Every blogger does a “bar setup” or “cocktail kit” post for Christmas, or just general, giving information. I want to try to do one this year, but in a way that is little more flexible than the usual. I’m inspired to write this for a friend who wants to give his son, who is graduating from college and is becoming interested in cocktails, a gift of a cocktail setup. The kid is an automotive engineer, and his father describes his mindset as “You use the correct, high-quality, specialty tool for the job, and use the best materials to construct your product with.” I think this is a very useful metaphor for mixing drinks, and I’ll employ it in discussing how to construct a cocktail kit for yourself or the up and comer in your life.
Most people who ask how to assemble a cocktail kit start with, “I’ll need a shaker, then what else?” But mixing vessels are too big a question to just skip over so blithely. If you are just starting out mixing drinks, your needs in mixing vessels will be different from an experienced home drink maker’s, which will be different from a professional bartender’s.
First, there are two very different mixing tasks that the cocktail maker will perform throughout his life: shaking and stirring. And we need the right tool for the right job, remember? We’ll start with shaking. There are two basic categories of cocktail shakers.
- Boston Shakers: These are the two piece shakers consisting of a metal vessel (the “tin”) and a pint glass or second metal tin that fit together. These are what you will see the majority of professional bartenders using. They have the virtue of being cheap, easy to clean, and very, very fast. But the Boston is hard to learn to use, and may need other equipment to use it properly. If your gift recipient majored in Eastern Polynesian Studies or the like, you might want to get him or her the Boston so he or she can learn an actual marketable skill, and be able to move out of your house. But for the beginner who doesn’t need a bartending job, I’d recommend the three-piece Cobbler shaker.
- Cobblers: These are the shakers you usually see people like Frank Sinatra or William Powell using in the movies. They are usually three pieces: a tin, a lid with built-in strainer, and a cap. In a pinch, the cobbler is the only mixing vessel you need, as you could stir in the tin, then strain with the lid. A good Cobbler is dead easy to use, suave and debonaire to employ, and will look good just sitting on the shelf. But they are not so easy to clean, nor very fast and efficient if you have to make lots of different drinks. And a bad cobbler is a nightmare to use. Quality matters in a cobbler. If yours is badly made, it may leak all over the place, or just as bad, it may be impossible to open and get your freshly created drink out without first jumping around and struggling with the lid like a frustrated monkey in a behavioral lab. Cobblers can also be ruinously expensive.
Whichever type you get, keep in mind that materials matter. Get only top quality stainless steel. If you give a Boston, be sure the pint glass is tempered. Most importantly, do not get an insulated or double wall vessel of any kind. It may seem a good idea to protect your hands from the cold, but being able to feel the temperature of what your mixing through your fingers is as important to making a good drink as a well-tuned suspension is to racing a car.
- Boston: Basic 28 oz. Stainless Steel Shaker with an equally basic tempered rim pint glass.
- Cobbler: Basic but still elegant: Oggi Marilyn Tall and Slim.
Someone (maybe you) has been given instructions to argue guns or health care with your family this Thanksgiving. Pour this Cranberry Old-Fashioned on the troubled waters, so you’ll all be able to fall asleep in front of the football game in the same room.
Each year I try to find something new to add to my annual post on producing the best possible Thanksgiving turkey dinner by deep frying said bird whole. The procedure for cooking your bird to perfection without killing yourself by fire or bacteriological warfare is down below the fold. But first, I want to address a secondary idea for those of you who won’t be frying your bird. After all, this process is not for everyone. As I note below, if you live in the city proper, this bird is not for you. A whole bird is more than many people need, as well. And you simply must not drink before or while frying a turkey.
… which alone is enough to put many of you off the whole idea!
So for those of you are not in a position to fry your bird, and who don’t mind just having white meat…
Admit it! Only your cousin Bob even pretends to prefer like the dark stuff.
…I have an alternative method of cooking your turkey that gives you perfect white meat, far better than anything you’ll get from a traditional oven, and almost as good as frying. Use a sous vide water bath oven.
I won’t go into a full discussion of how to cook via sous vide here. There are better resources than me, and I still want all of you, who can, to fry your bird safely. But if you don’t know what it is, you buy a special counter-top appliance which can maintain exact temperatures in a water bath. You’ll need an oven like the one above from Sous Vide Supreme. They come in two sizes, Regular, and Demi. They are not cheap, but you’ll use the snot out of yours year-round, because you’ve never cooked better steaks, fish, omelets, or especially turkey in your kitchen any other way.
You vacuum-seal an unprocessed turkey breast, along with butter and whatever seasonings you wish, and place the pouch (or pouches, if you need more meat) in the sous vide oven, with the water at the exact temperature you want the final internal temperature of your meat to be. For this, you need a vacuum sealer and the right sized pouches. We own a FoodSaver, but any such device will do the trick. Just make sure you have a good seal.
Cooking time is just about whatever is convenient for you. Depending on the size of cut, and how frozen it is (no need ever to defrost with sous vide), it will take a minimum of 90 minutes to 2.5 hours. But you don’t need to worry about being there to take it out when it is done. Because the water is the temperature of the final doneness, it will never overcook the food. Leave it in an extra two hours if the game goes into triple overtime, or the McGillicuddys drop by to say hello. When you are almost ready to serve the dinner, take out the pouch, cut it open, and either flash broil it, drop it into a rocket hot cast iron skillet, or just brown it to perfection with one of these. Guess which one I love doing?
That’s it. Serve right away. No need to worry about carry over, where the meat will cook an extra 5-10 degrees after you take it out. Nor do you need to let it rest before carving. The meat has cooked in every drop of its original juices, and is at the perfect temperature.
It is far better white meat than you will ever get from an oven-roasted whole bird. It’s easier. It’s more bullet-proof. And did I mention it tastes much better? The only downsides are: no dark meat, no carcass for stock, fewer leftovers, and you won’t have this scene at the dinner table.
But for lots of us, any or all of those aren’t really a drawback.
Anyway, on to the main event. Enjoy your Thanksgiving and don’t kill yourself!