With the return of the regular season of Top Chef, Wednesday nights are Family Dinner nights in the house again. The roommates and a few friends get together, pull out a nice meal, and enjoy the show. Because I have a horrible sense of timing, I usually finish cooking whatever I’m making halfway through the episode. But I got one thing out of the way plenty early this time.
Two weeks before, I took some of the fresh rhubarb from Memorial Day and put it in two bottles with a little over a liter of vodka. Because it’s (supposed to be) odorless and flavorless¹, vodka is a great base if you want to experiment with tossing your own custom flavors into some cocktails. Vodka tends to soak up the flavors of almost anything you put in it, and I really mean almost anything. Try pennies if you dare (you’ll have clean pennies). This is a lot like the way college students use alcohol as a base for mixed drinks to get drunk without ever having to actually taste alcohol, and by “a lot like” I mean “exactly the opposite of”.
I used Sobieski because it’s a good combination of neutral flavor and low price for a handle, and I was thinking of Maddie and saw a Polish brand. I’ve used Smirnoff in the past to good effect too; some vodkas have slight flavors despite how they’re billed, the most common being pepper which we definitely want to stay away from. These are both grain vodkas (Smirnoff, corn; Sobieski, rye), and I feel that the potato or other non-grain based vodkas are more likely to have their own unsuitable flavors. But overall, don’t go too cheap (that stuff is just gross) or too expensive (a waste of money) and you’ll be okay.
All you need are some clean contains and some time. How long you steep is up to you, but I like to take things slow, so I set a baseline of two weeks or so and taste after one week. In this case I cut up plenty of rhubarb to really make sure the flavor got in there — the more surface area of your materials, the more and faster the flavors will infuse. After a week the vodka had definitely mellowed out, it was smooth and not as fiery, but not watery and still with a kick. The picture above is at two weeks; not only was the rhubarb favor very apparent, but after filtering through a coffee filter the vodka was left with a very light, rosy pink tinge. It was either rhubarb vodka or a flat Bartles & Jaymes.
For the first try I whipped up a quick strawberry rhubarb cocktail. It took a second try but as a simple refresher it worked well.
In a rocks/DOF glass:
– One medium strawberry, muddled
– Two ounces rhubarb infused vodka
– 1/4 ounce simple syrup
– ice and club soda to fill
If you want something a little classier looking, shake the first three ingredients with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. You can try shaking the soda too but I warned you. There are going to be some strawberry chunks either way, so deal. If you have any other ideas for rhubarb infused vodka uses, send them my way; I’ll try them out and report back, after I wake up, figure out where I am, and get home.
¹see, some people use the word tasteless here, which totally means something else, though in some situations I think applies.
² I know there was no superscript two above, I just want to point out that the photo was taken pretty hastily with direct handheld flash. Handholding the flash instead of keeping it on the hotshoe gives you a chance to make the lighting a little more dynamic, but if you’re rushed like me you’ll probably have some weird camera tilt and overpower the ambient light a bit. Bouncing the flash off the ceiling would have been a good idea here; thankfully, shooting in RAW gives a lot of leeway and as long as you don’t go too under/overboard, flash gives pretty predictable results.