Category Archives: Garden to bar

Cool beans: Aquafaba, or chickpea water, is gracing cocktails and making vegans happy

Hugo Osorio, The Theodore
Bartender Hugo Osorio uses aquafaba instead of egg white to give his mezcal-based cocktail a nice foam layer that he garnishes with a few sprinkles of a beet-ginger cordial.

At The Theodore, at NorthPark Center, bar manager Hugo Osorio enjoys making a good egg white cocktail – from the time and attention it takes to its silky, foam-layered result. But while some of his regulars like to try new things, “when I give them a Whiskey Sour, they’re like, ‘I can’t. I’m vegan.’”

Then he discovered aquafaba, an ingredient that has vegans swooning over its accessibility and versatility. A portmanteau combining the Latin words for bean (faba) and water (aqua) it’s, as Bon Appetit put it, “the translucent viscous goop you probably rinse down the drain when you open a can of chickpeas.”

For most, the typical course of action here is to drain the chickpeas and throw out the liquid. That would be a mistake.

In other words: Chickpea water. Now, in Dallas and around the country, aquafaba is becoming part of the bartender’s toolkit – and while patrons might struggle to tell the difference, bartenders say it offers distinct advantages over egg white.

As detailed on his site Aquafaba.com, it was Indiana software engineer Goose Wohlt who sparked aquafaba’s popularity in 2015 after finding a French chef’s video showing how the liquid from beans, or hearts of palm, could be used, in tandem with starch and gum, to make a vegan meringue for a chocolate mousse. After some experimentation, he found that chickpea liquid could be used all by itself to achieve the same effect – and posted his discovery to a popular vegan Facebook page.

It’s since spawned a fervent vegan following and a persnickety, fast-growing Facebook group with 83,000 members who share and celebrate aquafaba’s culinary possibilities. “Please don’t thank us for adding you to the group!” reads a post pinned to the top of the group’s discussion page. “Posts like that will be deleted, and a comment on this post only clutters up the questions people may have. Thank us by diving into your kitchens and creating something AQUAFABULOUS!”

It’s all good: Drained chickpeas on the right, highly usable cocktail goodness on the left.

At Uptown’s Standard Pour, assistant manager Reid Lewis came across aquafaba after feeling compelled to seek egg-white alternatives “with the surge of veganism and healthy eating and people being conscious of all that.”

She started using it for Whiskey Sours and even the painstaking Ramos Gin Fizz, but it didn’t actually appear on a menu until By Any Other Name, a New Year’s Eve menu option including gin, sweet vermouth, lemon and pink peppercorn.

At Shoals Sound & Service in Deep Ellum, bar manager Omar Yeefoon, who is vegan, has made aquafaba a firmly embedded feature at his classic-cocktails-minded bar. There, it helps make the Pisco Sour – anchored by gorgeously floral Caravedo Torontel pisco – a silky swig of beauty.

In cooking, egg whites are added for texture, generating a mix of airiness and lift that enhance the dish. In cocktails, they produce a layer of velvety foam that’s visually striking and soft on the palate, one that can be garnished with a splash or swirl of bitters, or a sprig of thyme. “The fat from eggs soaks up flavor,” Yeefoon says. “That makes a Sour (cocktail) soft and nice.”

A tale of two Sours: On the left, a Whiskey Sour made with egg white; on the right, the same with aquafaba.

But egg white has its disadvantages, and not just for vegans: One shortcoming is a faint, off-putting aroma that some compare to wet metal or even wet dog. That’s easily counteracted with a splash of aromatic bitters, or an herb or floral garnish, since the foam layer doubles as a convenient canvas. It’s a happy union.

Aquafaba, like egg white, acts as an emulsifier and a foaming agent. But bartenders say it freezes well and offers better consistency and efficiency without altering the taste of the drink.

Shoals Sound & Service
At Deep Ellum’s Shoals Sound & Service, owner Omar Yeefoon, who is vegan, began replacing egg white with aquafaba for drinks like this Pisco Sour.

“It’s almost hard to tell the difference,” Yeefoon says. “The texture is nice, without that fat blocking a lot of the sharp edges. It doesn’t interfere with the other ingredients as much as egg white does, either.”

