Sunday, April 18, 2010

Basil for Cocktails

I think I have scientifically determined that basil is one of the best ingredients ever for a cocktail.  It's still a hypothesis at this point and will need more experimentation--LOTS more experimentation--to prove fully, but the data is all pointing in the right direction.

Last year I discovered the joys of the strawberry basil mojito, where the basil replaces the traditional mint.  This year, just in time for the arrival of warm weather, I sampled the Basil Gimlet down at O-Ku Sushi (Brett McKee's new Japanese venture on King St.).  It's a perfect light, refreshing way to cap a warm April afternoon: Tanqueray gin, lime juice, basil-infused simple syrup, and a few slightly-muddled basil leaves.

For a long-time Raymond Chandler fan like me, deviating from the formula for the classic, sentimental gimlet is serious business.  But, if you're going to monkey with a classic, at least do it right.  The Basil Gimlet does it right, and in a country where Rose's Lime Juice has been degraded into a bottle of green high-fructose corn syrup, one might argue that the traditional gimlet has already said it's long goodbye.

Inspired by O-Ku, I had to give the basil gimlet a try at home.  Here's my best effort:

Basil Gimlet

2 oz good gin
1 oz basil-infused simple syrup (recipe below)
1 oz lime juice
4 or 5 basil leaves

The basil simple syrup is just a regular simple syrup that you've steeped basil leaves in.  I always use a 1-to-1 ratio of water to sugar for simple syrup, and I used an equal volume of basil--so one cup each sugar, water, and basil leaves.

Put the sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring till the sugar is fully dissolved.  Remove from the stovetop and add in one cup of torn basil leaves.  Allow basil to steep for 30 minutes, then strain through wire strainer to remove basil.  Put in a jar or bottle for storage (I put mine in plastic squeeze bottles for easy dispensing later) and refrigerate.

For the drink itself, put four or five basil leaves in a cocktail shaker along with the ounce of lime juice.  Muddle gently--enough to bruise the leaves and release the oils but not break them up.  Add a rocks glass full of ice to the shaker along with the 2 ounces of gin.  Shake well.

At O-ku, they served the basil gimlet over ice in a rocks glass with the basil leaves still floating around.  I think I like it best this way--something about the ice and the big leaves just seems more cooling and summery--but if you wanted to be more elegant, you could also strain out the ice and basil leaves and serve it in a martini glass like a more traditional gimlet.

Really, I guess, you could try basil as a sub for mint in just about any drink.  I haven't had the nerve to try a basil julep yet (especially since I have to travel to Kentucky periodically and such heresy might put me in physical danger), but it's only a matter of time.

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