Pere Cecchini’s Gin & Tonic

I’m currently reading, “Cosmopolitan: A Bartender’s Life,” by Toby Cecchini.

While a lot of the passages are entertaining and interesting, the following regarding his father’s gin & tonic ritual was one of the most vivid.

“One of my fondest running memories I have of growing up is arrival in his kitchen after the long, stuffy Greyhound bus ride from Madison and sitting to chat with him while he prepared drinks. He would take down a tall crystal pitcher and pour it almost a quarter full of gin. For years we had an ongoing polemic about which gin to use. He used to claim all gin was simply grain neutral spirits spiked with juniper and that it made no difference which one you used. One visit, then, I brought up a bottle of Tanqueray and won that argument handily. Taking fat limes at room temperature, he would need them in the ball of his hand against the cutting board, setting the intoxicating aroma tumbling through the room. This brings the citrus oil to the surface, he explained, and allows the gin to act as a solvent, removing and incorporating it into the drink. He He would cut them in half, juice them, and set the juice aside. He would slice the rinds into thin strips, which he then dumped into the gin and pummeled a bit with a pestle. The juice was added to cause further extraction. At this point he would invariably swirl the pitcher under my nose and declare solemnly, ‘You could wear this as cologne!’

“While that marriage was left to macerate for a few minutes, he would then take large ice cubes and, palming them lightly, thwack them expertly with the back of a heavy spoon, just once, whereupon they would obediently crumble into perfect shards, which he would scatter into the pitcher until it was half full or so with aromatic lime granita. I always marveled at the elan with which he pulled off that simple action; my efforts at duplicating this maneuver always end with me bludgeoning the recalcitrant glacier mercilessly as chips fly helter skelter.

“He would remove the tonic from its chilling and pour it gingerly, on a slant, down the side of the pitcher, stirring it cursorily with a tall glass want, just so the gin, which rises to the top, gets distributed; you don’t want to jostle that life-giving fizz out of it. We would take glasses from the freezer, garnished with fresh lime rounds for aesthetics, and carry the whole works like an Easter processional on a try out to the front porch. In the late-norther twilight with my first drink as a young man, chatting with my dad, I could feel the tie to civilization, the history in this lovely laying down of one’s burdens at the day’s close.”

Who could read that and NOT desire a Gin & Tonic?

The Gin & Tonic is an interesting bird. You’ll never really find a recipe or method for making one in a cocktail book. Like the Pimm’s Cup, I guess it is just too simple to be included with more complicated cocktails.

On the other hand…

When we were in Spain a few years ago, we were trying to get in to the Dry Martini Bar. Unfortunately, they had a private event, so we went across the Street to Peter’s Tavern and ordered Gin & Tonics. The ritual with which the bartender prepared 4 Gin & Tonics rivaled the Sazerac in its complexity. I was totally blown away by the grace and elegance with which he prepared the seemingly ‘simple’ drink. First the frilled beverage napkins were placed upon the bar in front of us. Then the bartender pulled out chilled glasses and hand selected cubes with tongs to fill each glass. Placing the glasses in front of him, he first poured the gin. A lot of Gin. Then he gently poured the tonic (Schweppe’s Indian) down the side. He stirred each gently, then, using tongs added the straws and lemon garnish. Finally he placed each glass in front of us to enjoy.

So let’s try and translate Mr Cecchini, the younger’s, rather large block of text into a recipe.

First, there are four components in a Gin and Tonic.

Gin: Other types of Gin are interesting, but when making a Gin & Tonic, I’m afraid I have to insist on a stiff, Juniper forward, traditional London Dry Gin, made in England. In the US, your choices of traditional London Dry Gin made in England are basically Beefeater, Plymouth, and Tanqueray. As we can see above, Mr Cecchini, the younger, favors Tanqueray, and I do not disagree. (If you must use an American Gin, about the only two, (I’ve tried,) which hew fairly closely to the London Dry blueprint are Anchor’s Junipero and Death’s Door Gin.) Regarding the amount of Gin, you will often find people rather overpour the Gin & Tonic. I prefer to stick to 1 1/2 oz per person and a highball glass on the smaller size. Otherwise, the drink waters down before you finish.