With an egg-white cocktail, bartenders start with a “dry shake,” shaking the egg white and ingredients without ice to start the emulsification. Some begin by shaking the egg white solo, then adding the other ingredients, except for the ice, and shaking again. Then the ice is added for a final shake before straining into a glass.

With aquafaba, the process is much the same. Osorio actually skips the dry shake altogether, shaking the aquafaba, ice and other ingredients simultaneously. And most say the process doesn’t take as long as egg white, using anywhere from one-third to half an ounce of aquafaba per drink.

Christine Farkas of Canada-based IHeartFood consulting uses aquafaba mostly for cooking, but she’s dabbled in cocktails as well, preparing her foam with sugar before combining it with the rest of the ingredients for shaking. (Her recipe for a Pineapple Pisco Sour, which includes a lime aquafaba preparation, can be found here.)

“When it comes to aquafaba, you can’t over whip it,” says Farkas, who I met at last year’s International Association of Culinary Professionals’ annual conference. “You can whip it up; it has structure. And if it deflates, you just whip it up again. It’s one of those cost-effective ingredients, a byproduct we would normally be tossing out.”

aquafaba
Osorio puts the finishing swirls on a new mezcal drink that features aquafaba in place of egg white to create a smooth foam layer for garnishing.

It’s no coincidence, then, that a chickpea salad sandwich appeared on Shoals’ minimalist menu soon after Yeefoon started using aquafaba. While he prefers canned chickpea water (for the preservatives), Osorio of The Theodore, which also offers hummus, procured raw chickpeas from the kitchen and let them sit in water for a couple of days, oozing proteins, to make his own.

Reaction has been positive. “People find it really cool that you can work around their lifestyle,” Lewis says. “It’s nice to have that flexibility behind the bar and make sure there’s something for everybody.”

Both Standard Pour and The Thedore plan to add aquafaba cocktails to their spring menus. Osorio’s, shown above, features mezcal, lime, agave syrup, Yellow Chartreuse, orange blossom water, tarragon and a few dashes of a beet-ginger cordial.

“People are really surprised,” Osorio says. “Especially the vegans. Because when you make things their way, they get excited.”

Here’s how to make a Whiskey Sour using aquafaba:

INGREDIENTS
2 oz bourbon
1 oz fresh lemon juice
1/2 oz simple syrup
1/3 to 1/2 oz aquafaba

Add ingredients to a shaker with ice and shake vigorously for about 30 seconds. Strain into a glass (iced, if you prefer) and garnish with half an orange wheel and a maraschino cherry.

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSaveSaveSave

Saturday’s Off to the FARM: Cultivating cocktails and cuisine for a good cause

Caledonia Spirits
Farm-fresh-minded Amber West, in her days at Central 214, will be back behind the bar at Saturday’s benefit event.

It’s been way too long since the vivacious Amber West has loosed her earthy mixology mettle upon the world, but that’s all going to change on Saturday with Off To The FARM, an epicurean event benefitting Project Transformation, an education-oriented agency serving low-income kids throughout North Texas.

There will be goats. And aquaponics. And hors d’oeuvres from chefs like Hibiscus’ Graham Dodds, Garden Café’s Mark Wootten and Adam West of The Porch. And of course, drinks from Amber West, whose talents once shone behind the bar at Central 214 (where Dodds was chef) before she took a job as Texas rep for Vermont-based Caledonia Spirits.

Off to the FARM runs from 2 to 6 pm Saturday at 314 W. Belt Line in Desoto, just outside of Oak Cliff. The farm facility houses both FARM (Farmers Assisting Returning Military) and Eat The Yard.

Project Transformation, a non-profit education organization offering after-school and summer programs to low-income youth, is putting on the event in partnership with FARM. Participating chefs will create their hors d’oeuvres using the farm’s locally grown produce, and it’s a fair bet that Amber’s cocktails will include some of that fresh stuff, too: As bar manager at Central 214, she had a particular knack – and an undeniable passion – for highlighting seasonal fruits of the land in her cocktails. But then Caledonia stole her away, and then she became even busier still, taking time off to have her second daughter, Sage.

“I’ve supported Project Transformation for the last three years,” she says. “Being a mom, my heart just went out to these kids who don’t have anywhere to go after school. This really saves them from being on the streets.”

This drink at Central 214 benefits literacy programs. Get over there immediately and order one.
Some of West’s previous handiwork, this one for a 2013 Derby Day event.

