If It Weren’t For Those Muddling Kids
I don’t think Scooby Doo and the gang were making many cocktails (Shaggy was likely smoking his intoxicants), but they might view muddling as a mystery. Since this is a prominent part of making many cocktails today, let’s get it out there.
Muddling is pressing ingredients with a pestle-shaped muddler in order to release the juices, oils and flavors of fruits, herbs and chile peppers. If you’ve ever ordered a mojito, you’ve seen this technique in action, as the bartender muddles the mint in the bottom of the glass with sugar before adding the rum, lime juice and club soda. If done well, you get a pretty drink with greenery and a nice mint taste. If the drink mixer has aggression issues, you get a whole lot of leaf pieces shooting up your straw with each sip – where you know they’ll probably lodge between your teeth like you’ve been eating salad. Or, in the case of a frustrating blackberry mojito I had at the Ritz Carlton (where you’d think they’d know better) in Lake Las Vegas, a straw jammed with blackberry seeds.
But strength of muddling is not the only factor. Some cocktail pros advocate adding sugar with the item to be muddled – in the case of the mint above, the grains of sugar would help masticate the leaves. Others use simple syrup, which is not granular, in order to mix the flavors before shaking with ice and booze. And at one site I saw a clip of a bartender slapping the mint in between his hands to release the flavor, but I’ll save that for when my mint has been very, very naughty.
Unlike the mojito, most drinks I make and see recipes for call for muddling in a cocktail shaker and not in the serving glass, so the muddled items are strained out. No doubt I will learn more (and share it here), but I have found a couple of muddling musts: First, I don’t smash the fruit or leaves; I press and turn the muddler slightly each time. I also tend to muddle leafy herbs first, then add any fruit and muddle it again. Otherwise it is hard to reach the herbs properly through the thick fruit. Then I add the ice and remaining ingredients and shake. But – and here’s the second part – I don’t rely on the strainer at the top of my shaker if I’ve muddled soft fruit or that with seeds in it. I put a baby strainer on top of the glass and pour the drink through that. You get a yummy drink and no salad teeth.
Try this spring drink out:
Strawberry-Basil Refresher6 strawberries 6 basil leaves 2 oz vodka 1 oz simple syrup 1 oz lime juice 2 oz club soda
In a cocktail shaker, first muddle the basil, then add strawberries and muddle. Add ice, vodka, simple syrup and lime juice; shake well. Double-strain into a highball with ice, then add club soda and stir gently.