Tonic: The classic Tonic is Schweppes Indian Tonic, but it is rather hard to come by in the US and also tends to be priced at a premium. As a rule, when possible, I avoid anything with High Fructose Corn Syrup or Agave Nectar, so this leaves me with Fever Tree or Stirrings, which are also not cheap. I personally prefer Fever Tree, but your mileage may vary.

Ice: As Mr Cecchini, senior, cracked his ice, so shall we. I make cubes in my Tovolo King Cube Ice trays and then crack them into shards and cubes with a lovely japanese ice pick, purchased from Cocktail Kingdom.

Citrus Garnish: In some parts of Europe, you are far more likely to find your Gin & Tonic garnished with lemon than the lime more common in America. I prefer lime, I guess because it is what I am used to, though lemon is ok in a pinch. Mr Cecchini, senior’s, recipe is the first I’ve seen where the juice is quite literally separated from the skins in the drink. Interesting, I’ll give it a try. Also, do note you will get more juice out of a lime if it is at room temperature.

Gin & Tonic for Two

Gin & Tonic for Two a la pere Cecchini

3 oz London Dry Gin
1 Lime
about 7 oz Tonic (or one 200ml bottle)
Ice
Lime Wheel for Garnish (optional)

METHOD: Peel limes longitudinally (from top to bottom). Squeeze peels into a mixing glass or pitcher and drop in. Add Gin to mixing glass. Juice lime and add to mixing glass, should be between 1/2 to 3/4 oz lime juice. If your limes are sad and dry, you may need more than 1. Crack ice and add to mixing glass. Ice two collins glasses, no more than 12 oz. Stir gin and lime juice briefly and strain into two glasses. Pour tonic down the side of the glasses to nearly fill and stir gently. Garnish with lime wheels and serve immediately.

To be honest, one of my favorite things about this recipe is that it is for two. Individual cocktails are cool, but making pitchers of cocktails is even better, especially for loved ones and friends. And this is quite delicious, almost more like a Gin Rickey with Tonic than what I usually associate with GNT. However, I’m not going to be a stickler when the results are this appealing.

Arborio with Winter Squash, Salad and Sausage

Especially when served as an aperitif before a classic Flannestad fall dinner for two like: Arborio Rice with Butternut Squash and Mushrooms. Grilled Sausages. Red Romaine salad with Fuyu Persimmon in a white wine, sage, and scallion dressing.

Bonus picture of Monty the Dog at Fort Funston! Ball!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

I can’t resist fall flavors.

When I read David Tanis’ article, A Taste of Fall in a Bottle of Hard Cider, I knew I would be making the accompanying recipe, (more or less,) Pork Chops with Apples and Cider.

“But now, with piles of new-crop apples at the greenmarket and a stand selling local handmade cider, too, dinner seems practically predestined. I’ll pan-fry boneless pork chops and serve them with butter-browned apples and a Normandy-style sauce made with cider and cream. And to drink, a chilled bottle of sparkling New York hard cider.”

Sutton Cellars Gravenstein Cider

Sutton Cellars Gravenstein Cider

Since we’re on the West Coast, I am using Sutton Cellars delicious Gravenstein Sonoma Apple Cider for this dish!

Rub the chops with the spice mix and allow to stand at room temperature.

Saute apples until tender.

Flour chops and brown on both sides.

Remove chopes and drain excess oil from pan. Add cider to deglaze pan. Reduce until syrupy. Add Chicken Stock and thicken slightly using corn, potato, or arrowroot starch. Check seasoning and strain out any undesirable solids. Return sauce to pan and add (IMHO not optional) Calvados. Cook off excess alcohol then add apples, chops, and fresh sage (I left out the cream in the original) and place in a hot oven until desired degree of doneness is achieved. I served the chops with some roasted winter squash and a braise of dino kale and abalone mushrooms.

You’re not going to make me get up, are you?

Bonus Monty picture!

(Not) Borscht

This week, it was me who was sick and needed chicken soup.

Well, sometimes you have to make your own chicken soup…

From Sep 27, 2012

Chicken Soup with Beets

1 Bunch of Beets, Skinned and Chopped. Stems and leaves reserved
6 Red Potatoes, skinned and Chopped.
Broth, see below.

1 TBSP Olive Oil
Beet Stems, finely diced.
1 Onion, finely diced.
1 Carrot, finely diced.
1 Celery Rib, finely diced.
1 tsp Whole Dry Marjoram.
1 tsp Whole Dry Thyme.
Dry Vermouth or dry white wine.