And with part of Project Transformation’s curriculum including cooking and gardening workshops, she was sold.

West’s cocktails will celebrate springtime and complement the event’s Southern-style menu. And of course, they’ll feature Caledonia’s honey-kissed Barr Hill Gin. And probably herbs and honeysuckle too.

All proceeds will benefit Project Transformation. Tickets for the all-inclusive event are $35 in advance or $40 at the door and can be purchased here. More information is available here.

From Mexico, with larvae: Sal de gusano is worming its way into Dallas’ mezcal

Atwater Alley
Like moths to a flame: A Mexican tradition finds its way to Dallas.

So, you’ve wowed your Fireball-drinking buddies with your superior knowledge of mezcal, tequila’s smoky and more exotic cousin. You’ve earned serious props for your appreciation of mezcal’s Scotch-like acquired taste. But dude: if you really want to prove yourself mas macho, try drinking mezcal the way it’s done in Oaxaca – with worm salt.

Among the benefits of the ongoing craft-cocktail renaissance has been the rising availability of mezcal, distilled from Mexico’s native maguey plant, a form of agave. Generations-old methods of artisan production  – in which the plants’ hearts are roasted in pit ovens before the fermentation process, giving the spirit its distinctive smoky flavor – have spawned hundreds of choices, many of which you can now find in the U.S.

Typically it’s imbibed straight. Picture a tiny cup or shot of your beloved mezcal, served alongside a small plate of orange slices. Garnish those slices with a sprinkling of sal de gusano – a rust-colored powder of sea salt, ground chilies and the crushed remains of agave worms. Better yet, dip a slice into a bowl of the powder itself.

While you grimace, consider this: Despite the name, the worms aren’t actually worms. They’re the larvae of moths that start feeding on the hearts and leaves of the agave plant as soon as they’re born. In other words, they are living the life. Their brief and blissfully unaware existence comes to an end in late summer, when – in accordance with centuries-old tradition – they’re gathered up, dried in the sun and toasted, then pulverized along with sea salt and chilies to become the magical mix now before you.

Proof + Pantry
These larvae sacrificed themselves for your mezcal enjoyment. Don’t disappoint them.

Back to your plate. Take a bite of powdered orange and your mouth explodes with sweet citrus, faint heat and a wallop of salt. It’s a zesty complement to the swig of smoky mezcal you’re about to inhale. But wait: There’s another flavor there, too, almost paprika-esque. It’s lovely and rounds out the mezcal perfectly.

“It’s savory,” says bartender Hector Zavala of Dallas’ Henry’s Majestic. “It has that flavor of umami.”

Yes, a bit of the worm-salt experience and you might just be calling for your mommy. But insect consumption is a longtime tradition in resource-challenged Oaxaca, where critters like grubs and crickets provide a cheap and plentiful source of protein. (I once sampled a plate of not-so-bad dried crickets at a Oaxacan hole-in-the-wall in Phoenix, sautéed with lime and chili and served with a side of tortillas. The biggest issue – the little legs that get caught between your teeth.)

Atwater Alley
Bartender Zavala’s spice powders, made from moth larvae and grasshoppers.

A few weeks ago, Zavala scored a shipment of sal de gusano from Mexican producer Gran Mitla; he’s now dishing it up Oaxaca-style at Henry’s Majestic and its speakeasy sidekick, Atwater Alley. (Appropriately, he serves it with Wahaka’s reposado mezcal, which incorporates the same agave worm.) At Uptown’s upscale Mexican place Komali, bar manager Leann Berry is pondering serving her recently obtained sal de gusano with mezcal flights, while you can also find it at Proof + Pantry in the Arts District, socked away in a Hefty bag labeled “grub salt.”

Zavala, of Henry’s Majestic, comes from the same small town in Mexico as fellow bartender Luis Sifuentes; they lived two miles apart but never met until they came to Dallas. Now both are among the badass bar crew assembled at Henry’s by beverage director Alex Fletcher. “Alex has a lot of trust in us,” says Zavala, who along with sal de gusano also procured a milder, sweeter powder of ground-up grasshoppers called sal de chapulin. “He lets us experiment and come up with our own ideas.”

Fletcher finds the whole thing intriguing. “(Hector) brought those in to play with,” he says, wheels already turning. “I think doing a worm-salt, citrus-based mezcal cocktail would be fantastic.”

