Sunday, December 20, 2015

First Batch of Infused Cocktails

Cheap liquor and a wide variety of interesting fresh ingredients is the perfect recipe for experimenting with infusions. My first batch of infusions got made into cocktails over the last week and here I’ll document the results.

Christmas in Cambodia

1 Shot Absolut Orient Apple
½ Shot Tamarind Infused Vodka
½ Shot Citronge
5ml Cinnamon Tincture

 Mix ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake until chilled. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a strip of orange peel.

This was a slightly tricky drink to get the balance right on. I assumed at the outset that I wanted it sweeter and used simple syrup and a cheaper triple sec. In my opinion the drink benefits greatly by moving away from this. It’s nice and complex with the initial apple and orange flavors hitting you first and the tamarind comes in on the finish. While I’m not usually a huge fan of pre-flavored vodka, the Orient Apple flavor from Absolut is quite a nice mix of apple with a bit of ginger. For the tamarind infused vodka I let about 4 whole tamarind pods seep for roughly 6 days. The tincture was made by toasting 4 whole cinnamon sticks and then crumbling them into 500ml of vodka for just about a week. The tamarind, and to a lesser extent the cinnamon, give this cocktail a really nice pale orange color.

Phuket Margarita

2oz Kaffir Lime & Lemongrass Infused Tequila
1oz Triple Sec
1oz Lime Juice
1 Thai Chili, sliced

Mix ingredients in a shaker with ice, including a thinly sliced chili, and shake until chilled. Rim a margarita glass with a mixture of coarse sea salt and chili powder. Strain contents into glass and garnish with a sliced chili.

This is your classic margarita ratio and ingredients with a bit of a South East Asian twist. Getting the infusion right is a bit tricky. Most recipes call for the kaffir lime leaves, but I wanted a bit of the bitterness you get from the zest, so I sliced one whole kaffir lime and used a couple stalks of lemongrass. The trick is getting the lime out before the rind makes the tequila too bitter. I had it seep about two days and was happy with the result. I left the lemongrass in. The tequila has a very fresh, citrusy taste and I really like the contrast that you get by adding the heat from the chili. Like many Thai dishes, this cocktail is all about attaining balance of flavors, and in doing so getting more for the whole.

Kampot Pepper Gin Bloody Mary

2oz Fresh Pepper Infused Gin
Bloody Mix

Fill a tumbler with ice and pour the gin in over the ice, then top up the glass with bloody mix. Stir until contents are well mixed. Garnish with a lime wedge, olives, pickle, and a sprig of fresh pepper.

The fresh pepper from Kampot is known as some of the best in the world. It’s excellent to cook with and it turns out it makes quite a nice cocktail too. You only need to seep the gin with the fresh pepper for a couple days. One of the interesting things with this is the color; the infusion originally takes on the greenish color of the peppers, but then it turns dark black. Black is actually a very rare color for liquor as I found out trying to do Halloween themed drinks one year. The extra peppery taste adds a lot to a Bloody Mary. The real trick in Asia to making a good bloody though has been finding all of the correct ingredients to the mix itself, with horseradish and celery seed being the tough components to collect. If really desperate you can always use some wasabi powder to substitute for the horseradish and sometimes the celery seed can be dropped all together- or you use celery salt or even mince a bit of the top of a celery plant if they are available. Luckily I was able to assemble the ingredients within a day or two of arrival (priorities)!

Other infusions I’ve worked on here are a basil infused Gin, which makes a nice gin & tonic, and I’m working on a tequila infused with roasted chilies that were smoked with bacon. Hopefully will follow up at some point with a recipe to go with that.

This week we get to fly to Phuket to meet up with some friends from Nepal for Christmas, and then it will be back to Phnom Penh overland via Bankgkok. Hopefully I’ll get up to enough fun to have something to post about!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Not Easy Rock 'N' Roll

Traveling in the past I’ve never really gotten that into the music of the place I visited. Nepal had way too much of an Indian influence, and no one born outside of South Asia can really take Hindi pop seriously. Cambodia however has an excellent legacy of their own take on rock from the 60s and early 70s when the arts flourished in the Kingdom. I was first introduced to the sound initially via the band Dengue Fever, and was hooked after listening to it. While the band played plenty of their own songs, many of my favorites were covers from singers I had not yet heard of like Ros Sereysothea, Pen Ran, and Sin Sisamuth. Before moving to Cambodia much of this music became regular listening music, either while relaxing, running or in the car.

This week we got to enjoy the Cambodian International Film Festival, which had possibly more murmurs about it this year than average due to the involvement of Angelina Jolie. One of the films we went to see was Before the Fall, a kind of film noir thriller set in the days leading up to the fall of Phnom Penh to the Khmer Rouge. The central character was a Cambodian singer who is caught between an increasingly besieged city and two lovers- one American and the other French. The film was a lot of fun and I’d recommend it to anyone, and the soundtrack was absolutely excellent. The music was done by a band called The Cambodian Space Project.

A couple days later, this band was itself the subject of a documentary Not Easy Rock n’ Roll which followed the discovery of the lead singer in a Phnom Penh karaoke bar to their current success touring internationally and all of the struggles getting there and that remain. The story was quite touching, following the hopes and dreams of a woman from a rural province in Cambodia that has dreamed of being a singer all her life. As anyone who has visited South East Asia in the past knows, more than singing goes on in the dens of karaoke bars, so it was great watching her transformation from someone who was essentially shunned by society to someone that was drawing large crowds around the country, supporting her aging parents, and generally going from pariah to respected singer. Highly recommended watching to anyone that gets the chance. 

Cambodian Space Project preform with the grandson of Sin Sisamuth
Not only was the story great, but the band is excellent as well and Srey Thy has an amazing voice. Just a day after seeing the documentary they put on their last gig in Cambodia for the year at The Exchange in Phnom Penh. It was one of the better small venue live sets I’ve been to and was an absolute blast.  One of the things I love about that style of music is that I genuinely enjoy dancing to it, which is not that common for me. They played for almost 3 hours and we danced just about the entire time. The old Cambodian rock songs especially are just pure fun.

All said, it is exciting to be in a country where the music I enjoy is not just things imported from home, but music that was created and is unique to the place where I am living. Often times local arts are in many places supported for the sake of it, not necessarily because they are actually any good. In Phnom Penh this is not the case, there is plenty of really good stuff going on here. So far my impression here is that there is some really talented people putting together things that are not only unique to here but stuff you really want to be engaged in just for the experience of it. That’s exciting, and really makes me look forward to spending more time here.