Beet Greens, Sliced finely.
Chicken meat, from broth below.
Salt and Pepper, to taste.

Cucumber and Dill Raita, see below.
Dill Sprigs.

Add Potatoes and Beets to Chicken Broth and salt generously. Bring to a simmer and cook until beets are tender. Puree soup with a hand blender, in a blender, or food processor, adding more chicken broth or water as necessary. Rinse the heavy cooking pot, or a separate one and heat. Add Olive oil and saute diced onions, celery, and beet stems with herbs until tender. Deglaze pan with Dry Vermouth. Add pureed soup to pot and add chicken meat and Beet Greens. Cook until Beet Greens are tender. Check seasonings, and serve with a spoonful of Raita in each bowl and top with a dill sprig.

Chicken Broth

1 Chicken, Quartered
1 Rib Celery, chopped
1 Onion Chopped
1 Carrot, Sliced thinly
3 Whole Cloves
1 tsp Whole Black Peppercorns
1 Bay Leaf
1 tsp Whole Dry Thyme
Water

Cover chicken, vegetables, and spices with cold water and bring to a low simmer. Continue cooking over low heat until chicken is cooked through. Remove Chicken from water and reserve. When chicken is cool enough to handle, remove meat from bones and add bones and skin back to water. Continue cooking as time allows, at least an hour. Strain solids from Broth and return to heat.

Cucumber and Dill Raita

1 Cucumber, peeled, seeded and sliced.
Tops of 3 Green Onions, thinly sliced.
2 TBSP Dill Leaves, thinly sliced.
1 Cup Yoghurt.
Water.
Salt, to taste.

Toss Cucumber with salt and let stand in a colander for an hour or two. Rinse Cucumber and pat dry with towels. Chop Cucumber and combine with other ingredients. Thin slightly with water, add salt to taste and chill.

From Sep 27, 2012

Curry Chicken Soup with Sweet Potatoes and Chard

Probably not your Grandmother’s Chicken Soup, but nice all the same…

From Curry Chicken Soup with Sweet Potatoes

Curry Chicken Soup with Sweet Potatoes

3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
Broth, see below.
Chicken meat, from broth below
Curry Powder, below
1 bunch Chard, stemmed and sliced thin.
Salt and Pepper, to taste.
Cucumber and Basil Raita, see below.

Add Potatoes to Chicken Broth and salt generously. Bring to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are tender. Puree soup with a hand blender, in a blender, or food processor. Return to pot, add chicken meat, Curry Powder, and Chard. Cook until Chard is tender. Check seasonings, and serve with a spoonful of Basil Raita in each bowl.

Curry Powder

1 tsp Whole Coriander Seed
1 tsp Whole Cumin Seed
1 tsp Whole Fennel Seed
1 tsp Whole Fenugreek
1 tsp Whole Brown Mustard Seed
4 Whole Cloves
1 Small Stick Cinnamon, Broken
1/2 tsp White Peppercorns
1/2 tsp Black Peppercorns
3 Whole Chili de Arbol
1 tsp Ground Tumeric

Toast whole spices in a dry pan until fragrant. Grind in Coffee Mill or Spice Grinder. Add Tumeric.

Chicken Broth

1 Chicken, Quartered
1 inch piece Ginger, sliced thinly
1 Onion Chopped
1 Carrot, Sliced thinly
3 Garlic Cloves, Smashed
Water

Cover chicken and vegetables with water and bring to a low simmer. Continue cooking over low heat until chicken is cooked through. Remove Chicken from water and reserve. When chicken is cool enough to handle, remove meat from bones and add bones and skin back to water. Continue cooking as time allows, in my case 2 episodes of Samurai Champloo. Strain solids from Broth and return to heat.

Cucumber and Basil Raita

1 Cucumber, peeled, seeded and sliced
Tops of 3 Green Onions, thinly sliced
2 TBSP Basil Leaves, thinly sliced
1 Cup Yoghurt
Water
Salt, to taste

Toss Cucumber with salt and let stand in a colander for an hour or two. Rinse Cucumber and pat dry with towels. Chop Cucumber and combine with other ingredients. Thin slightly with water, add salt to taste and chill.

