Sunday, July 12, 2015

From Rio with Love and Cachaça Cherries

Squeaking this one in on a Sunday to officially have a Cachaça Week here on Feu de Vie (check out Tuesday's rye-cachaça Chimaera for the other entry in the festivities). This was a recipe I originally developed last summer and it was good enough that it was worth publishing for this year's cherry season.

Is it just me or have you dear reader also had difficulty finding a good, simple DIY cocktail cherry recipe? Don't get me wrong, there are several good recipes out there - I've tried Dr. Adam's recipe with good results, for instance - but many have a level of culinary process involved that can daunt one from even starting. And sometimes you really need cocktail cherries, STAT.

So with the criteria in mind of good-but-simple I came across this recipe from Michael Dietsch over at Serious Eats, with a notable openness to variation. (and seriously, go check out the crew over at Serious Eats in general if you haven't already. In particular, Mr. Dietsch is a master of Shrubs and Marcia Simmons has a slew of great DIY cocktail anything recipes)

3 jars of cocktail cherries (brandied, sherried - yes, sherry cherries - and cachaça) and an hour or so later, I was a happy camper. Sherried cherries I may write-up at another point, but I noticed recently the more-unique cachaça cherries have been cropping up in my recipes, so deserved a decent write-up.

Ever come across a white spirit cocktail recipe that calls for a cherry garnish? Kinda rare, to be honest -  red cherry juice could spoil an otherwise clean-pure cocktail, and who wants baking spice flavors coupling with grass notes or green herbs for that matter? But what if the latter weren't necessarily so, and you didn't have to rely on cherries' seasonality to get a fresh flavor?

Enter cachaça cherries, bursting with a fresh bite and brio, perfect for white bases such as tequila, cane spirits, and even gin.

Cachaça Cherries  

(adapted from a recipe for 1lb cherries, down to 6oz (weight) cherries, then scaled back to up to 1lb cherries)
1 pound cherries
1/2 cup turbinado sugar
1/2 cup cherry juice or water
1 cup white cachaça*
pinch salt
1 1/2 to 2 sprigs fresh or 1 1/2 tsp dried peppermint
3 T julienned ginger
zest of half a large lime (strips)

*if lacking cachaça proper, try using a white rhum agricole or even Batavia arrack.

The instructions are effectively the same as the original brandied cherries recipe I used (gently heat sugar, juice/water, salt until dissolved; add spirit; bathe cherries in warm spirit-syrup and bottle).

Because fresh ingredients are being used, I wouldn't add these when preparing the syrup itself, as heat will diminish the flavor. Instead, layer these in the jar amid the cherries and pour the warm spirit-syrup over top. Then seal the jar and shake to ensure thorough syrup-coverage over the cherries.

I strongly urge using fresh peppermint (maybe half a sprig per 8-12oz jar). It's less messy and profoundly more robust/green a flavor than dried. Dried will work though, if you don't have access to fresh; this you would want to infuse in the syrup as you're cooking it, but be sure to strain it out prior to adding to the cherries.

The brandied cherries recipe indicates that the cherries will be ready for use after an overnight in the fridge, and it's true that the flavor transfer does happen in that short a time frame. But I encourage longer resting (perhaps a week, initially) for deeper balanced flavors (peppermint + cherry + cachaça = dark chocolate) and a more thorough curing. How long do they last? I'm still working through my summer 2014 batch, and they're still pretty decent.

The above seasonings are good for a fresher, brighter take on the cocktail cherry, though if you're looking for some darker notes to anchor, a fresh chopped rosemary needle or two (literally, needles, not a whole sprig - it's way too powerful infusing over the long term otherwise) or a small bit of sage leaf or cacao nib might not be untoward.

To take these cherries for a spin, try out this little ditty, that not only treats you to three juicy flavorful cachaça cherries, but a bit of the jar syrup as well.

From Rio with Love
1 1/2 oz white cachaça (Pitu)
1 oz dry vermouth
1/2 oz Strega
1/2 oz lime juice
1 dash lemon bitters
dash or two of cachaça cherry syrup
3 skewered cachaça cherries for garnish

Shake. Strain. Garnish. 
Turn in the appropriate directions and salute Brazil; Campania, Italy; 
and NOLA where the maestro of Strega cocktails plies his trade.

Briny citrus with a hint of herbs, saffron and spirit-swiss chocolate funk on the nose.
Cachaça brine, lime-activated sweetness influenced by peppermint-juniper then chocolate, but still crisp on the tongue. A bite of cherry warms and fills the mouth, spiced by mint.

A sweetheart of a cocktail