CHICAGO – Few outside the mixology world have ever heard of orgeat (pronounced OR-zhat), a French syrup made from almonds and flower blossoms that gives mai tais their unique and subtle nuttiness. These days, the cocktail workhorse is seeing a craft resurgence at the hands of DIY bartenders who have taken to making the sweetener themselves instead of settling for cloying store-bought varieties.
Chicago’s tiki-themed Three Dots and a Dash is known for its attention-grabbing cocktails, presented in colorful mugs and flaming bowls. But the real showstopper here is the orgeat made in-house by Diane Corcoran (pictured). “People have a tendency to avoid tiki drinks because they’ve had overly sweet versions in the past,” says Corcoran. Making the orgeat in-house allows her to control the sugar level.
The beauty of orgeat, which is best mixed with dark liquors such as scotch, brandy and rum, lies in its flexibility. Xavier Herit, former head bartender at Daniel, in midtown Manhattan, and current proprietor of Wallflower, a jewelry box–size restaurant in New York City’s West Village, makes his with roasted almonds, sugar and splashes of cognac and almond extract. It’s paired with Jamaican dark rum and cognac in the surf-inspired Caught Inside.
The Sicilian Mai-Tai at Talula’s, a hip pizzeria in Asbury Park, New Jersey, is made with an orgeat that includes a special ingredient: vodka. “It’s mostly to preserve the orgeat,” says chef Shanti Church, “but I also like to think it helps extract oil from the almonds and melds the flavors together.” Other bartenders across the country have begun experimenting with alternative nuts, swapping out the traditional almonds for pine nuts, pistachios and even pricier macadamias.<>/p
Though the secret to good orgeat is its low profile, its versatility is beginning to catch on: “We go through two to three gallons a week,” says Corcoran.
Shake all ingredients with ice for 10 seconds. Strain into a double old fashioned glass (or tiki mug) filled with crushed ice. Garnish with pineapple leaves, lemon peel and an orchid.
From Diane Corcoran of Three Dots and a Dash
ASHEVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA – A gluten-free craze has taken the nation by storm. But there’s also been an equally strong—though less publicized—pro-grain movement. Across the country, craft bakers have shown a renewed interest in heirloom wheat and rye varieties, each of which boasts a unique flavor profile that speaks to its rich history and local agricultural influences. Think of it as grain terroir.
Many of the wheats currently seeing a resurgence were once grown abundantly in America but fell out of favor in the late 1800s with the advent of roller mills, which efficiently remove the bran and the germ to make white flour. The problem? The germ tastes great. “The germ is not only where the nutrients and fatty acids are, it’s the flavor center,” says David Bauer, owner and baker at Farm & Sparrow Bakery in Asheville, North Carolina. He grinds his heirloom grains with a stone mill to preserve both the bran and the germ.
Bauer first came across Wren’s Abruzzi rye—an Italian cultivar that came to U.S. shores through Charleston during the colonial era—in a Virginia field, where it was being used (unceremoniously) to suppress weeds. “He was cover-cropping his fields with it!” Bauer says of the land’s farmer, sounding scandalized. Softer than the German rye typically grown in the U.S., this variety boasts a rich umami flavor, which Bauer describes as “bright and spicy.” It’s become a favorite in his seeded rye breads at Farm & Sparrow, and he uses it in his rye-cacao shortbread at All Souls Pizza, the Asheville pizzeria he co-owns with a local chef.
Red Fife, another ancient grain, came from Ukraine to Canada via a Scottish immigrant in the mid-1800s and is now making a comeback in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, where farmer Tom Hunton at Camas Country Mill is growing it to the delight of area bakers and bread lovers. Herbaceous and nutty, with caramel notes, Red Fife has become a hit at Portland’s Tabor Bread, where it’s used in toothsome loaves like the popular sprouted grain and seed. “It’s really mild and slightly sweet,” says baker Brad Holderfield. “It doesn’t have a bitter quality the way a lot of red wheat does.”
At San Francisco’s The Mill, the aptly named Josey Baker has developed an obsession for einkorn (German for “single grain”), a grassy, nutty variety that ranks as the world’s oldest wheat cultivar; farmers were probably growing it more than 10,000 years ago. Those original farmers seem to have been onto something: Not only is the variety more nutritious than modern wheats (it’s higher in protein and beta-carotene), but einkorn also contains—for people who care about such things—less gluten. “It’s like you took a loaf of adolescent Wonder Bread and let it mature into a fully developed and nuanced version of itself,” Baker says. Although The Mill’s einkorn bread is made of only water, salt, sourdough starter and whole-grain flour, it comes out of the oven smelling like honey. “It’s my favorite bread we’re making now.”
SPAIN – At Chef Quique Dacosta’s eponymous restaurant on Spain’s Costa Blanca, one of the most impressive dishes is also the simplest: one gamba roja (red shrimp) served “naked,” the white flesh gleaming as you crack through its striped armor. The bare-bones preparation might come as a shock to foodies familiar with the three-Michelin-starred chef’s usual culinary fireworks—think oysters coated in “edible titanium” to mimic the Guggenheim Bilbao. But that doesn’t mean the stripped-down dish doesn’t have a trick up its sleeve. The secret ingredient is seawater. “You don’t need anything else, if the product is good enough,” says Dacosta.Chefs along the Mediterranean have long believed that seawater adds something to the pot that you just don’t get from the usual fistful of salt. ElBulli’s Ferran Adrià, one of Dacosta’s biggest inspirations, used to cook seafood with it himself, claiming that “the fish tastes more of fish.”
These days it’s not just chefs who are dipping into the ocean. In the town of Xàtiva, Er Boquerón beer is brewed with a glug of the Mediterranean; perhaps unsurprisingly, it genuinely tastes of the briny sea, with a savory aftertaste. Added bonus: There are claims that the minerals found in seawater can help reduce hangovers—or at least help rehydrate you more quickly.
Before you go adding a teaspoon of the Atlantic to your Bud Light, remember that it’s not recommended to drink saltwater directly from the beach. Both Er Boquerón and Quique Dacosta use purified seawater from a company called Mediterranea.
“Ferran Adrià had the advantage that his restaurant was at Cala Montjoi, a part of the Mediterranean where the water is particularly clean, and he took water from there,” says Mediterranea’s marketing director, Albert Fernández. “But although the water might appear clean, it could contain anything.”
Since Mediterranea opened in 2013, at least six competitors have started filtering seawater in Spain. At Abastos 2.0 in Galicia, chef Iago Pazos uses the local Siete Mares seawater to cook mussels. “Too much salt masks the flavor,” he says. “But with seawater, you get a different kind of intensity.”
Other chefs make their own seawater by simply adding sea salts, but Fernández claims it’s impossible to get quite the same range of minerals. “Ordinary salt is 99 percent sodium chloride,” he says. “Sea salt is 98 percent sodium chloride, while the minerals in our seawater are 86 percent sodium chloride.”
For skeptics, Mediterranea managing director Jorge Díaz-Crespo suggests trying “the proof of the potato”: Cook half a potato in water with salt and the other in a diluted seawater solution. It’s a surprisingly convincing experiment. “It’s not that it makes it taste of the sea,” he says proudly. “It just makes it taste even more like a potato.”