Hint: It has nothing to do with meat.

By Stacey Ballis
May 08, 2020
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One upside of lockdown is that it’s been a great opportunity to explore all of the uses of those cooking gadgets you received as gifts or bought for yourself on Amazon Prime Day and perhaps haven’t really used much. Take our sous vide machine, for example. Before the pandemic, we used it maybe once every 6-8 weeks. Now? It’s on constant rotation! We have been using it to help make weeknight dinners that much easier, or to allow us to focus energy on fun sides and sauces.

That said, with cocktail hour ALSO playing a heightened role in our stay-at-home rituals, we’ve found a new, spirited, use for our sous vide. Welcome to your appliance’s coolest new role: booze infuser.

How to infuse vodka (and other spirits) in your sous vide machine

Sure, there are traditional ways to create infusions and macerations at home, but these projects take days if not weeks. Using your sous vide runs that time down to mere hours. Think of it: You can eyeball your produce on hand after lunch and be sipping garden-forward cocktails by Happy Hour. And the process could not be simpler; here’s how:

1. Heat your sous vide machine to 135.

2. Take a one-quart Mason jar and add one or more of any of the following, either singly or in combinations within a category or across categories. Sometimes two fruits are good pals (think about strawberry and rhubarb) or different citrus zests. You can amp up a fruit flavor with an herb or spice, or stick with one simple, delicious addition.

  • Two cups fresh fruit or vegetables: washed, peeled if needed, and coarsely chopped; berries can stay whole
  • Peeled strips of citrus zest generated by 1-2 grapefruits, 2-3 oranges, 4-5 limes, 6-10 kumquats, or the whole peels of 3 tangerines (peel zest in wide strips instead of grating or microplanning for best results)
  • Two to four sprigs of fresh herbs
  • One tablespoon of dried whole spices like cardamom pods, cloves, allspice berries, or cinnamon sticks
  • A quarter cup of peeled sliced ginger, galangal, or turmeric; or sliced chili peppers

3. Fill the jar with the spirit of your choice.

  • Vodka should be unflavored and inexpensive. A good base spirit is Kirkland brand from Costco, or Smirnoff.
  • Gin, while already infused with juniper and botanicals can still be infused at home with fruit flavors, vegetables, herbs, or citrus. Start with a clean gin that isn’t too juniper-forward, like Plymouth or Boodles, and don’t go overboard on the additions until you have a chance to experiment with what you like.
  • Rums and tequilas both work best when clean and not too high proof. Look for white or silver varieties like basic Bacardi white rum or Don Julio Blanco tequila.

Note: If you want to make booze-free flavored simple syrups for use in other cocktails or mocktails, make a classic simple syrup with 1:1 ratio of sugar and water heated to dissolve the water, then pour the simple syrup into the jar and continue.

4. Seal the jars, submerge in your water bath, and let sous vide for 3 hours.

5. Strain, discard the flavoring agents, and store in the cleaned-up jar you started with. If you used shelf-stable ingredients, you can keep it in the bar area (or the pantry); if you used perishables to infuse flavor, store in the refrigerator.

Get the party started with these combinations

If you want to begin your infusion career with some recipes, here are some top-shelf combos and cocktail pairings to get you started:

  • Vodka + cucumber, tarragon, and serrano pepper (try in a martini or Bloody Mary)
  • Gin + grapefruit peel and rhubarb (try in a gin and tonic)
  • Whiskey + ginger and lemon peel (try in a hot toddy)
  • Bourbon + cherries (try in an old-fashioned)
  • Whiskey + cherries and orange zest (also try in an old-fashioned)
  • Tequila + lime zest and jalapeno (try in a margarita)
  • White rum + fresh turmeric and cardamom pods (try in a rum and coke)
  • Simple syrup + elderflowers, lemon peel, and cucumber (try in spritzes and with sparkling water)