Infusing spirits isn’t rocket science, but it does tend to require some time, right? Most recipes for home infusions direct you to leave your strawberry-flavored tequila or your basil-mint rum sitting around for at least a week.
Yesterday at Tales Vancouver, the first class I attended was called the Science of Cocktails, led by Dave Arnold with Don Lee. Dave Arnold is the director of culinary technology for the French Culinary Institute in New York. He’s got the whole mad scientist act down; he was hilarious and brilliant yesterday, leaping around the stage (at one point even falling off of it), talking a mile a minute about the rate of ice dilution and the advantages of prestirred cocktails and juices squeezed a la minute versus in a machine.
Arnold does a lot of amazing experiments in his lab, but most of them are off-limits to those of us who can’t afford a centrifuge or a rotary evaporator. However, towards the end of the class, Arnold and Lee showed us how to create near-instant infusions with an iSi whipped cream charger, which—if you’re a naughty kid—you probably remember as the "whippet thingy." A lot of us food people have one at home, at the ready should we feel the urge to make amaretto-laced whipped cream.
But wouldn’t you so much rather use it to make chocolate nib-infused vodka? Or some such?
Here’s how Arnold—who first published his findings on his blog last August—explains the science:
"When you charge your whipper with nitrous oxide, high pressure forces liquid and nitrous oxide into the pores of your flavorful food (your seeds or herbs or what-have-you.) When you suddenly release the pressure inside the whipper, the nitrous forms bubbles and escapes from the food quickly, bringing flavor and liquid out with it."
We tasted Arnold and Lee’s iSi-infused coffee vodka yesterday. They presented it in a cocktail with salt, simple syrup, and lemon peel. I got no bitter coffee flavor at all; Arnold says it is likely that bitter flavors takes longer to extract. For this reason he says cocoa nibs are a great ingredient for rapid infusions too. You get all the chocolate flavors and none of the bitter.
If you’re going to try this at home (I am going to try this at home), be sure to read through Arnold’s post for ratios and important step-by-step instructions, both crucial to infusing successfully.