Along with rum itself, there are two ingredients which practically define Tiki: Orgeat and Falernum. Now, vanishingly few Tiki drinks employ all three of this trinity, and indeed, there are Tiki drinks that employ none of them. But in the vast majority of recipes, there is no faster way to identify a Tiki drink than to spot rum and either falernum or orgeat.
Truth to tell, of the two, I use orgeat a lot more. It is the Bartender’s Ketchup of the Tiki world. Flavors too distinct? Put in some Orgeat. Mouthfeel too thin? Add some orgeat. Delicious but lacking that certain soo se mea lava? Orgeat is your special sauce. It is a bit of a passive ingredient, actually; identifiable more for its effects than for any distinct flavor of its own.
Falernum is a much more assertive ingredient. It has strong, unique flavors. As a Tiki tool, it is a bit like a large band saw; employ it with exacting precision and it is fantastically useful. But if you get the slightest bit careless with it, the appeal will become… more selective. What I’m saying is, it is hard to master.
Ditto for making it. In fact, falernum may be harder to make than it is to use. No one can agree what’s in it. The ingredients that people do agree on require a lot of manual labor. The process is traditionally messy, gross looking, and immediately apparent to anyone in the building with a nose. And it requires a lot of time. As in, you will use your Calendar app, not your Stopwatch app.
Fortunately, the increasing availability and affordability of sous vide technology can make this process much, much easier. Almost easy enough to do regularly…. Let’s dive into the process, shall we?
As I said, there is no definitive recipe for falernum. It’s like cole slaw–everyone has their own. All cole slaw has cabbage and mayo. All falernum has clove and lime zest. Beyond that…. Back in the early, heady days of the 21st Century cocktail revival, there was quite a spate of blog activity in search of the definitive falernum. Two of the best results were from Kaiser Penguin (of the photo above), and Paul Clark’s
Velocity 9 Falernum #9. These days, much of the publishing world at least seems to settle on #9 as the default choice, probably because Paul has “connections”… and also “talent”, and “a good recipe”.
… aaaand after all that, you aren’t going to use Paul’s recipe, are you?
No, because I like a few elements of KP’s, too.
Incidentally, while the point of this post is to end up discussing how sous vide can make making falernum a lot more convenient, do not go and use the recipe blogged by Sous Vide Supreme, the people who make the water bath I own. It is too sweet and insipid in flavor. I realize I just spent too many bytes talking about how intimidating falernum is as an ingredient, but trying to overcome this by using a weak formulation is a bit like punching a bully lightly, or holding the stock of your 12 gauge away from your shoulder because you are afraid of the kick. It will not end well.
Take a gallon Ziplock double seal bag. Put in one and a half cups of granulated sugar and three quarters of a cup of hot tap water. Seal and shake. You don’t need to fully dissolve the sugar, but make sure there are no dry pockets. Set aside. Put 2 Tbsp of slivered almonds, 1 Tbsp of whole allspice berries, and 40-50 cloves in a small saucepan. Toast lightly over medium-low heat for about four to five minutes, or until your whole house smells like that gardener who smoked clove cigarettes and worked down the street when you were a kid. Allow to cool.
Collect the zest of nine good, fresh limes. This is the hardest part of the process, and no sous vide will help with it. You want as much of the green from the peel as possible and none of the white pith. A peeler will probably go too deep, and you will need to finely chop the peel anyway. I use a small microplane and hold the lime with a kevlar glove (because grated Doug makes for funky falernum). It takes a long time and your fingers get sore, even if they don’t get scraped. I have heard about a purpose built kitchen gadget called a Zip Zester that may no longer be made. Anyone have experience with this device?
Put your toasted ingredients, the bowl of lime zest, and 5 coins of candied ginger into your bag of sugar water. Add three quarters of a cup of decent white rum (I like Cruzan aged light rum for this purpose), 3 tbsp of fresh lime juice, and a quarter to a half teaspoon of almond extract. Seal the bag and shake well to combine and to test. If your kitchen suddenly becomes sticky, you have not sealed the beg correctly.
Set your sous vide oven or stick heater to 135° F. Open the seal on your bag slightly and lower it into the water right up to the top. This will force virtually all the air out of the bag. Seal it well again. Lift it out of the water and ensure all the solids are in contact with the liquid in the bottom of the bag and not trapped up above. Submerge the bag in the water and go on with your life for the next two to three hours.
When you are ready, remove the bag and pour through a mesh strainer into a bowl or jar. Discard the spent, smelly, gooey crud in the strainer. Put some cheesecloth in the strainer and strain your falernum through again.
Voila! Go make a Zombie. Even with the reduced mess and time of making your falernum sous vide, you still deserve a drink.