My pal Abo sent me a packet of Chipotle from NZ a few weeks ago. It was his second attempt, the first having been disappeared by the South African Postal Service. Where the suprise in your gift is whether it makes it to you or not. I can just imagine the comments when they opened the first batch: and the coughing that followed its recreational use: “Haaugh … man die fokken, forren dagga is kak”**. Either that, or there is a keen amateur chef whipping up chipotle- rubbed snoek for his tjommies somewhere.
The peppers’ arrival coincided with a visit to a local market where I purchased Chili-Chai Sherry from a lonely stall holder. Markets make me anxious, I can’t bear it when a seller has no-one at the table. I made Jasper and my father taste it, and they reeled away gagging with their eyes streaming. But I thought it had ‘something’. So I took the bottle home. When I got to it a day later, the two red chili peppers had rendered it virtually undrinkable. But I was intrigued by the idea of chai as an alcohol spice. I loved the smell of it when I was travelling through India. But could never drink it because it was full of milk. And hot milk makes me retch.
But adding chai to vodka would solve that problem – and open the door to many cocktail combos. I was introduced to vodka during a video-making trip to the Czech Republic with the band INXS 26 years ago. Everybody wanted to trade their home-brew for .. well, anything. So I did my first ever black-market transaction: two bananas, a Twix bar and a tube of lip-ice. And never looked back – until camparigirl chucked out the bottle of Stoli I used to keep in the freezer in our poor-flat. “Enough”, she said: “you are boring when you drink this stuff.” The horror stopped me in my tracks. Now that I am a two drink date – that problem no longer exists. So I headed out and purchased a bottle of Wybrowa … cheaper than Stolichnaya in SA. I also bought two wide-mouthed (mason) jars with proper seals. I didn’t want my investment spoiling.
The rest of the process was easy:
For the chipotle: I just sealed the ingredients into a clean, sterilized jar (which I had boiled, lid/seal and all for 10 mins). I used two peppers whole – though I would split them open next time.
For the chai version, I poured the spirit over two chai tea-bags and half an orange (which I had quartered and blanched.) Then sealed the bottle.
I left the vodka in the sun on my dining room table. Gave it a gentle shake every day. After a week, I strained each mix through a clean dishtowel. Then popped them into the fridge to cool. They were both dark brown, and tasted really strong – but the flavours mellowed well when added to cocktail ingredients. And would, I suspect, behave just as well in a simple glass of ice-cold tonic or soda water with a lime twist. And here’s how I used them:
Chipotle Bloody Mary:
I mixed a tot of the chipotle-vodka, about a tbsp of Worcestershire, a heavy dash of tabasco, a little salt and pepper and topped it off with ice-cold tomato juice. If you live where Clamato is available – use that. My pal Eva introduced me to it in Miami a decade ago. I was skeptical of the clam-flavoured tomato juice at first. But she and her husband Inigo, smart and well-travelled Spaniards both, swore by it. They were right. Delish.
I also muddled some fresh basil in a light olive oil and drizzled that on the top. It was beyond more-ish: smokey tomato earthiness, the kick from the tabasco tempered by the peppery sweetness of basil. A bloody good mary all round.
Chai Spice Dom Pedro
South Africans love these, basically an alcoholic milkshake. I mixed a tot of the vodka into vanilla ice-cream. Nothing fancy – the store-bought one the kids eat on their flapjacks. Then sprinkled Flake on the top. Sweet and exotic.
And – last but not least: I had a couple of stewed guavas sitting in the fridge. There was a slick of syrup and a couple of strands of preserved lemon lurking at the bottom of the container. I discarded the seeds, blended down the flesh and added a couple of tots of the Chai Vodka and left it to macerate for a while. Then I mixed some it in with half a split of dry lemon and added two big blocks of ice. Transcendent.
Next up on my mixology journey – limoncello. Any recipes or suggestions are welcome.
(**Translation: I say my friend, this nasty foreign marijuana is utterly terrible. All images: campari@sofa.)