Citrus season is upon us in sunny SoCal and I’m on the hunt for the most delicious specimens our local grow-smiths have to offer. When I hit the mosh pit that is Santa Monica Farmers Market — to get the best loot, elbows often need to be used — my first stop is Garcia Organic Farms, where the plump and fragrant orbs of grapefruity goodness beckon me to come hither.
The standout by far is the oro blanco. It’s technically not a grapefruit but a hybrid of a pomelo and a white grapefruit — sweeter, less bitter, seedless and just jam-packed with juice begging to be freed from its pale yellow skin.
As it happens, the pomelo is a lucky fruit to have at your dinner table for Chinese New Year, and since my task this week is to put together a cocktail to celebrate the Year of the Dog, I make a grab for as much of the fruit as my arms can carry. OK, to be honest, I order from Lety at Garcia Farms ahead of time; she’s a doll. As a night-owl bartender I’ve spent many a morning arriving too late at the market, when stocks are seriously depleted, but it sounds less exciting if I tell you the boring truth of how I get my white gold citrus plunder.
Once I get back to the bar, I have my way with the fruit. The peel gets steeped in vodka because why waste any of this beauty, while the juice is put aside for the cocktail imminently forming in my head, a riff on a Salty Dog. Like any hunter, I’m a firm believer in using every single part of my “kill,” so discarding such perfumed skin would be disrespectful of nature and its bounty.
My thoughts turn to complementary flavors. Oro blancos are a natural to pair with bitters such as bright red Campari, and red is an auspicious color for New Year celebrations. However, I opt to keep its glorious yellow color and choose instead a paler version called Cap Corse Quina. The lemony notes in this wine-based aperitif make me think of adding kaffir lime leaves with their invigoratingly floral aroma.
To get the fullest flavor from the peel and the leaves, a flash infusion happens by way of sous-vide. Now don’t be put off by the fancy French term: I’m basically just dunking Ziploc bags filled with the leaves and spirit in a hot water bath, which helps to speed up the whole infusing process. An immersion circulator is used to control the heat of the water.
My circulator and I are besties and get to hang on a daily basis — the perfect relationship for me since I get to call all the shots, but I digress.
To round out this cocktail I decide on a local IPA beer as the final accent; its bitter finish and hoppy fragrance are a match made in heaven for the citrus. Beer works well as a lengthener in mixed drinks and can be added instead of soda water for effervescence. But for my purposes, I’m whipping it up with smoked salt into a head of foam that will outfit the drink with a meringue-like bonnet.
The finished drink is light, refreshing and totally session-able, a perfect partner to a plate of steamed dumplings, crispy egg rolls or Peking duck.
Kung Hei Fat Choi! To happiness and prosperity then!
Lunar New Year Salty Dog
1 oz. oro blanco zest–infused vodka
1½ oz. kaffir leaf–infused Cap Corse Quina (Lillet Blanc or Cocchi Americano are good substitutions)
1½ oz. oro blanco juice
¾ oz. elderflower liqueur
3 dashes hopped grapefruit bitters
1 pinch Maldon smoked salt
For the IPA foam
(makes enough for 10-12 servings)
½ liter IPA beer
4 oz. elderflower liqueur
1 oz. Maldon salt solution (teaspoon Maldon smoked salt + 1 oz. hot water)
1 tsp. texturas sucro
Oro blanco vodka
1 liter bottle vodka; my preference is Cap Rock
Peel of four oro blancos or pomelos
Using a Y peel, shave off peel and toss either into a Ziploc bag or large screw-top jar. Pour in vodka to cover.
If you are using the sous-vide method, place bags in hot water bath with temperature on immersion circulator set at 55 degrees Celsius
Leave for 2 hours. Allow to cool before transferring back into bottle. Store in fridge until ready to use.
If using jar method, place in fridge and allow to steep for at least 48 hours before using to get fullest flavor.
Kaffir lime leaf quina
750ml Cap Corse Quina (Lillet Blanc works, too)
20 grams (or 25-30) kaffir lime leaves
Use same method for infusing as oro blanco vodka.