Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Apricot-Meyer Lemon Shrub

You know I'm in trouble when I'm whipping up special ingredients for drinks.

This is my first go at a shrub - an old-time method of preserving fresh fruit as a liquid using sugar and acid (mainly vinegar and/or citrus juice) and au courant type of cocktail ingredient. As opposed to liquor infusions, flavored simple syrups, or homemade liqueurs, shrubs offer up ways to incorporate acidity in a cocktail beyond the flavors of your basic citrus juices. In addition to the actual fruit involved, choices of vinegar from red wine to balsamic to cider can also impact that final sour note.

Now, as if it weren't enough that I was doing my first shrub, period**, my choice of flavors wasn't something that had any kind of exact how-to already in existence. There are some great shrub references out there (more than I can list), even some apricot-specific recipes and citrus ones, too. But thus far I haven't seen a dual-fruit or fruit-and-citrus shrub recipe. In which case, *rubs hands together* time to make it up as I go!

** so please don't take this recipe as a work of shrub expertise as much as a journal post for reference as I get a few more shrubs under my belt. I did get pretty good results, though, so it's not like you can't make this yourself (and I hope you will if some of my upcoming cocktails interest you).

I tried to stick to a basic cold process 1 - 1 - 1 /fruit - sugar - vinegar ratio which most everyone attributes to bartender Neyah White (no blog of which I'm aware). Or, at least, I tried to stick to the ratio to start. Let me walk you through what I did and how I ended up with rather tasty results (short version at bottom).


Oleo saccharum after 2 hrs. Oh for a smell-o-gram filter..
Stage 1: Oleo saccharum

I started off with 4 Meyer lemons. In reading up on citrus shrubs, the first step is to make what the pros call oleo saccharum (if that's an unfamiliar term, google "David Wondrich Punch!" You're welcome 8^). Effectively, citrus zest strips with minimal white pith (a vegetable peeler is a great tool for this) tossed with sugar. Covered and left to sit at room temperature overnight, the sugar draws out the zest's oils and makes a syrup. (hold onto the zested lemons for stage 3!)

At this point in the experiment I figured I would use at least 1 cup acid ingredients (juice + vinegar), so I added that much sugar by weight (228g, a little over 1 cup) to the zest. With a little bit of swirling most of the sugar dissolved within about 14 hours of resting. I figured for this first stage, working with the Meyer lemon alone would be the best way to obtain all the butterfly-meadow floral goodness of the zest, without it having to vie with the apricot for the sugar's extracting abilities.

It might be a struggle, but keep the lid closed on the oleo saccharum: keep all that heavenly floating-through-the-flowerbeds scent inside for the final shrub. And boy is it heavenly.

Fresh apricots an hour after adding.
Stage 2: Add apricots

This was the trickiest part, with a lot of factors to consider: Should the weight of the zest be factored in? Should the apricots be cooked in order to intensify their flavor (a thing with apricots, though less so with other stone fruit)? Even without the weight of the zest, would an equal weight of apricots bring enough flavor? At times like these it's best to go with your senses.

Now, a shrub at base is a method for preserving fruit, and therefore you should be using peak fruit. I picked up a couple of pounds of apricots from the farmers' market and you could smell the blooming scent on their blush - these weren't lifeless supermarket apricots. Still, I left them on the countertop in their brown paper bag, top rolled over, to further ripen and soften a few days since I had decided to do a complete cold-process, no cooking.

In adding the apricots, cleaned and pitted and sliced, I started by measuring out a weight equivalent to what sugar was already in the bowl. That seemed inadequate given how potent the Meyer lemon smell was, so I upped the total amount of apricots and sugar in the bowl to 400g each. Covered, walked away for a day while further syrup developed. Tasted a day later, the sugar was very dominant in comparison to the delicate apricot flavor, so I added more apricots to put it at roughly a 3 - 2/apricot - sugar ratio (and at this point gave everything a good muddling just to further bring out flavor). A day's resting later the flavor was just right.


Stage 3: Add acid ingredients

This part's quick and simple: take the juice from the Meyer lemons you zested in Stage 1 (try to avoid juicing ahead of time so the juice is as fresh as possible when you use it), then add champagne vinegar to it until you have the amount by weight equal to the total amount of sugar you used. Add to the syrup, mix, let rest a little to combine if you like, then strain and bottle. Storing in the fridge is probably recommended for this shrub because while it's a mix of vinegar and citrus juice, and not just citrus juice, the juice is less shelf-stable than the vinegar and could use the preservation-support. (this came up in the comments for the 3rd apricot shrub recipe and the 2nd citrus shrub recipe listed above).

-Champagne vinegar, though light in taste, has just as much acidity as other vinegars. It's a good match for light flavors in general and works well with Meyer lemon in particular. (for the heck of it, here: have a recipe illustrating such which I tried when using up leftover ingredients for La Primavera nella Campagna)

-I did let the pre-strained shrub rest a few days in the fridge after adding the vinegar, but that was more due to schedule difficulties than anything else. It doesn't seem to have negatively affected quality.

-As for straining, cheesecloth will get clogged rather quickly and will keep out fruity particles which add flavor, so I did a first strain through a salad strainer/colander to get the large bits out, then through a fine mesh sieve to get the little strands of pulp or zest which snuck through.



Overall, the final flavor, well, it has a passing resemblance to duck sauce for obvious reasons, but while the shrub, neat, is heavier, there's this floral uplift quality to it along with a dainty tartness.



So, to sum up in a streamlined version, incorporating all my trial and error above:

Apricot-Meyer lemon shrub

Stage 1: Zest 4 Meyer lemons in strips using a vegetable peeler, avoiding bitter white pith. Reserve zested lemons for later juicing. Add zest to a bowl with 200g white sugar. Cover, shake and let rest at room temperature overnight.

Stage 2: Add 600g cleaned, pitted, sliced apricots to the bowl along with 200g white sugar. Muddle everything well. Cover, let rest at room temperature 2 days. Swirl occasionally to help combine.

Stage 3: Juice the reserved Meyer lemons and add champagne vinegar to total 400g liquid. Add to syrup and let rest a duration of your choosing (could be none, avoid going longer than a day) to combine/let the vinegar extract more flavor from the fruit. Strain out the fruit bits with a fine-mesh sieve, and bottle. Store in the refrigerator. Makes roughly 1 quart.


Stay tuned for more - I have multiple cocktail recipes planned for this shrub. And even if those don't appeal? It really does make a great sauce for pork or fowl. Throw in a little cornstarch, some fresh apricots and thyme or ginger, and you're golden. Or, well, the sauce will be, unless you're prepping a Bond girl costume for Halloween or something.

Also, I'd love to know your thoughts on all things shrubbery! What have you made before? Is there anything you think I could do to improve the above recipe?