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Imagen Tradition as a trend

Tradition as a trend

Ruth Mateu

At the foot of the Montseny mountain, lies the small town of Sant Pere de Vilamajor, a short hour trip away from the city of Barcelona. Narrow streets, steep slopes, small shops, ancient families, and history-laden Plaza Mayor, surrounded by forests and meadows where, in the afternoon, the sun's rays bathe the fresh grass.

Medieval traditions, horses, blunderbusses and dances constitute its character. Small and humble restaurants where time has stopped, where smells of woodsmoke and grandmothers are still the queens of the fire, with their large clay pots, where personality traits are reflected in the creations they make.

This is the era of the revolution of flavors, where one researches, senses, is known and imprints ... but still enjoying that romance, that so nice environment that surrounds us at these places, these hosts who have the gift to get in the skin of the guest, with infinite empathy where the most important is to do things with passion, love and tradition. That tradition which for generations has been part of every good kitchen.

I feel fortunate to have a nice little town without having to go to the new advertising campaign of Aquarius.

Some time ago I was given the opportunity to be part of a larger project led by The Glenrothes Spanish team: Vintage Perfection Cocktails. A group of bartenders which I belonged to, was asked to prepare a cocktail aged in little barrels that contained sherry before ageing Glenrothes.

Limitations? None. The fun was sure as well as the curiosity of being able to work on something different and new to me. One thing is to know the art of aging cocktails in barrels, and quite another to execute and develop it.

After some thoughtful night (I do not think mornings are much productive for bartenders), I opted for a classic cocktail: the Boulevardier dating from 1927.

The original recipe Boulevardier is: 4.5 cl Bourbon, 3 cl Campari and sweet vermouth 3 cl. Obviously, this is a Negroni with bourbon instead of gin, slightly changing its proportions.

I love all kinds of cocktails but the Negroni is one of my favorites. I found it fun to take this malt whisky to an appetizer cocktail and take it a bit out of the afterdinner and it was also interesting to play with that aspect. But we can't just stay there. It is important not to miss any opportunity to do something unusual for yourself.

This project is based on the development of the cocktail into the barrel, which could bring the same premise to any of its ingredients by cooking. As a general rule, we could say cooking develops the flavor and aroma of the ingredient we're cooking, but it is also possible that the same cooking softens the ingredient's own characteristics, as happens with acid and bitter flavors.

And here I found my challenge.

The next step was to decide which ingredient I wanted to modify and the technique to use, which should respect the character of the original cocktail. I could not lose freshness or bitterness, even though it went through a firing and a subsequent aging.

Fortunately, there are only three ingredients, but the range of techniques is so wide! Classification of food cooking is done according to the heat transfer medium, so we have cooking in an air environment (with direct heat such as grilling or indirect fire, as would be a water bath), fat cooking (sautéing, frying), cooking in aqueous solution (bleach or boiling), mixed cooking (mixture of the above), and other special brews, such as vacuum cooking. In addition, we have other techniques we have adopted in cocktail making to which we are more familiar, such as maceration, infusion, cuts, smoking, spherification, gelifications ..., not to mess up with distillations, fortifications or technical filtrations.

What to do and how? After several tests without finding my goal and about to decide to do something completely different, I realized that my answer was something as simple and close as is tradition. My tradition, which I have lived in as a child, from my beautiful little town. Often the answers are found simply stopping by and looking around to realize what we have.

We often think what the neighbor does is much more interesting than what we do here. And we have a spectacular culinary culture, traditional, cutting edge and innovative, which we are all very proud of, but in a matter of cocktails, sometimes we forget it. And I include myself in this statement.

But let the issue at hand: I decided the ingredient to change would be the Campari, giving it flavor by a brief infusion of cranberries and citrus peel mud tray-baked at low temperature.

Its preparation is simple. To perform the infusion of Campari base I used the following ingredients, given that the amount of Campari to macerate is 70 cl:

  • 1 kg of fresh red Cranberry
  • The peel of a table orange
  • The peel of a tangerine
  • 150 gr cane sugar
  • 15 cl Cointreau
  • 10 cl Cognac

Oven should be preheated to 80 degrees (176ºF). Hydrate mud tray before use. Place Cranberries throughout the surface of the mud tray evenly. Spread Sugar on these in the same way. Cut orange and tangerine peel in brunoise, ie in small cubes of 1 or 2 mm per side. Spread them evenly over cranberries. Throw a few drops of the brandy and the Cointreau on the fruit and place it in the oven. It should be baked for an hour and a half, watching that cooking is homogeneous across its surface, checking that cranberries do not stick to the container, not to get burnt notes, as well as monitoring the sugar is completely dissolved during cooking to avoid caramel.

After the cooking time, remove from oven. You will see that the result is a baked cranberry glaze made from lightweight water from the fruit itself. Let cool until the base is about 35 degrees (100ºF). At that time, add the Campari. The steeping time ranges about 20 minutes, the same time the mixture should be subtracted at room temperature.

By not making a high-temperature infusion we will not miss the spirit of Campari by evaporation. I previously performed a high temperature test, covering with cling film until cooling to room temperature. Although the loss of alcohol was not very high (approximately 7% loss of alcohol by evaporation), the most representative problem of this test was that Campari sweetened too much, losing drastically its own bitter notes.

I also did the same test with other red fruits such as blackberries, blueberries, currants, wild strawberries ... but with cranberry the result was more balanced because, like in previous test, with the rest of fruits Campari resulted overly sweetened, losing its characteristics. The cranberry is an acid flavor fruit that respects the bitter taste of Campari and the taste and aroma of added citrus. Both Cointreau citrus notes and the character of cognac match perfectly with the baked fruit base and the rest of ingredients of the cocktail.

The clay pots are perfect to make creations that require slow cooking. Besides, the mud is the best material for cooking dry or with very little water, as in this case (no input of water, the cooking is done with water from the fruit).

What gives cooking a special flavor if done in these clay vessels is because the heat expands gradually from the center or bottom to the walls and so the recipes are made gradually and evenly. These containers hold the ingredients from eighty to ninety degrees for a prolonged period of time in order to enhance the flavors. For this reason we say that this type of cuisine is tastier.

Regarding the vermouth, cocktail recipe suggests using Carpano Formula Antica. Indeed, the result is a delicious cocktail, but when aging it, the cocktail claimed a fresh contribution by the intense notes of sherry that still contains the barrel. For this reason, I made a mixture of vermouth: 75% Carpano with 25% Yzaguirre Sweet Reserve. Thus, we obtained a more balanced aging without losing so radically the freshness that this cocktail has as a fresh made appetizer, evolving to a more harmonious and better structured composition.

Tradition. This term does not have to be related to connotations of classical or archaic in culinary language, it's not a term opposed to evolution. In this case, the aim was to research the evolution of taste: on the one hand, the mud and the low temperature developed an ingredient taste, on the other; sherry and wood have developed the taste of a cocktail. I reached my goal.

Conclusion: the most important thing is neither tradition nor the forefront, the most important is to challenge yourself because ... what is more fun than that?

Ruth's recipe here.

Pictures courtesy of The Glenrothes Spain.

Picture by © The GlenrothesPicture by © The Glenrothes

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