Cocktailing on Second Thanksgiving

As always, there are a lot of really great stories, ideas and recipes in the new issue of Imbibe magazine, and one of the recipes really caught my eye — it’s a recipe for a Chinese five-spice syrup, by Scott Beattie of Cyrus in San Francisco.

The cocktail recipe that accompanied the syrup recipe didn’t do much for me, but I got all kinds of ideas for the syrup. Chinese five-spice is one of my favorite flavor combinations, and as the article pointed out, it’s perfect for the season.

Chinese Five-Spice Syrup
(by Scott Beattie, Cyrus, San Francisco)

5 whole star anise pods.
1 tablespoon fennel seeds.
1 three-inch cinnamon stick, broken up.
1 teaspoon whole cloves.
1 tablespoon Szechuan peppercorns.
2-2/3 cups simple syrup.
2 teaspoons honey.

Using a spice or coffee grinder, pulse the spices a few times until you have a very coarse powder. Don’t grind too finely, or you’ll have trouble filtering the syrup. Toast the spices in a stainless steel saucepan over medium heat, shaking the pan constantly, just until they start to smoke (this will happen very quickly). Pull from the heat and continue to shake until the smoke lets up, then return the pan to to the heat unti it smokes again, then remove. Do this five times.

Add the simple syrup and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, add the honey, then simmer for five minutes. remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Strain through a very fine strainer and bottle. It’ll keep in the fridge for a month, or to preserve longer add a splash of high=proof vodka as a preservative.

This stuff is really good. Next time I think I’ll add some fresh ginger to it.

Besides the flavored vodka-based cocktail that I didn’t want to make, there was another recipe calling for this syrup in the magazine, a non-alcoholic one involving kumquats and the nummy kumquat soda from the wonderfully grown-up Dry Soda Company. I wanted to make a non-alcoholic drink for Second Thanksgiving, as the hosts are non-drinkers, and it went over pretty well. But dammit, there are those of us who are drinkers! I love kumquats, and wanted to do something else with kumquats and five-spice syrup, given its perfect seasonality for the times (and because I love kumquats too).

Finding kumquats was the problem. Even though kumquat season is November through March, no one had them yet. (Grr.) Just as I was about to give up I made one more call, this time to Gelson’s on Green Street in Pasadena, and “lo in the hole,” they had ‘em. I got about a pound of ‘em and we were off.

I love kumquats in caipirinhas, so I thought I’d do that and use the five-spice syrup as most or all of the sweetener. I wanted some granulated sugar in it to help abrade the peel as I’m muddling as well. In doing some Googling to see what else I could do with kumquats, I found someone else’s kumquat caipirinha recipe that had fresh ginger in it … ooh, that sounded good. I was low on cachaça, so I grabbed a full bottle of Old New Orleans Crystal Rum and switched ‘em to caipirissimas. Next time instead of muddling ginger I’ll use a ginger grater/juicer and get about a half teaspoon or so of just juice to add.

Autumn Winter Caipirissima

3 ounces white rum.
1 barspoon granulated sugar.
3/4 ounce Chinese five-spice syrup.
5 kumquats, halved.
1/4 lime, cut in half.
About 2 teaspoons chopped ginger.

Place the kumquats, lime pieces, ginger and sugar in the bottom of a large Old Fashioned glass and muddle until … well-muddled. Add the syrup, rum and a handful of ice and stir for about half a minute.

This went over very well.

We’ve used the five-spice syrup in Old Fashioneds as well as in a few other cocktail variations, and I’ve got the ingredients brewing for my own experiment with five-spice. Stay tuned.

(P.S. — The Dry Soda Company have now introduced two new flavors: Vanilla Bean and Juniper Berry … yum!)