That’s what a post on the site Mezcalistas.com suggests. In fact, its play on the classic Margarita is basically the orange-slice tradition rolled into a drink, replacing tequila and lime with mezcal and orange juice and then serving it in a worm-salt-rimmed glass.

Atwater Alley
At Atwater Alley, a worm-salt-rimmed cocktail from bartender Sifuentes.

At Atwater Alley, Sifuentes gave the cocktail concept a go, too, mixing mild Wahaka mezcal with Carpano Antica sweet vermouth and a bit of bitter Averna. Worm salt lined the glass. It was a respectable blend, but it could just be that the spices’ jaw-punch of salinity is too aggressive to play well in cocktails, at least in significant quantity. Still, there’s nothing wrong with having it the traditional way. Sometimes simplicity is best.

Maybe food is the most logical complement of all. In Austin, you’ll find worm-salt-accompanied mezcal at Takoba, along with slices of Oaxacan cheese. And at The Pastry War in Houston, you can get mezcal with a straight-up side of toasted grasshoppers. If that makes you shudder, start slow – with a bit of worm salt.

“Psychologically, that’s a hump I had to get over,” said Proof + Pantry bartender Mike Steele. “But it’s pretty good stuff.”

Pass the peas: Bartenders embrace sous-vide, a chef’s technique, in pursuit of better cocktails

 

Victor Tango's
Vacuum-sealed ingredients: They’re not just for chefs anymore. Victor Tango’s lead barman Alex Fletcher.

The sugar peas were looking exceedingly delicious this spring, and right away Alex Fletcher knew it was time to take a stab at the idea that had been percolating inside for a year.

Fletcher, bar manager at Victor Tango’s in Knox-Henderson, had in mind a sugar-pea-infused gin, but he also knew that green vegetables tended to wilt in booze. “Like cucumbers — they’ll be good one day and then the next day, it’s like they’re pickled,” he says. “That’s gross. I learned that the hard way.”

Instead, he turned to one of the culinary world’s more modern trends: sous-vide (French for “under vacuum”), a vacuum-sealing method industrialized in the 1960s and then increasingly adopted by chefs like Thomas Keller, Grant Achatz, Ferran Adria and Dallas’ John Tesar as part of the molecular gastronomy movement.

Fletcher is among a handful of Dallas bartenders experimenting with the technique – in which ingredients are usually vacuum-sealed in a plastic bag – or its variations to create infusions or to enhance other cocktail ingredients, further fogging the lines between bar and kitchen.

Chefs typically cook ingredients in the bag, often at low heat for long periods of time, to juice up flavor and moistness. Bartenders do the same using bags or even mason jars kept in a water bath temperature-controlled with a sous-vide circulator. There’s also “Cryovacking,” as some call it, playing off the brand-name airtight plastic-bag manufacturer, which can be used to quickly infuse pressurized contents with added flavors or heighten flavors already present.

Victor Tango's
Who looks at this and thinks of a cocktail? Fortunately for Dallas, Alex Fletcher of Victor Tango’s.

That’s what Jacob Boger, lead barman at Knox-Henderson’s Origin Kitchen + Bar, was doing with lemons and limes and hoping to echo with strawberries earlier this month. He figured five minutes’ worth of pressure could help siphon sweetness from the not-quite-ripe strawberries. “Just the fact that they’re in their own juices, you know…. Maybe I’ll put some raw sugar in there to really draw it out. It’s an easy enough thing you can do to make a better drink.”

At Driftwood in Oak Cliff, bar manager Ryan Sumner is eyeing the method to create infused simple syrups, while Ian Reilly at Trinity Groves’ Chino Chinatown has made oleo saccharums, or sugared citrus oils, the same way. Meanwhile, at Barter, the wheels are always spinning. “We’re basically just playing the game, `Can we sous-vide it? Yes, we can,’” says the Uptown bar’s Stephen Halpin.

Hey, we’re all busy these days. So for bartenders, one of sous-vide’s advantages is the speed with which such ingredients can be ready for use depending on the desired flavor potency. Barter’s deliciously fruity Singapore Sling is made with gin heated at 62.5 degrees Centigrade along with pineapple, cucumber, white peppercorns and orange peel. But where a typical infusion might take 30 days of thumb-twiddling, Barter’s gin preparation, once bagged and sealed, can be ready in 90 minutes.