Dinner 07212012

Everyone has been talking about State Bird Provisions‘ interesting idea for table service. Essentially, they have copped the Dim Sum house idea of small plates being circulated by servers on trays and carts for the guests perusal and potential purchase. The big difference being that the servers in Dim Sum houses don’t have to explain every course to every table, the dim sum repertoire of dishes being a fairly stable set of dishes. Not only do the servers have to carry heavy trays around the dining room all night, but they have to go through the same explanation of each dish to every table, over and over. Whew, seems exhausting to me.


From Jul 23, 2012

Also, that 24 bus ride from Bernal Heights to the Fillmore sure is a long one! Thank goodness Fat Angel is on the other end and Wild Side West on ours. Otherwise, that trip might be a bit much, especially late at night. You certainly get to experience a whole spectrum of San Francisco’s colors on the ride.


From Jul 23, 2012

Dinner 07-11-2012

Very successful weeknight dinner, just putting it up so I don’t forget the dishes, mostly.

Roasted Bone in chicken breasts marinated in Lemon, Marjoram, and Thyme. Bulgur cooked in a weak chicken broth with Garlic, Bay Leaf, and Thyme. Finished with roasted pecans and pan drippings. Watermelon, Arugula, Roasted Pistachios, Feta, and Basil in a White Wine Vinegar and chile vinaigrette.

3 Dots and a Dash

I’ve always liked the Rum drink called “3 Dots and a Dash” but never learned to make it.

A friend of mine, who also has a cocktail blog, wrote it up last week (Matt Robold over at Rumdood.com: 3 Dots and a Dash), so I figured it was about time I learned to make the damn thing.

A sort of Rum Punch, it is a delicious mix of potent rum flavors and drinkability.

3 Dots and a Dash

1 1/2 oz Neissen Ambre Rhum
1/2 oz El Dorado 5 Year Demerara Rum
1/2 oz Lime Juice
1/2 oz Orange Juice
scant 1/2 oz Honey Mix*
1/4 oz John Taylor Falernum
1/4 oz St Elizabeth’s Allspice Dram
1 scoop crushed ice (about 6 oz)

Blend or shake very well, until the outside of the mixing tin or glass frosts. Pour into a collins glass and garnish with a pineapple spear and 3 cherries.

*Honey Mix: Combine Honey 1-1 with warm water and shake to combine.

Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of 3 Dots and a Dash, so this Tabouleh will have to suffice:

I was looking through the fridge the other day and noticed I had a rather large, and totally forgotten, bag of uncooked bulgur wheat towards the back. Realized I hadn’t made Tabouleh in quite a while, so I figured now that tomatoes are starting to come into season, it would make a fine side salad for a roasted chicken.

Tabouleh is an interesting salad to play with, I’ve had them made all over the map. From basically all Parsley to almost entirely Bulgur. It’s sort of left to your interpretation. The mandatory elements, to me anyway, are: Cooked Bulgur Wheat, Parsley, Tomatoes, and olive oil. After that, the sky’s the limit.

Tabouleh

Cook bulgur wheat according to the directions on the package it came in. Cool Bulgur, draining if necessary. Get out a large bowl. Finely mince a clove or two of garlic, pour in a couple tablespoons of vinegar or lemon juice. Add a similar amount of olive oil. Chop your herbage and add it, being quite generous. Sometimes this dish is more an herb condiment than a salad. Chop a ripe and tasty tomato and throw it in with the herbs and garlic. Slice a green onion or two and add. Salt generously and toss to mix. Peel and chop a cucumber, (or other crispy vegetable,) and add. Toss again and check seasoning. Add bulgur wheat, maybe some crumbled feta cheese, and freshly ground pepper. Toss, allow to stand at room temperature for flavors to marry.

It is really easy to scale this up and down, it makes a totally classic hippie dish for a potluck. In fact, I believe, in certain cities, like Madison, WI and Berkeley, CA, if, through a bizarre set of coincidences, someone fails to bring Tabouleh as a “Dish to Pass”, all you have to do is close your eyes and say, “Tabouleh,” and it will appear on the table.

Pea Soup

This version of pea soup turned out quite well, so I am writing it down so I don’t forget.

