courtesy of Matthew Benson

Mezcalini

Mezcal is tequila’s smoky cousin; a spirit made in central Mexico from fire-roasted agave cactus hearts. Good brands include Del Maguey, Sombra and Montelobos. Avoid the cheap stuff with the worm in the bottle.

Mezcalini 

Excerpted from PROJECT SMOKE: Seven Steps to Smoked Food Nirvana, Plus 100 Irresistible Recipes from Classic (Slam-Dunk Brisket) to Adventurous (Smoked Bacon-Bourbon Apple Crisp), by Steven Raichlen. May 2016.  

Method: Smoking with a handheld smoker
Prep time: 10 minutes (Can be made ahead)
Smoking time: 6 to 8 minutes (optional)
Fuel: 1 teaspoon mesquite or oak sawdust, or as needed (optional)
Gear: Handheld smoker (optional) 
Shop: Yerba buena (“good herb,” literally) is one of the many Mexican wild herbs that go into mole verde and other green sauces. It has a distinctive, pungent, mild anisy flavor, like a cross between spearmint and Thai basil. Look for it in Mexican markets. Spearmint or peppermint are reasonable approximations.  

Cross a margarita with a mojito and you get a Mezcalini. Add smoke and you achieve nirvana, not to mention notoriety—especially if you brandish the handheld smoker in front of your guests. It may be the most refreshing cocktail ever to slake your thirst (cucumber and yerba buena will do that). I discovered it at the rooftop dining room of the sophisticated Casa Oaxaca Hotel in this colonial city in south-central Mexico. No, you likely won’t be able to replicate it exactly—unless you have access to the chinicuiles (fried cactus worms) that are nibbled along with fried grasshoppers and crickets in this part of Mexico as bar snacks. Said worms (think miniature Cheetos that taste of bacon and butter) are ground with salt and dried chiles to make a rub for the glass rim. Smoked salt works fine for rimming the glass in the United States. —STEVEN RAICHLEN

 

Serves: 6

1 cup mezcal
1 cup fresh lime juice (it must be fresh)
3/4 cup simple syrup (directions follow)
2 tablespoons Cointreau (or other orange-flavored liqueur)
1 medium-size cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch dice (about 1 cup)
1 bunch fresh yerba buena, spearmint, or peppermint, rinsed, shaken dry and separated into sprigs
1/2 cup smoked salt (use a good commercial brand or make your own) or kosher salt
1 lime wedge, for moistening the glass rims
6 jumbo ice cubes (see Notes) or 18 to 20 regular or smoked ice cubes 

To make simple syrup, combine equal parts (1 cup and 1 cup for example) sugar and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook until clear, 2 to 4 minutes. Let cool to room temperature, then transfer to a bottle or jar. 

Combine the mezcal, lime juice, simple syrup, and Cointreau in a pitcher, cover, and refrigerate until serving. You can do this several hours ahead. 

Just before serving, place the cucumber and yerba buena in a mortar or bowl and lightly crush them with a pestle or muddler. Stir this mixture into the pitcher. If you make the Mezcalini right before serving, you can muddle the cucumber and yerba buena right in the pitcher using a long-handled wooden spoon. 

Optional: for even more smoke flavor, smoke the Mezcalini with a handheld smoker. Cover the pitcher with plastic wrap, leaving one edge open for the smoker tube. Just before serving, load the smoker with sawdust following the manufacturer’s instructions. Insert the tube and fill the pitcher with smoke. Quickly remove the tube, seal the pitcher with plastic wrap and let stand for 4 minutes. Stir well with a bar spoon and repeat once more. 

To serve, spread out the smoked salt in a shallow bowl. Moisten the rims of 6 large glasses with the lime wedge, then dip them in the salt. Shake off the excess. 

Place 1 jumbo or 3 to 4 regular-size ice cubes in each glass. Pour the Mezcalini into the glasses. Spoon some of the cucumber and yerba buena into each glass, taking care not to drip on the salt. 

Notes: The beauty of jumbo ice cubes is their slow melt, which means less dilution of your drink. Look for molds for spherical and cube ice at bar supply stores or Williams-Sonoma.


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