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Summertime Sippin’: Lemongrass Vodka
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Summertime Sippin’: Lemongrass Vodka

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.

Lemongrass Vodka
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.

4 Responses to “Summertime Sippin’: Lemongrass Vodka”

  • yams says:

    Yum, this sounds so good! Can’t wait to try it, although we’re still freezing our butts off here in SF. Question on the ginger ale – have you tried Vernor’s? I grew up with this in Michigan and recently rediscovered it. It has a very peppery, make you sneeze, kick to it – I wonder how it would work with this recipe?

  • luke says:

    @yams Well, you’ll have plenty of time to infuse it, then, before it gets warm… does it EVER get warm out there? Though, honestly, you’d not be complaining about cold if you still lived in D.C. Last week was HORRIFIC.

    Anyway, I’ve not tried Vernor’s, but I assume my go-to firey ginger beer, Goya’s Jamaican Style, is similarly incendiary. The lemongrass releases a lot of flavor, but even a strong infusion can get totally steamrollered by a powerful ginger beer. I’d actually plump for good ol’ Canada Dry or something of that ilk, here. Think lighter for this… in white wine with a splash of soda would also be pretty awesome.

  • Carol says:

    This sounds wonderful. There is a restaurant near us that served an absolutely delicious Green Party cocktail last year which contained lemongrass vodka, ginger, coriander, Limoncello, and simple syrup. The colour was greenish, but not really cloudy. I wonder if I tried your lemongrass infused vodka without the Turbinado sugar whether that would work.

    Vernor’s Ginger Ale was my favourite drink when I was younger. We can still occasionally find it here in Ontario. It is quite different from ginger beer, which we love to use in Moscow Mules (old school – served in the traditional copper Mule mug).

  • luke says:

    What a great-sounding combo of flavors! And you could certainly do this without the turbinado… In fact, replace with 3/4 as much regular white sugar and then you’d probably be able to omit the syrup at the end.

    I’ve not seen Vernor’s anywhere, but I love a good spicy ginger ale. I’ll have to keep an eye out! My go-to is usually Goya’s Jamaican Style. It’s positively incendiary. Beware when mixing with the lemongrass, though; the latter’s a quite delicate flavor and is easily overcome by a powerful ginger.

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