Pea Soup

250g Dried Marrowfat Peas*

1 Piece Smoked Pork Hock
Bouquet Garni

1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 stick celery, chopped
Dried Tarragon
1 Teaspoon Paprika
pinch of Cayenne Pepper
Butter
Dry White Wine or Vermouth
Salt and Pepper

Sour Cream

METHOD:

Sift peas for possible debris and rinse. Soak dried peas overnight in twice the amount water as peas. Pour peas and water into a pan and add the pork hock and bouquet garni. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer until tender, (probably about 3 hours, depending on the age of the peas,) adding liquid as necessary.

Heat another large pan and saute the vegetables and spices in butter. Deglaze pan with Wine or Vermouth and remove from heat.

When peas are tender, remove pork hock and bouquet garni. Puree peas in a blender or food processor. Add pureed peas to vegetables and stir to combine. Remove any meat from hock, chop and add to soup. Bring to a simmer, adding more liquid if necessary. Check seasonings and add Salt and Pepper to taste. Garnish with a dollop of sour cream and serve with crusty bread.

Makes about 2 quarts.

*Available at specialty shops catering to expatriates from the UK. Split peas would be OK, too, but not as flavorful.

Omakase

From the wikipedia entry about “Omakase“:

“Omakase is a Japanese phrase that means “I’ll leave it to you” and it comes from the word for “entrust”.

“The expression is used at sushi restaurants to leave the selection to the chef. It differs from ordering à la carte. The chef will generally present a series of plates, beginning with the lightest fare and proceeding to heaviest, richest dishes. The phrase is not exclusive to service of raw fish with rice, and can incorporate grilling and simmering as well. Customers ordering omakase style expect the chef to be innovative and surprising in the selection of dishes, and the meal can be likened to an artistic performance by the chef. Ordering omakase can be a gamble; however, the customer typically receives the highest quality fish the restaurant currently has in stock at a price cheaper than if it was ordered à la carte. From the restaurant’s perspective, a large number of customers ordering omakase can help in planning for food costs.”

The other day, while I was working with him at Alembic, Danny Louie asked me what bartenders I admired in San Francisco.

I went through the litany of respected bartenders I admire in San Francisco and why.

But later, I was thinking about it, and another candidate for my favorite tender of a bar doesn’t make drinks at all.

Tim Archuleta and his wife run Ichi Sushi in my San Francisco neighborhood.

Tim runs his Sushi Bar more like a neighborhood Sushi Tavern, greeting guests as the come in. Asking them about their families or dogs. Keeping track of the progress of the various diners’ meals at his sushi bar. Pacing people’s meals so they don’t get too full or wait too long. All the while, cutting and serving some of the freshest sushi I’ve ever tasted.

I really admire the spirit he brings to the restaurant and to his guests.

Every time we go in, I usually just say chef’s choice and tell him how much we’d like to eat and what we are in the mood for.

It’s really fun, the way he paces the meal, starting with lighter fare, throwing in a few cooked dishes, and finishing again with lighter, almost dessert sushi.

Watching him work has made me think about how to properly pace and what order to serve people drinks. What drink is best first, what to follow with, what to finish with. If a guest asks you what to pair a dish with, what do you tell them?

Some of the best experiences I’ve had being served by a bartender have been at the Slanted Door, when my wife and I are lucky enough to be served by Mr. Erik Adkins*.

Like Omakase, we give him a framework of what we are interested in, how hungry, do we have food allergies, do we like oysters, etc, and he fills it out with what food is currently best at the restaurant and pairs it with wine, beer and spirits. His knowledge of both the food and drink is amazing but it is his apparent joy at serving us, as guests, with the best he has to offer, which is truly inspirational.

I don’t really have a moral to this story, other than to to point out the self evident: As bartenders, it is important to be aware of the larger context of the guests’ experiences.

I REALLY enjoy making great cocktails and impressing guests with them, but sometimes you have to put away the desire to impress a guest with your cocktail making skill and respect the trust they have put in you, whatever that means, on that on that night, for that particular guest, at that exact moment.

*I will note that I do work for Mr. Adkins at Heaven’s Dog. This is in no way meant to suck up to him, he already gave me a job afterall, just an honest expression of my admiration for his talents as a host and bartender.