Quite a few months ago I was invited to present a cocktail at a charity event in the posh space atop the state house. The restaurant gave me the okay to spend a little money so of course I spent every dime they gave me solely on Seville oranges (aka sour oranges). These magical orbs are rarely imported and I’ve only seen them available during citrus season in the winter. They are not like the bland domesticated varieties we know. Sevilles are tart and pungent with a wild heirloom quality. They are hard to work with and have lots of learning curves but I still highly regard them. I bought them intending to use the juice for the event and save the peels for myself to make orange liqueur for the bar, but little did I know there was a fraction of the juice I anticipated. From 33 Seville oranges I only got 750 ml of juice and at that point in the day I had to leave soon for the event. Each drink was supposed to use an ounce and I was supposed to serve 150 drinks so I was in real trouble. This led to the Seville cheater when I added citric acid to normal orange juice with a healthy dose of reagan’s orange bitters to synthesize that wild heirloom character. Luckily the results were quite satisfying and the drink was a phenomenal success.
bronx cocktail (named after the bronz zoo and using my theory that it was designed for tart wild oranges and therefore a sour drink)
2 oz. gin
1 oz. sweet vermouth
1 oz. seville orange juice (fake or real)
stir, and decreasing the gin is not wrong and means it is easier to justify a second round.\
For the event I actually only used the cheater juice and I saved the real stuff for the pastry chef to make sorbet with. Unfortunately I have no recipe but the sorbet was stunning. It totally captured all the wild flavors and used the natural inherent acidity of the juice. A little bit of my previous batch of creole shrub was also added so the alcohol could enhance the texture.
It was ten minutes before I had to leave for the event and I had a large pile of zest sitting on the counter top which probably added up to a couple pounds. My goal was to eventually, in small periods of free time, turn this pile into ten liters of creole shrub using whatever rum of character I could come across. So on the run, I put all the peel into a three liter mason jar and covered it with rum (appleton’s VX). I figured I could add more rum, get a bigger container and eventually add my sugar.
The plan seemed reasonable but I was over looking the fact that my rum was only 80 proof and would be diluted by sugar so I’d end up with less alcohol than the real stuff. Though ideal proof would have to be sacrificed to make the handmade shrub economically viable. But to add insult to injury, I didn’t dehydrate my peels because I had no time. In Martinique they dry the peels out in the sun. If you think of dehydrating our normal sunkist oranges it doesn’t make that much sense, but for Sevilles, their peel is spongy and full of moisture which would further dilute the proof of the final product. Another hole in my rushed strategy was that I only estimated the volume of liqueur I could produce from 33 oranges. When you make liqueurs you need to be concerned with alcohol, sugar, and other total dissolved solids. The total dissolved solids in this case is the weight of orange peel added to flavor the shrub per liter. Too intensely orange is frightening and not enough is bland. I am merely hoping to figure my intensity to taste which seems reasonable but isn’t exactly scientific. If you really wanted to figure it out for clement’s creole shrub you would have to cook out the alcohol of a significant volume, refill what was lost with distilled water and see if you can measure the total solids (sugar and orange oil) and subtract just the sugar [this actually turns out to be incorrect but these were just my very first experiments]. This is not practical for my small production so I apparently have to rely on a tasting panel and hope to get scientific next time around.
Hopefully next time is this week because I just bought six more Sevilles yesterday at tropico in roxbury (I thought you couldn’t get them anymore but apparently not) and hope to make a small completely measured batch so I have something realistic to go with next year and I will definitely dehydrate the peels. see you next week for the update!
From my 33 oranges, I yielded about 8.5 liters of exceptional Creole Shrubb. I used quite a lot of mixed up rums that I had laying around and the product was still stunning. To my surprise everyone (my kitchen crew) preferred my version to clement’s iconic product. I am still kind of skeptical. My intensity is at a comparable level if not a little more intense than clement, but what I noticed is that these oranges have serious organoleptic qualities and what I got from Specialty Produce tastes really different than clement’s Martinique oranges. Putting the difference into words is very difficult but there is more to these bitter oranges than meets the eye. I think my solution is to try and figure out where my product comes from and celebrate it. I keep seeing a growing interest in botanicals, but a lack in curiosity or information on where exactly what you use comes from. Wine isn’t the only thing susceptible to terrior. Consistency is overrated and I simply recommend celebrating the differences.