Monday, 10 Dec 2018
Entertainment

Looking for a holiday cocktail? Try an old chestnut.


Holiday Chestnut Sour starts with a chestnut flavored syrup; Get the recipes below. (Tom McCorkle for the Washington Post, culinary styling by Kara Elder / The Washington Post)

While many are trying to survive Whamageddon (a trendy seasonal game in which you are "out" as soon as you experience an inadvertent exposure to the 1980s pop duo's holiday standard, Wham !, "Last Christmas"), I Are waiting for the oldest chestnuts – those who sing in the rich and calm voice of Nat King Cole in "The Christmas Song". I can talk about the marketing of the season, the holiday shopping traffic and the well-meaning atrocity of "Do They Know It Christmas" with the best of them – but give me a cup of Hot chocolate, "It's a wonderful life" and Cole, and I can go from stress crisis to work at Ellen DeGeneres in five seconds.

The omnipresence of Cole's song and the persuasive warmth of her growing voice have, I think, created a strange phenomenon: one of the activities we associate most with this season is that most of between us have never executed. At different times in my life, I waited for Santa Claus, cut and decorated a fir tree, garlands and hanging lights and biscuits baked. I even went a little further down the list to "Drop the Fruits for Santa's Reindeer" and "Go Across the City to See the Really Unpleasant Christmas Lights", Though You've Never Reached "Lick One flagpole frozen on a triple dog challenge.

But when I started preparing a chestnut cocktail for the holidays, I realized that I had never performed the first activity mentioned in one of the most popular holiday songs. all time.

I have now taken an afternoon to fill this gap in my education. If you want to try it yourself, here is the method I suggest you to roast chestnuts on an open fire:

1. Acquire a dozen chestnuts in hulls.

2. Light a roaring fire, preferably in your own home rather than in the cabin of your most disgusted colleague, then switch on "The Christmas Song".

3. With a sharp knife, cut an "X" into the shell of each brown.

4. Stop the bleeding knife wounds that you acquired in step 3; complete the rest of the cup wearing thick work gloves.

5. Place the chestnuts in a roasting rack in the fire.

6. Gradually become extremely hot and tired of holding the grill over the fire.

7. Panic when several badly cut nuts explode, throwing pieces of shell out of the chimney and yelling fury in your dogs.

8. Discover, by removing the support, that some of the nuts that did not explode, some burned while others barely cooked. Yield: about six properly grilled nuts.

9. Observe how the roasting of chestnuts turns out to be one of the many traditional activities that seem romantic – as a shepherd, baratiner, and forge worker – but exist today primarily to remind us how quickly we would perish from pure incompetence if our world loaded with convenience disappear.

10. Buy pre-roasted chestnuts online and bake your holidays and watch "Die Hard" as a sensible person.

I personally advise going directly to step 10. But maybe I am just bothered by the smoke inhalation and the blood loss.

Here is the thing about pre-roasted chestnuts: they have a subtle and attractive flavor (slightly sweet, earthy, nutty) that is charming when prepared with winter spices. But their starchy texture is somewhat off-putting – like a mealy and slightly gooey potato. They are a nice inclusion in salads and a really delicious soup, but their texture – like that of most starchy foods – presents a definite challenge for cocktails.

I thought of other starchy cocktails that I had encountered recently. At the Purple Pig in Chicago, the menu featured a drink that included Scotch Glenfiddich, Butternut Squash and Spice Dip. Often drawn – by masochism or by professional duty – to order drinks that seemed to be really horrible, I was pleasantly surprised: it was a beauty, with the sweet and mellow flavor of nutmeg well complemented by the depth of whiskey and liquor – and zero meals.

Alan Beasey, chief barman of the Purple Pig, said some doubted the squash component, which led to the name inspired by Bruno Mars of this drink: Do not think I'm just Squatch. For this to work, they first grilled the squash to soften it, bring out the sugars and smoke that would fit with the scotch, then peeled, cubed, spiced with cinnamon and chili, then mixed with sugar cane syrup and brown sugar. The mixing and adding of water gave a good consistency: "We wanted the texture to be a little creamy, without being heavy or mellow," says Beasey. "In some lots, there were pieces of fiber left. It was easy to filter. They end the drink with a double constraint to better protect unpleasant textures.

Another technique that I found in the new "The Aviary Cocktail Book "(Alinea Group, 2018) from Chicago à la carte cocktail bar. The book includes a drink called sweet potato, in which the orange juice is first cooked, then goes through a vacuum treatment to extract the flavor in liquid form without extracting the solid flesh, creating thus a flourless syrup with starchy texture. The drink also includes acidic orange juice, a smoked paprika ice cream containing honey and ancho-chili liquor and tequila. (By the way, if you are looking for a last-minute gift for the geek cocktail of your life: just like the bar itself, the book of the aviary is amazing, loaded with countless drinks so intricate and visually so pretty that I decided it's a cocktail book that describes the Sagrada Familia of Barcelona as a local church.)

As for my starchy chestnuts, in the end, I opted for a tiki-esque solution and turned them into an orgeat – traditionally an almond syrup, but you can get great variations by changing the component of the nuts. I then added brown rum to cinnamon, allspice and Angostura, which has the triple effect of making the mashed chestnut more liquid, giving it a rich, watered note and add a condom that helps the syrup to last a little longer in the fridge. I wanted to echo this holiday taste, so I worked with a mezcal smoke base to get a touch of fire in the mix.

As you can guess, the most important part of the process is to force the orgeat so as to eliminate as much solids and mealy texture as possible. You'll also go to the last glass and its composition – bright citrus and hard shake with ice – helps to mitigate panic effects.

Sip it by a roaring fire, and make your mind light. Just remember that, even though it has been said many times and in many ways, if you use this roaring fire to roast chestnuts, be sure to wear eye protection.

Allan is a Hyattsville, Md., Writer and publisher. Follow her on Twitter: @Carrie_the_Red.

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