Monday 28 November 2016

Green tea, mint and bourbon ice

You might consider this a frozen mint julep, usually found between the pages of a Tennessee Williams play, being sipped by some  socially stifled young lady just before she verbally emasculates her bronzed and brow-wiping beau. It's as refreshing as a winter walk through the Scottish Highlands, but not nearly as alcoholic. Sorry. I do go on, I know.

It's a glass of chilly stuff for when one's sucked the greasy meat off a bone.

Between the main course and the dessert we like to serve a little glass of palate cleansing ice (granita if you must). Often this is pineapple and lime but I wanted to make a change. I realise now that this Green tea and mint ice was inspired by Heston Blumenthal but my recipe is miles from his, not least because I've added a bourbon syrup. Also you don't need any liquid nitrogen to make mine. I bet you've just run out haven't you?

It's meant to refresh your tastebuds so you can better appreciate the subtleties of the next course, usually it's citric and/or astringent. In France, where this notion originated, a traditional method is to serve cubes of pickled ginger. That would seem to necessitate a palate cleanser cleanser though. I've no idea why this also leaves you feeling less full but this does seem to be another effect. Though perhaps that just the always-room-for-pudding factor. Certainly true in this house.

It is a pleasing thing though: minty tea with sweet and smokey bourbon; the slightly drying tea tannins enlivened with the zest and zing of lime. Guests have often asked for the recipe, declaring this their favourite part of the meal.

I make this in bulk so there are sometimes weeks between batches. I also forget to write down what I actually used which means I start from scratch each time. This is a major pain,  not least because errors at this scale are expensive. I have thrown away litres of (you have to say it right) 'bit-taaaaaaah' green tea that I've left to steep* too long.

This recipe makes about three litres - for us, about sixty serving. You can easily scale it down though. Or use bigger servings.

The lime is no affectation or garnish. You need that burst of acid and citrus oils to balance the sugar. It's like the 'twist' of lemon in a martini; it should be done over the glass.

There are three components that are made separately and then combined. Trust your own judgement here. You might need more or less of one. It depends on how minty you mint and how green your tea. Leave the last 10% and taste, only adding if you think the final liquid needs more. Remember though, that freezing depletes flavour and sweetness. It should be slightly sweeter than you like. Which is an odd cooking direction to give.

I say ice, but the sugar and alcohol conspire to lower the freezing point so this never gets really block hard. I do burn off most of the alcohol in the bourbon but a little will remain, so your guests should be aware.

Green tea and mint ice with bourbon syrup.
Makes around three litres.

You'll need three large bowls or jugs and a saucepan that can take a flame for a few minutes so prob best to avoid non-stick and enamel. Stainless steel is ideal. You'll also need a lidded, freezable container. One that you can shake with confidence while full of sticky liquid that will take ages to clean properly, especially if it gets under the fridge. Do we understand each other?

In your large bowl add 100g of loose leaf green tea to half a litre of warm water. To this add one and a half litres of boiling water. Cover with cling film and leave to steep for two hours. Don't leave it longer than this or your brew will be too bitter.

Mint in the back, bourbon boiling up front.
Make a sugar syrup by bringing 500ml of water slowly to the boil with 500g of white sugar. Once it's clear put in a whole bunch of mint, chopped, stalks and all. Get one of those big loose bunches (100g), not the puny plastic packets. Even better, cut some from your garden. Cover and leave for two hours (or even overnight, the flavour will only improve). Don't be tempted to mash the leaves and stalks though. Some things just take time.

Lastly take half a bottle or bourbon (so 350ml) and bring slowly to the boil with 700g of sugar. Take care here, this is a combustible mix. Once clear, as the sugar dissolves, bring to a gentle boil. Turn any kitchen extractor down low. Now using a long taper or candle lighter, hold a flame over the surface of the syrup to light the alcohol. That's why I said turn the extractor down, you don't want a big plume of whoosh. Watch those eyebrows. Turn the heat right down and allow the syrup to burn for a few minutes. You need to reduce the alcohol content or the ice will not freeze and you'll have a slushy (albeit delicious) cocktail. 

You obviously shouldn't be using your good stuff for this. Supermarket own brand will do. After boiling, burning and sweetening I doubt many could tell the difference.
Maybe wear an oven glove?
Cover and allow the bourbon syrup to cool.

After the two hours are up. Taste each element. They should all be delicious. Sieve in the green tea into your large, lidded, freezer proof container. You don't want bits. Now sieve in most of the mint syrup. Finally add most of your bourbon syrup.

Taste. More mint? More Bourbon? You might think the whole thing needs sweetening. At this point I can add plain sugar syrup because I keep a stock in the fridge (2:1 sugar to water) but you can probably get away with stirring in some caster sugar. That plain syrup (often called simple syrup) has many uses though. Obviously for cocktails but It's great for adding sweetness and gloss to tomato sauces and gravies.

Once you're happy, seal the container and freeze for around twelve hours (less if you're making a smaller quantity). You're looking for a loose ice crystal structure. Then remove and shake vigorously, trying to break up the ice particles. Freeze again for twelve hours. Shake. Freeze again. Look, you might forget (I have) in which case just shave the ice with a fork. It's more work but it results in a very similar texture. if anyone does complain, take yourself away to reconsider if you really need this 'friend' in your life. It's probably someone who's known you from school and you suspect they think you've got a bit above yourself now anyway, serving bloody palate cleansers. Who does he think he is?

We serve these in shot glasses but you could go bigger, especially on a summer's day, when fearing your swarthy, drunken man is going to wake the neighbours by crying your name the streets again. Cool his ardour with this. 



*Steep? One of those words that looks weird when you write it down. Had to look that up. Steep is related to stoup, the old Germanic name for a beaker or pail for liquid.


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