A minor California news item this week, lost in the tidal wave of economic gloom and lingering Michael Jacksoniana, mentioned that the LAPD had enacted California Penal Code Sec. 7749er-B, an obscure provision from the “Martial Law” chapter authorizing the use of deadly force against anyone caught using the phrase “… but it’s a dry heat.” You see, it’s that time of year again, that point in the Losangeleno summer when the weather decides to remind you that human beings really have no place living here; that no matter how lush the lawns or plentiful the Uggs, this really is a desert. I find it’s usually possible to survive these hot weeks with frequent trips to the beach and adherence to a strict regimen of ice, citrus and clear liquors: gin and tonics sustained thousands of pasty Brits for 300 years in India, so surely they can get me through a week-long heatwave.
At least that’s what I thought until the past few days, when the ozone-depleted heavens unleashed an asphalt-warping, mirage-inducing string of Daily Highs that no refreshing summer beverage could stand up to. Imagine the sun as Godzilla, and the drinks as little Japanese tanks: “The gin and tonics only amuse him! Ruuun!” Clearly I need something colder…
Which brings us to today’s recipe: gin and tonic sorbet.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that making sorbet is nearly idiot proof. I say nearly because I did start making my first batch the night I wanted to eat it, only to then realize the forehead-slappingly obvious fact it takes all night to freeze a half gallon of liquid. Oops. So the recipe is time consuming, but it’s mostly time spent staring forlornly at the fridge. There’s very little work, and you certainly don’t need rock salt, hours of churning and an old-timey wooden bucket ice cream maker to get started. Just mix the ingredients, freeze, whip in an egg white, freeze again, and bury your face in icy, alcoholic refreshment.
My first attempt at gin and tonic sorbet used this recipe: I mixed the prescribed amount of sugar, a lemon, a lime, an overly sweet generic brand tonic water, and a good, but smooth and not especially flavorful gin. What I got was frozen Sprite. Sure it was technically cold, but it was cloyingly sweet with none of the bracing bitterness that makes a G&T refreshing.
So, after pausing to stand in front of the open freezer door, I went back to the drawing board. My initial fiasco proved just how important the quality of the ingredients is in a recipe this simple. I suggest using the strongest, most herbaceous gin you can find, if only because it gives you an excuse to use the word “herbaceous”. I chose Hendrick’s, which has much stronger tastes of juniper, coriander and other “botanicals” than your average gin. And as long as I’m playing the corporate shill, let me also suggest either of the two major name-brand tonics (Schweppes and Canada Dry), which seem to be less sweet than their store-brand cousins with more bitter quinine flavor. Finally, I decreased the sugar by one third, kept the lime, ditched the lemon, and replaced it with a cucumber, which, with apologies to the chewing gum industry, was the crispest, coolest flavor I could think of.
The result is great, a pale green glacier with a combination of sweetness, bitterness and refreshing plant flavors that cuts through the withering summer heat. Serve it with blueberries and it tastes like you’re eating an entire pine forest – I mean that in the best way possible, in the representative sense, the “redolent-thereof” sense, like how oysters “taste like the sea” yet manage to be mercifully free of sand and diesel fuel. If you’re surrounded by a desert of ten thousand acres of baking, radiating concrete, you could really do worse than a pine forest for dessert. The recipe follows, and makes 6 or 7 cups of sorbet:
Gin and Tonic Sorbet
1 cup hot water
1 cup sugar
¼ cup Hendrick’s (or another strongly flavored gin)
2 cups tonic water
Juice and zest of one lime
½ cucumber, blended
1 egg white
– Dissolve sugar in hot water, over low heat if necessary, then let it cool.
– Strain lime and cucumber juice.
Juicing a lime is easy enough, but a cucumber? If, like me, you don’t have a blender, grate the cucumber as fine as possible and press the resulting mush through a sieve. It’s like the 19th century, today! In fact if you DO have a blender, you’ll want to strain that mush too. Do not strain out the lime zest.
– Combine tonic, gin, juices and sugar water in sealable container. Freeze overnight.
But wait, you say, if a bottle of gin never freezes then what makes you think this sorbet will? Well it doesn’t, smartass. After several hours in the freezer the mixture should be about the texture of a Slurpee, which might be good enough to eat/drink right there. Take your favorite Big Gulp, the good one for when company comes over, and dig in. But for something with a little more structural integrity you only have to hang on for two more steps…
– Beat the crap out of an egg white.
If I sound bitter it’s because I don’t have an electric mixer and holy crap do you have any idea how much work it takes to whip an egg white into a stiff foam?! I mean it’s only 5 minutes of frantic whisking, but it’s 85 degrees in the kitchen fercrissakes. Make yourself a normal gin and tonic to cool down – it’ll have to do for now.
– Whisk sorbet slush to break up ice chunks, then whisk in egg white.
– Freezer for ~2 more hours…
… and your gin and tonic will have evolved. Breath a sigh of relief, give your AC the day off, and enjoy.