Wednesday, February 24th, 2016
Okay, first off. I’ve gotten a lot of shit from those of you (you know who you are) who seem to think I don’t post here enough. Well, I’ve been busy. But I am listening to you, and I’m trying to fix that. Because I owe a lot to this blog, and to all of you guys, and so I’m making a conscious effort to add more content. Third post this year, WTF!
But listen, if for some reason you can’t get enough of me, you can always buy my book (and read it, hopefully), check out my regular column Easy Drinking on Food Republic, or my weekly column for Playboy. There’s lots of ways to get your dose of cocktail snark and helpful advice, is what I’m saying.
Anyway. You know what I love? Horchata. There is nothing in the world like a giant Styrofoam cup filled with pebble ice and sweet horchata while you nosh on greasy tacos from a street truck. Coming from California originally, it is one of life’s great pleasures. And since I’m obsessed with all things drink related, it got me thinking that I should really know how to make this delicious non-alcoholic beverage (and super awesome cocktail ingredient) at home.
Whenever I embark on this sort of thing, I always try a bunch of different versions from around the web and from my ever-growing home cookbook collection. And, of course, I’m never 100% happy with any of them. And so, I take the best parts of the recipes I do like, and throw them together with everything I know about technique, and after a few tries I usually end up with what I’m looking for.
There are many articles out there about Horchata, the history of it, and all of the different variations available. For our horchata, I wanted to stick to a few rules:
- Our horchata should be as simple as possible. A long series of complicated steps would be a failure here.
- Our horchata should have as few ingredients as possible. No almonds, sesame seeds, barley, or tiger nuts. Just the simple, spiced, sweetened rice milk you’d find at a taco truck.
- Our horchata needs to be made from simple, natural ingredients. No flavors, powders, or store-bought rice milk allowed.
What I ended up with was a simple, natural, delicious horchata that could be made with a minimum of tools and prep. Bear in mind, you will need some specialty tools to make this one, but they’re the sort of thing any serious bartender will usually have on hand. Anyway, there are just three simple steps to making great horchata.
1. Pre-soak the ingredients.
You’ve got to soften up the ingredients first, in order to combine those flavors and make it a little easier to pulverize that rice. So I start the night before and combine the rice, cinnamon, and sugar with hot water and let it sit overnight.
2. Grind up that rice.
Once everything is nice and soaked, the next step is to put the whole mixture in the blender and get it as smooth as possible. Hopefully you’ve got yourself a good blender. I mean, a normal household blender will work fine, but you’ll just have to run it on high for a really long time to grind up the rice. I’ve got a super fancy Wolf blender at home, of course, so it’s a snap. The Vita-Mix blenders we use at work do a beautiful job as well.
3. Fine-strain the whole mess.
Horchata is naturally a little chalky, but you definitely don’t want yours to be gritty. Even the finest of fine mesh metal strainers aren’t going to work here. You need to get yourself a nut milk bag. They’re cheap, they’re reusable, and quite frankly they’re a lifesaver when you’re filtering anything with a fine grind. I use mine all the time, I even make almond and cashew milk for home with it.
That’s it! Could that have been any easier? I doubt it. And once you chill it or pour it over some ice (or both), you’ll be enjoying the best horchata you’ve ever had outside of your favorite taco truck. Here’s the recipe.
1 cup California long grain rice
3 cups hot water
1 three-inch long Ceylon soft cinnamon stick broken into pieces*
½ cup sugar**
Combine all ingredients, stir to dissolve sugar, cover, and let rest overnight or for up to 24 hours. Pour entire mixture into a blender and blend on high speed until rice is pulverized, about a minute. Strain through nut milk bag into a bowl and refrigerate. Horchata will separate, stir before serving.
*Don’t be tempted to use that rock-hard cassia bark they sell at the supermarket. Get yourself some soft, crumbly soft stick Ceylon cinnamon at your local Latin grocery, or online for cheap.
**I’ve tried all kinds of sugars, from agave syrup to plain white, and I’ve got to say that I prefer the plain white baker’s sugar. It doesn’t come to the party with any of its own flavors, so the rice and cinnamon can really shine through.