail ideas:

1. Any of these liqueurs are excellent served chilled or over ice, preferably crushed. Add a paper umbrella, if you want to get fancy.

2. Seltzer, tonic water, or sparkling water can be added for lighter cocktails: use half liqueur and half water, and serve over ice.

3. A slightly tart edge can be supplied via a wedge of lime or lemon.

4. Serve the fruit liqueur the fits the season. For example, an apple cocktail would be great in autumn, while a mango one tastes of summer.

5. Chunks of fresh fruit can be added to the drink, like a couple of fresh strawberries with a berry cocktail or a slice of pineapple perched on the rim of a pineapple or mango drink.

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