I’m running out of time in Tiki Month here at the Pegu Blog. But I cannot let the month expire without going over one of the most interesting and useful Tiki ingredients: Orgeat.
I first encountered a need for Orgeat way back during Mixology Monday: Limit One, when I made the very much non-Tiki Chatham Artillery Punch. Actually, I’m not sure The Punch isn’t a Tiki beverage in it’s soul. Let’s list its qualifications:
- Large amounts of multiple alcohols, including rum. Double-plus check.
- Lots of fruit juices. Check.
- Lots of different fruit in a garnish-like capacity. Check.
Pain in the ass and time-consuming to make.Check, and check.
- Leads to silly dress and behavior, even before the drinking commences. Check. If you have not experienced drunken, upper-crust southerners in full throat, under the influence of The Punch, you need to uncheck
Experienced Sillyfrom your life list.
OK, it’s not really a Tiki drink, but it belongs, baby. It belongs.
The Punch would be a cinch for Tiki-dom if the orgeat were an ingredient in the punch, but it was needed for the maraschino cherry recipe instead. (Note to self: Add orgeat to next batch of Chatham Artillery Punch)
I remember looking at the recipe and asking myself,
Self, what the hell is Oar-geet? I looked all over town, and at last found it in a gigantic bottle from Finest Call. I needed about two ounces, so I hesitated to buy this big honking bottle, until I saw it was about five bucks and had the unrefrigerated shelf-life of plutonium. I made the cherries, and stuck the bottle in Reserve Liquor Storage Cabinet #2, with the Campari, Amaretto, Godiva, etc. and forgot about it.
As Tiki Month was taking form, I fell in love with real Mai Tais (careful following the link, there be controversy there!) and suddenly orgeat became an important part of my first line mixing loadout. But there was much still to learn.
First off, what the heck is orgeat anyway? Essentially, it is a syrup made from almonds, primarily the almond oil. Originally it was made with barley and almonds, or even just barley. It’s first use was in cooking, as a pre-refrigeration era ingredient that served much the same function as milk or cream in modern cooking. The long shelf-life of the orgeat made it a practical way to deliver fats to a recipe. One of these days, I’ll experiment with it in baking, just to see how it goes; though I’m guessing I’ll make it with less sugar for that use.
Second, how do you pronounce it? My first guess was, as I alluded to above, Oar-Geet. Then some wag made the comment, in relation to orgeat,
hey, where’s the orgy at? Credulous me thought that this was an actual mnemonic for pronouncing it, and went around saying Orgy-At for months. Thanks, whoever did that to me!
The actual pronunciation is more like Oar-zha. Got trouble with that? How about these two pictures? (They come from Gumbo Pages, who saw the image at Tales of the Cocktail seminar on making things like orgeat, the lucky bastard.)
Now, we know how to pronounce the name, and what it is. But is the stuff readily available, and is commercial orgeat any good?
The answers are probably not, and surprisingly enough, probably so. Most liquor stores and supermarkets won’t have orgeat. If yours does, good on ya. My bottle of Finest Call is quite serviceable. There are no off flavors, and while the flavor is a little bit thin, it does the job it’s supposed to do quite adequately.
But I did have to find out how fresh, scratch made orgeat would taste. Here’s how you can make it with relative ease (This recipe is derived from Darcy O’Neil’s post on the same subject at Art of Drink):
Almonds are obviously the base of this syrup, so make sure you get the best quality, freshest ones you can get. I buy my nuts from an outfit called Sunnyland Farms in Georgia. They are first and foremost a pecan grower, but all their nuts are top quality. You need almonds that are slivered and blanched. You could even do this part yourself, but you could also build a bridge each time you want to cross the river to get to work. Buy your almonds ready to use. For illustration purposes, we’ll use one pound.
First, clean the almonds by soaking them in cold water for about half an hour, then discarding this first batch of water. Transfer the damp nuts to your food processor and chop coarsely, not to a meal. Now it’s time to extract the oils from the almond.
Put three cups of warm, filtered or distilled water in a non-reactive bowl and add the nuts. Allow to soak for about half an hour to forty five minutes. Now strain the liquid into another similar bowl through several layers of cheesecloth. Squeeze the cloth to get all the liquid out of the crushed almonds. Now take all that crushed almond that you just carefully strained out of the water, and put it right back in the same water! If the water isn’t warm any more, put it over a pot of simmering water (as if making a double boiler) until it warms back up. Strain the nuts through your cloth again, back into the first bowl, and then dump the nuts back in again, and soak some more. You should let the nuts soak in the warm water three times, though the second and third rounds only need to be for about fifteen minutes.
Now strain the liquid one last time into a pan, and you can discard or compost the leftover almond solids. Birds will also eat them.
Add 22.5 ounces of white sugar, by weight, to the liquid and stir over low heat until completely dissolved. Turn off the heat, and allow to cool for about fifteen minutes.
Now stir in 3 ounces of cognac or decent brandy. You could use vodka too, but I’d go with the brandy for a little extra character. Also, if you can get it, add 2 tablespoons of orange flower water. Let fully cool, and store in a clean bottle. This recipe will render you about two 16 ounce home brew bottles of orgeat.
The orgeat is not technically a syrup, but an emulsion. This means it will separate over time. No biggie, just shake well before using. That said, it does not look great when separated, so shake it up good before guests arrive.
This orgeat is delicious stuff, much more rich and flavorful than the commercial stuff I’ve tried.
Finally, what do we do with all this syrup?
Orgeat performs two very useful functions in a cocktail that make it especially valuable in Tiki drinks. First, it adds a richness to the drink, a sumptuous, exotic mouthfeel. Yes, I just used the word
mouthfeel without irony or sarcasm. And second, orgeat, this almond emulsion, acts as a sort of flavor emulsifier. Tiki drinks tend to have a lot of ingredients and thus lots of flavors. Orgeat sort of smoothes out the gaps and overlaps where all these flavors come together, leaving a more robust, smoother taste. In fairness, I think this is the sort of thing that leaves what one blogger (who shan’t be linked here because he’s such a pooty-head about Tiki) calls,
occluded flavor profiles. Also, many great Tiki drinks have wonderfully harmonious flavors without employing orgeat. But orgeat can do some magical things, and your own homemade stuff will bring its own interest as well.
Of course, I can’t do a post like this without a cocktail and a picture to carry it through. Since I got my orgeat recipe originally from Darcy, I’ll go with a cocktail he posted as well. Apparently, last February, he was feeling the winter blahs, and like me felt the prescription was some Tiki. He proffered this silly, little, (probably) late-model Tiki concoction from Beachbum Berry’s Intoxica!:
- .5 oz. lemon juice
- .5 oz. lime juice
- .5 oz. maraschino liqueur
- .5 oz. delicious, homemade orgeat
- .5 oz. blue curacao
- 1 oz. Matusalem Gran Reserve rum
- 1 oz Mount Gay Eclipse Silver light rum
Shake with ice, then strain into a glass with crushed or small cube ice. Garnish with homemade maraschino cherries on a silly pick.