Time for some punch

As disappointing as the Los Angeles Times has gotten over the past couple of years, they still do a pretty good job covering local food, wine and cocktails (I hope Zell doesn’t screw that up too). Yesterday’s Food Section featured a great bit on our friend Marcos Tello, resident mixologist and bartender extraordinaire at Seven Grand The Doheny The Edison The Tar Pit, who reminds us — in case we’ve forgotten over the last 150 years — the joys of the communal punch bowl.

Remember, punch is a real drink, the precursor to most if not all of the cocktails we drink today. It’s serious stuff to be treated seriously — it ain’t just dumping some fruit juice, 7UP and bottom shelf booze into a bowl. Take a little care and follow the guidelines (sweet, sour, strong, weak, spice) and you’ll get something mighty fine. The secret, as you’ll see demonstrated here, is to muddle the lemon peels with the sugar. Here’s Marcos’ offering:

Whiskey Barrel Punch
(by Marcos Tello, The Edison, Los Angeles)

Peels of 3 lemons, cut in a spiral with a potato peeler.
5 tablespoons superfine sugar.

1 cup fresh lemon juice.
1/2 cup real pomegranate grenadine.
4 dashes Angostura bitters or Fee’s Whiskey Barrel Bitters.
2 cups Bourbon (Marcos suggests Woodford Reserve).
1 (375ml) split of Champagne.
1 large block ice (see note).

In a large, sturdy bowl, vigorously muddle together the lemon peels and superfine sugar with a muddler until the peels release their oil and the sugar becomes moist and fragrant. Pour in the lemon juice and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Stir in the pomegranate syrup, bitters and bourbon. Add cubed ice to chill the mixture, and stir until the mixture is cold. Strain the mixture into a punch bowl over the ice and top with Champagne. Serve immediately.

YIELD: 15 servings. Double it for a bigger party.

NOTE: For a large block of ice, pour simmering water into a heat-proof container that fits into your punch bowl and freeze. With a vegetable peeler, peel the lemons in lengthwise strips, avoiding the white pith, and use the fruit for juice.

Don’t forget the other two recipes, for Mother’s Ruin Punch by Phil Ward of Death & Co. in New York, and Champagne Punch by Julie Reiner of The Clover Club, also in NYC.

Also, if you pick up the December 2008 issue of Saveur magazine while it’s still on the newsstands, Dave Wondrich has an excellent article on punches (a precursor to his much anticipated next book, Punches, or the Delights and Dangers of the Flowing Bowl, to be published in 2010) which includes three recipes. Each of these makes 3 quarts, or about 24 four-ounce servings.

Captain Radcliffe’s Punch

4 lemons.
1/2 cup superfine sugar.
1-1/2 cups sweet wine, preferably Sauternes.
1 750ml bottle brandy, preferably VSOP Cognac.
6 cups chilled water.
Freshly grated nutmeg.

Muddle the lemon peel with the sugar as shown above. Juice the lemons and add juice to the sugar and peel. Stir until completely dissolved. Strain the mixture into a punch bowl. Discard peels. Stir in the wine and brandy. Chill. To serve, stir in the water and add a large block of ice.


(Flaming Punch)

3 bottles light-bodied red wine, such as Beaujolais.
1 750ml bottle Batavia Arrack van Oosten.
1/2 cup superfine sugar.
1 Seville orange (i.e., bitter or sour orange), thinly sliced, seeds removed.
1 lemon, thinly sliced, seeds removed.

In a 6 quart pot, bring the wine and arrack to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and add the sugar, along with the orange and lemon slices. Stir, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Transfer the punch to a heavy heatproof bowl. (Be careful; if it’s not heatproof the bowl may crack.)Dip a small metal ladle into the hot punch. Touch a lit match to the surface of the punch in the ladle to ignite it. Pour the flaming punch back into the bowl. (Have a fire extinguisher handy just in case you’re a klutz.) Serve immediately so that the punch remains aflame in the glass. (You’d think it goes without saying that you should blow out your punch before drinking, but I’m saying it anyway.)


Regent’s Punch

1 cup sugar.
1 cup cubed fresh pineapple.
2 lemons.
2 oranges.
1 Seville orange.
2 green tea bags (or 2 teaspoons green tea leaves).
1 cup brandy, preferably VSOP Cognac.
1/4 cup dark Jamaican rum.
1/4 cup Batavia Arrack van Oosten.
2 750ml bottles brut Champagne, chilled.
Freshly grated nutmeg.

In a saucepan combine 1/2 cup sugar and 1/4 cup water. Stir over high heat until dissolved. Transfer to a bowl along with the pineapple. Allow to macerate in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours to make a pineapple syrup. Strain and reserve, discarding solids.

Peel lemons, oranges and Seville orange, taking care to remove as little white pith as possible. Reserve fruit. Muddle the peels in a heavy bowl with the rest of the sugar, as Marcos taught you above. In a medium bowl, steep the tea in 2 cups boiling water for 5 minutes. Strain tea over peel and sugar mixture and stir until sugar is dissolved. Juice the fruit into the tea mixture. Strain through a fine strainer into another bowl, discarding solids. Stir in pineapple syrup, brandy, rum and arrack. Chill. To serve, combine mixture with Champagne in a punch bowl with a large block of ice. Garnish with nutmeg.

Good lord, that last one looks fantastic.