Tuesday, March 13th, 2012
I’ve said this before: I’m a lazy guy, and yet I’m a perfectionist. I want my cocktails perfectly-prepared, but I’d really rather not work too hard. With that in mind, I present my latest in perfectly-prepared cocktail ingredients for slackers like you.
A couple of years ago, like so many other bartenders around the world, I implemented a daily punch program at my bar. It’s been well received by our guests, who enjoy exploring a different, interesting and inexpensive tipple every night. And my staff loves it, because it’s a drink that can be poured and handed over to the guest in absolutely no time at all, but provides a daily conversation piece to interact with the folks across the bar.
One of the key components to a classic punch, as we learned from our friend David Wondrich in his book Punch, is a proper oleo saccharum. The process involves peeling citrus (usually lemon) and gently muddling it into superfine sugar, letting it rest for an hour or more. I always recommend stirring the mixture occasionally until the sugar essentially melts from the citrus oil as it leeches from the peels. What you’re left with is a sweet, aromatic base for a tasty bowl of punch.
The problem? Well, the biggest drawback has been having to haul myself in to the bar every morning for the past two years and preparing the oleo saccharum, then mixing the punch and chilling it before the evening’s service. I’d prefer to hand over the duty to my daytime prep bartender, but tending to an oleo saccharum every day would have been one additional duty that he just didn’t need. In Wondrich’s own words, “This process is admittedly time-consuming and to some degree a laborious one.”
If only there were a quicker way to prepare oleo saccharum, a method that didn’t require any stirring or tending, a method that could be prepared ahead of time without fear of spoilage or evaporation, so that a delicious punch could be prepared quickly by anyone with a recipe.
Here’s our solution: superfine sugar and lemon peels are immediately placed into a vacuum seal bag and sealed. Over the course of four to six hours, the lemon oils in the airtight environment leech out and perfectly dissolve the entire mass of sugar, without any need for a watchful eye or constant agitation. Once the process is complete, the bags are dated and refrigerated, and ready for use. We prepare a week’s worth at a time, and the last bag is every bit as fresh as the first. We use the inexpensive FoodSaver vaccum sealer ($50 on Amazon), and quart-sized bags ($20 for 44) at our bar.
And, if you’re really into this kind of stuff, and I don’t know why you wouldn’t be, here’s a video of me saying pretty much exactly what you just read, but with a bunch of swearing and bleeps and stuff:
One of our favorite punches from David’s book is the classic Philadelphia Fish House Punch, updated with his kludges, and re-updated here using the vacuum seal oleo saccharum technique.
Philadelphia Fish House Punch
Adapted from a recipe by David Wondrich
1 pound superfine sugar
12 lemons, peeled
Place sugar and lemon peels into a vaccum-seal bag and seal according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Let rest at room temperature for four hours, or overnight, until the sugar is soaked in lemon oil. When punch is ready to assemble, pour contents into an eight-quart container and add:
16 oz Appleton V/X rum
8 oz Smith and Cross rum
12 oz Hennessy VS cognac
3 oz Briotette creme de peche
9 oz Laird’s applejack
16 oz lemon juice, finely strained
6 pints cold water
Makes approximately 5½ quarts.