Tis the season, all of a sudden, for refreshing poolside/rooftop/backyard cocktails. And, lest it be said that I never did anything for you, here’s another quick and easy infusion that will set your bar–wherever it may be–head and shoulders above everyone else’s.
Like the Earl Grey vodka I put up for our Royal Wedding “tea” party, this is another simple put-stuff-in-vodka-and-let-it-sit-around kind of thing. While I have some other more complex liquors in the works (strawberry-black pepper rum, anyone?), this fairly basic lemongrass infusion is worth mentioning since the herb has such a lovely flavor–sharp, citrusy, and herbaceous–that isn’t familar to people as it should be.
I suspect this is in large part due to the “grass” part of lemongrass. It’s only good fresh (dried is UTTERLY useless), and even then, it’s tough and fibrous and just kind of a pain in the ass.
Vodka, then, is the perfect gateway application as we get all of the taste with none of the narsty crunchy bits found in the headily-scented Southeast Asian soups and such where lemongrass is usually deployed.
In a nod to those cultural antecedents, I used turbinado instead of regular sugar to smooth out the mouthfeel and add the toasty caramel note often found in Vietnamese cooking particularly. A tiny piece of ginger adds dimension to the already powerful lemongrassy zing.
This is just lovely on the rocks with ginger ale–now’s the time to reach for the Canada Dry, fancy ginger beers would just walk all over the lemongrass–or a lightly-flavored seltzer, maybe with a dash more syrup and a mint sprig. Any way you slice it, it’s a brightly envigorating.
And, on a purely functional note, the coarse-grained sugar helps break down the stubborn lemongrass stalks in record time. Having done this manually several times, blunting the bejezus out of my chef’s knife in the process, I’ll have you know that this is a very good thing indeed.
Yield: 750ml bottle
1 750ml bottle mid-shelf vodka
6 fresh lemongrass stalks
1/2 c tubinado sugar
1 quarter-sized slice fresh ginger
1/2 c simple syrup
Peel off any damaged or bruised outer layers from the lemongrass stalks, and discard along with the dried out tops–usually about between 1/2 and 1/3 of total length. Chop the remaining lemongrass and combine with turbinado sugar in the bowl of a food processor.
Take two shots. (Or, you know, pour off a little vodka for a tonic or so later… whatever.)
Pour about two shots of the remaining vodka into the food processor with the lemongrass and sugar. Process till thoroughly pulped and sugar has dissolved–about 5 minutes. You’ll need to stop the processor and scrape down the bowl a few times.
Using a funnel and a cooking chopsick (or something…) add the lemongrass mixture to the bottle, cap, and let sit for three to four weeks, shaking occassionally.
When ready to decant, have the simple syrup ready and cooled (1:1 water and sugar cooked together just till dissolved). Line a strainer with several thicknesses of cheesecloth and carefully pour off the clear top of the infused vodka.
Set the lined strainer over another bowl and pour in the thicker, chudgy vodka with all the stuff in it. Swap in some fresh cheesecloth and strain this second bowl again to help clarify. Recombine both in the original bottle and top off with syrup to taste. It’s shouldn’t be overtly sweet, just smoothed out a bit.
Notes & Variations
Per the NYT, Smirnoff is the PassionFruits vodka of choice for such adventures. Something similar would be fine of course, but don’t stray too far from the middle shelf in either direction. Too expensive and you’ll be wasting your money on the vodka. Too cheap and you’ll be wasting your money on everything you put in it.