Put that in your agave pit and smoke it.

Barter’s Halpin also does a sous-vide gin infused with blood orange for an hour; the process allows him to incorporate the fruit’s flavorful zest, which wouldn’t work in a traditional infusion. “You can’t leave in too long,” he says. “It gets too bitter. You can’t dial that back.” The piquant mix shines in the bar’s off-menu Please Give Gin Another Chance, which Halpin offers to those who’ve felt burned by gin in the past.

As Nonstop Honolulu reported early last year, bartender Dave Newman of Honolulu’s Pint + Jigger has used sous-vide to evoke the effects of barrel aging, replacing the typical weeks-long oak-cask soak with bourbon and barrel wood chips sealed in mason jars kept in a 120-degree bath for two days. Does it work? The author thought so: “The sous vide cocktail was much smoother with an added oaky complexity that would normally require several weeks of barrel aging to achieve,” he concluded.

Victor Tango's
Fletcher uses Old Tom gin, sweeter and less botanical than London Dry. “Tanqueray is too hot,” he says.

In recent years, sous-vide or Cryovac cocktails have appeared elsewhere across the U.S. – at Seattle’s Tavern Law, San Diego’s Grant Grill, The Aviary in Chicago and Atlanta’s Seven Lamps, where bartender Arianne Fielder “hypothesized that slowly cooking the sugars in alcohol but not allowing the vapors to escape would make colors darker and flavors more intense,” according to an Eater Atlanta article. And three years ago, during his brief reign at Bailey’s Prime, Dallas’ Eddie “Lucky” Campbell featured cantaloupe-infused tequila made Cryovac-style in a cocktail called High Maintenance.

The more heat, the faster the infusion – but don’t get too excited yet: As Oregon bartender Ricky Gomez cautions, ingredients can give off different flavors at different temps. Other variables may also affect potency or longevity. Tweaking may be required.

When Fletcher became bar manager at Victor Tango’s, he suddenly had access to a vacuum sealer at a neighboring restaurant. “My grandmother used to make English peas all the time, so I sometimes have a craving for them,” he says. “And whenever I have a craving for something, I try to make a cocktail out of it.”

He mixed a quarter-pound of slightly crushed peas with a half-bottle of gin. He chose Hayman’s Old Tom gin – the sweeter style of gin popular in 18th-century England before today’s more prevalent London Dry came along – for its more subtle botanicals. Into the bag they went, sealed tight – pooosh – with a Vac Master machine. “That’s the big boy of Cryovac machines,” he says. “It sucks all the air out of the bag.”

Victor Tango's
Fletcher gives the peas a mild crushing to release the juices from their shells.

Two hours later, the pea-infused, light-green gin was ready to go. And if peas in liquid form make you think of split-pea soup, then we’re all on the same page: The soup is usually boosted with pork flavor, so Fletcher made a genius move to complete the cocktail. He gathered up some tapioca maltodextrin, a light-as-air, fat-soluble starch that absorbs flavors but has no odor or flavor of its own. He then threw some of that into a food processor along with a little bacon fat and a pinch of salt… and out came a unicorn. Okay, not exactly, but if you can imagine bacon-flavored confectioner’s sugar, this was it.

His tasty Swee’Pea cocktail, now on Victor Tango’s’ spring menu, mixes the gin with lemon and demerara syrup, served up in a coupe rimmed with the bacon powder and garnished with a sugar pea.

Fletcher would eventually find his vacuum-sealer access limited, so for the time being he’s using extracted pea juice instead, not introducing it to the gin until ordered. Unfortunately, it lacks the vibrancy of his sous-vide version. But sometime this week, he says, he plans to get Victor Tango’s a vacuum-sealer of its own. When and if that happens, I’d highly recommend the Swee’Pea as a great way to round out your daily vegetable requirement.

Victor Tango's
Fletcher vacuum-seals the pea/gin mixture, starting the infusion process.
Victor Tango's
Fletcher strains the sugar-pea-infused gin from the bag.
Victor Tango's
Fletcher rims a coupe with his magic bacon-flavored powder.
Victor Tango's
Fletcher mixes the gin with lemon and demerara syrup.
Alex Fletcher, Victor Tango's
Garnished with a sugar pea, voila: The Swee’Pea cocktail, aka spring veggie goodness.