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Friday, February 5, 2010

A Secret Ad-MEYER-er

In a shot:  I made a homemade meyer limoncello and used it in this month's cocktail with vodka, vanilla, powdered sugar, lemon juice and garnished it with salt preserved lemons rolled in sugar.

February provides minimal excitement in the world of seasonal change.  Different types of broccoli are surfacing.  We have Leeks, rutabagas, celery root, thyme and fennel (which I may use in a cocktail someday, love that flavor!) and the butternut squashes are still going strong.  Besides some tropical fruits (Papayas, ugli fruits, pineapples, kiwis and the like) the domestics are narrowed slim down to citrus fruits.  Now it is true to say, there is nothing more refreshing than a tart, sweet lemonade or a good solid Gin & Tonic with a big fat lime wedge on the rim while sitting on a patio, bench or beach staring at the sun.  But the huge misconception in our country is that's the season those fruits are at their prime.  Actually, citrus fruits such as oranges start appearing in December followed by it's cousins the tangerines and tangelos in January backed up with Grapefruits, lemons and limes down through February.

With the limitations on citrus, the fact that I already used grapefruit for the very popular Resolution cocktail, I decided to do a solid lemon based beverage.  After making home made peppermint Schnapps for my Christmas Eve cocktail, I had began looking into making home made liqueurs.  One of which was a homemade Limoncello recipe.

Limoncello is one of Italy's most famous cordials and is predominantly produced in the southern region traditionally using Sorrento lemons known for there thick fragrant skins with sharp acidic flesh and striking lemon yellow skin.  Attempting to keep things domestic, I chose to use Meyer lemons, named for Frank Meyer, who brought the fruit to our country in 1908 from China.  Apparently during the 40's there was some sort of virus that wiped out the Meyer lemon tree and was banned in the US to prevent this virus from spreading to other lemon species.  A new version of the Meyer lemon tree was developed and the Improved "Dwarf" Meyer Lemon tree was reintroduced into the states during the 70's.  Famous for it's intensely perfumey lemon fragrance off their relatively thin skins alone, the large, brightly lemon yellow Meyer also contains lower pH levels thus being a less acidic, mildly sweet lemon that is less bitter.  Due to it's delicate nature and difficulty with shipping, these lemons are not mass produced and sold commercially as often as other breeds.  Another reason why I picked the "Valley Lemon".
The process to make Limoncello is simple in it's performance, just time consuming and a strong requirement of patience.  To be honest, I wish I had started making my batches of Limoncello for home and the restaurant the moment lemons came into season and even possibly waited until March to present this drink as the more time this concoction rests, the better it will be. 

The first step to making good Limoncello is having a decent neutral spirit to start with.  Personally, I would've used Everclear cause it's flavorless, colorless and odorless and ridiculously strong.  From a marketing stand point I decided not to go with this only because it would've been off putting to some guests.  So the next recommendation is to use a mid grade vodka.  Save your high end stuff for Martinis.  You will lose the subtleties an expensive bottle of vodka is priced at after cutting it with all the other ingredients.  I used SKYY Vodka.  Nothing wrong with that!

The following step is taking a solid 13 or 15 lemons and shaving the zest off them using a micropane.  I did 63 for my slightly larger batch.  Add spirit to an air tight container and allow the lemon zest and alcohol to blend for a minimum of one month.  Really want to put a shine on it?  Go for as long as three months, shaking your container every week or so. 

After that, you have to make a simple syrup.  I chose to use an organic cane sugar for mine but plain old fine sugar will do.  This being a major base part of the cordial, it is up to you how thick and sweet you want your Limoncello to turn out.  Using the traditional syrup measurement of equal parts sugar to water, in my own opinion, would be too sweet and syrupy for me, but it is recommended to adjust to personal tastes.  I did 3 cups water to 2 cups sugar and after cooling I added a cup of Meyer lemon juice to mine.

As for the preserved lemon garnish, a popular method of "aging" lemons using salt, herbs and spices was a much easier task; mearly taking the lemons and cutting them almost all the way through in quarters and stuffing them with salt.  I then pressed them into a container with an air tight lid and added a few dried bay leaves, black peppercorns and more salt.  Not covering the top completely I let them sit and absorb for three days.  I then returned to the project and pressed them down into the jar harder, extracting as much of the juice as possible and then topping the mixture up with extra lemon juice and a little more salt.  I let that sit in a cool and dark place (Chef Tom Pryzystawik tells me any sunlight what so ever could encourage bacteria so to not even use a clear bottle would be beneficial) for over a month's time.  Like the limoncello, the longer these things preserve, the more intense they will be.  Preserving the lemons causes the skins to bring out a powerful lemon flavor backed by strong salt and a touch of spice.  After peeling away the zests, removing all white pith and no flesh, I took the peels and gently rolled them in fine white sugar.  The result is an intense lemon, salty and sweet something reminiscent to a over ripened fruit candy.  One person described it as a super lemon roll up!  Good call.
The final direction of the cocktail was bigging up the strong lemon flavors from both the cordial and the garnish.  So I mixed it with vodka, lemon juice, powdered sugar, frothy egg whites and vanilla.  Consider it my vanilla and home made Limoncello twisted take on the classic whiskey and Pisco Sours.
In conclusion, the season provides the bear essentials in citrus fair and I strived for a solid and crisp lemony drink that was as clean as it was crisp but not overly thick or sweet.  This is that drink.  February invokes Valentine's Day and in my house my wife's birthday, our engagement and wedding anniversary.  So, during this very special month I know, she knows and every one else knows that if she comes down to the restaurant or some one who is important and special in your life goes to Food Matters, waiting for them at the bar will be a Secret Ad-MEYER-er.

Happy Valentine's Day


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