It's is a special time of the year when trees burst into life, flowers bloom and early produce pokes its way up from the soil. There is a promise of transformation as winter moves into summer, and the sun's warmth allows May blossoms to forgive the cold, teasing showers of April. This year, spring came early to Minnesota, and although we don't officially get started for another month, Farmer's Market in St. Paul was already busy with excited vendors and shoppers. One of the items that often appears early in this part of the country is asparagus, so in honor of the early spring, we decided to take the opportunity to use some early fresh produce to kickoff the month with a cocktail we call the Malodor Shoots.
Almost everybody is familiar with the sweet scent of sulfur that graces the bathroom after consuming a plateful of asparagus and plenty of liquids. Well, actually, it has been discovered that not everyone has the olfactory capacity to enjoy this wonderful vegetable twice (it's apparently a genetically inherited ability common among most, but not all of us). We make no guarantees that the Malodor Shoots will produce the effect for which it is named—only that you may enjoy a new way to consume the vegetable in liquid form to help the process. So, with our disclaimers now out in the open, let's get to the recipe. It is somewhat flexible but will rely upon a little preparation.
This recipe is better if you start a few days ahead of time to prepare your base spirit. In this case, vodka's neutral profile will allow the other ingredients to shine. If you wish to make this drink properly, run out and buy the best vodka you can afford, open it and stuff a handful of peeled garlic cloves into the bottle. You'll get better flavor if you smash the garlic beforehand. Give the alcohol a few days to draw the potent flavor out of the garlic. You can then strain the spirit, empty the bottle and pour the infusion back into the bottle for storage or just leave the cloves in the bottle to continue to build flavor. You'd be surprised how a three week garlic-infused vodka can transform other cocktails! If you are unable to take the extra time to infuse the vodka you can still get the required flavors by dropping garlic into the pot when you cook the asparagus below.
Cook the Shoots
Whether you pickup asparagus in the grocery store or at your local farmer's market, you only need about a fistful. Take your shoots and snap them in half. Food experts often tell you to throw out the woody base of the shoots or save them for making vegetable stock, but only a fool would listen to that silly advice. Just toss everything into a pot with some water and crank up the heat. Bring them to a boil and cover them. I've seen recipes calling for flash grilling or blanching asparagus for just a few minutes, but all that gets you is a crisp vegetable that has an unnatural neon green color with a nutty off-flavor. Clearly, steaming or quick-boiling yields an undercooked result. What we're after is the long, slow boil. We want the texture to soften. The structure should break down and a familiar aroma should fill the air reminding you of childhood when you would play tricks on your parents to avoid eating your vegetables.
Like any good braise, when fork-tender or falling apart, they are done. That artificial glow will give way to a nice olive drab and the cooking water should darken somewhat. You may be able to save a little time by using canned asparagus. In any case, be sure to boil for at least thirty minutes or even longer. We left ours to cool on the stove overnight for extra tenderness. Save the water which can be used for a wonderful Shoots Syrup. It's not used in this recipe, but we are certain that resourceful readers will come up with something. If you do, please post a comment with your recipe idea below.
Prepare the Glass
While the asparagus cooks you can turn your attention to the glassware. It's common to see folks serve their asparagus side dishes with melted cheese or hollandaise at the dinner table, so we will borrow that idea to prepare a glass. Place several dollops of Cheez Whiz on a plate and melt it in the oven or in the microwave. When the delicious cheese liquifies, spread it out with the back of a spoon and dip a cocktail glass into it. It helps if your glass is not chilled. You want a thick bead of cheese to coat the rim. A twisting motion can help it cling to the glass. Once the rim is completely coated the glass can be placed into the freezer. Chilling your glassware is important for any cocktail, but here it also helps the melted cheese thicken so it won't slide down into the bowl. A shortcut method worth exploring to avoid turning on the oven is to use Easy Cheese to rim your glass. The challenge will be to control the flow of cheese from the nozzle, but you can create some interesting decorative effects that aren't possible with melted Cheez Whiz. It's fair to mention at this point that not everyone enjoys a quality cheese product on their vegetables, opting instead for a squeeze of lemon. You will miss out on some of the fun, but you can go ahead and garnish your glass with a lemon wedge instead.
2 oz garlic-infused vodka
1 oz Lillet Blanc
1 pinch salt
2-3 shoots braised asparagus
Thoroughly cook the asparagus until it attains a mushy consistency. Muddle several shoots (or what remains of them) in a mixing glass with a heavy pinch of salt. Add the garlic-infused vodka, Lillet and ice. Shake to chill and strain into a cheese-rimmed chilled cocktail glass.
Build the Cocktail
Take a few soft shoots and drop them into a mixing glass. Sprinkle with a dash of salt and muddle them until they are unrecognizable. Once you have a thick vegetable paste, add the garlic-infused vodka (or regular vodka if you use garlic in the cooking process instead). Finally, add the Lillet, ice and shake to chill. Strain into your cheese-rimmed glass. The smaller bits that come through are an acceptable bonus and a good indicator of your muddling technique. Finally, raise your glass and toast the coming months of spring!
This cocktail has some flexibility. We have already covered the garnish, but you can also make some subtle substitutions. For instance, we prefer Cocchi Americano to Lillet Blanc in this recipe, but you can also opt for a dry vermouth. This may be more a matter of inventory than a serious decision about flavor. We're not joking around when we tell you that it probably doesn't matter. Another way to build flavor is to use onions instead of garlic. Onion-infused vodka won't be exactly the same as its garlic cousin but can yield flavors that are just as interesting. As a formula, this recipe lends itself to other produce such as braised broccoli or brussels sprouts, but if you decide to use something other than asparagus you'll have to come up with a suitable name. Keen observers might notice that what we have here is just a martini with a muddled ingredient and a very fancy garnish, but if you look at it that way you are missing the whole point. There's a sense of nostalgia wrapped up in the process and perhaps a bit of tradition—something worth emphasizing as we embark on another cocktail season.