Hot Fuzz: when Margarita meets Fuzzy Navel
Leave it to a Duo from sunny L.A. to heat things up . . .
During last month's Thirsty Thursday Challenge, hosted by the Diva on a Diet at Beach Eats, Chrystal and Amir of The Duo Dishes offered up a victorious beverage with their Pineapple Sage Cocktail. For their winning effort, the toothsome twosome had the privilege of choosing the special ingredient for June's TTC and let's just say they picked a heck of a pickled pepper - jalapeño!
When it comes to cocktails, I am BFFs with Sweet and quite friendly with Sour, but Spicy is a near-total stranger. Luckily, Mr. Noodle was unfazed by the prospect of making a so-hot-it's-cool refreshment and with drink glasses polished, jiggers primed and pouring hand flexed, my fearless Tender of the Bar picked up the Duo's gauntlet with nary a blink. Using tequila as the base liquor was an obvious choice, so to toss it up a bit, I suggested we begin with a relaxed interpretation of the assigned ingredient.
The jalapeño, originating in Mexico's Veracruz region and arguably the most popular chili pepper in the United States, is just one cultivar of the chili species Capsicum annuum, which spans the heat spectrum from the utterly benign bell pepper to the flamingly combustible Chiltepin. Occupying a sweet spot somewhere between lip-tingling and face-melting on the Scoville Organoleptic Scale (the rather subjective standard test for measuring capsaicin, the compound responsible for chilis' heat) these potent pods make an appealing option for both the spice-challenged, looking for a gateway chili to build up their tastebuds, and the old pros who want to keep theirs primed with a dependably fiery standby.
With this little bit about fresh jalapeños, be sure to enjoy their pungent flavor in pico de gallo, as a pepper jelly, or as one of the myriad versions of poppers (stuffed, battered and deep-fried jalapeños) when you get the chance because you won't find them in Team Noodle's concoction today. Still, that's not to say we've violated the rules of the Thirsty Thursday Challenge . . .
What's reddish-brown, shriveled up from lots of smoking but still hot? No, not a sun-worshipping cougar with a pack-a-day habit. I'm talking about chipotles. These earthy-flavored wrinkled forms are smoke-dried jalapeños and are available whole, ground or en adobo (stewed in vinegar, garlic, tomatoes and spices, though there are many variations). Chipotle is one of my favorite seasonings and I often throw a whole pod into stews and soups to add a deep, smoky flavor. When I read that the TTC ingredient for June was jalapeño, I immediately thought of its dried alter ego to use in our favorite drink technique - the liquor infusion. We've gingered gin for Calama-Ginger Sippers and imbued bourbon with rosemary and mint for Bluegrass Iced Tea - now, it's spice time for tequila.
Jalapeño: Before and After
The Unbearable Hotness of Infusing
To our misfortune, however, I overlooked a small yet critical detail: although it is simply another form of jalapeño, the chipotle is actually hotter than a fresh chili, according to the Scoville scale. This may be due to the use of ripened jalapeños or possibly from the smoking process itself, when the pepper's white pith, where all the capsaicin is stored, breaks down and releases all those burning compounds. Whatever the explanation, we seriously underestimated the power of the smoked 'peño.
After soaking a whole chipotle in a glass of tequila for a couple of hours, Mr. Noodle could discern only a slight smokiness. Worried that it would be completely obscured by the other ingredients, I suggested splitting open the pod and letting it steep for another hour. Never again - the resultant spirit was hot. Very hot. Hot as in 'drinking liquid flame'. In other words, it was undrinkably hot. Nursing numbed tongues but much wiser for it, we tried again and this time, I removed the seeds and the remaining pith. To our relief, we finally achieved the earthy flavor and tingly feel that we were hoping for. Back on track, Team Noodle poured, mixed, stirred and sipped until we were satisfied with our entry to this month's Thirsty Thursday Challenge - Jalapeño.
Given that we were infusing tequila, a margarita seemed the natural choice for a final drink, closely followed by the idea of a spicy peacharita. Why a peach-flavored cocktail? Quite simply, this luscious stone fruit and piquant chili achieve a perfect taste combination of sweet and spicy, and is already a popular pairing in salsas, barbecue sauces and jams. More importantly, the Noodle bar was short on orange liqueur, an essential margarita ingredient. However, we had plenty of peach schnapps and orange juice - the primary ingredients of the Fuzzy Navel. Through necessary improvisation, we combined the elements of margarita with those of FN, fused them with piquant chipotle and ended up with an icy-hot hybrid beverage worthy of summer's most scorching days and coolest nights.
Mr. Noodle said this looked a bit like a petri dish. . .
Given our liquid experimentations, I suppose it rather is.
Makes 2 drinks
4 oz tequila
1 whole chipotle pod
juice of 2 limes
2 oz peach schnapps
2 oz orange juice
Orange and lime peels (optional)
Chipotle, ground (optional)
Carefully slice open chipotle pod and remove seeds and pith, then steep in tequila for 30 minutes to 1 hour. To increase heat of the drink, leave seeds and pith intact and/or steep for a longer period of time.
Strain the chipotle from tequila (reserving the pod for later use in a dish, if you prefer), then mix the liquor with lime juice and peach schnapps. Stir well to combine.
In two margarita glasses, pour orange juice to fill the bottom bulb (approximately 1 ounce each). Fill glasses almost to the the rim with crushed ice, then pour equal amounts of the infused tequila mix into each glass. Garnish with orange and lime peels, sprinkle with ground chipotle, if desired, and serve.
Peach bottoms up!
Thirsty for more? Then check out the Thirsty Thursday Challenge at Beach Eats for additional jalapeño-spiced refreshments!