Why It Works
- Watermelons can be large, and the shrub and spoom recipes allow you to use all of the purée.
- Watermelon rinds are usually wasted, but not if you make pickles.
I've always had an interest in crafting drinks as well as sweets. It feels silly to admit it but I actually took a bartending class several years ago. A few evenings a week I'd go to the local vocational school and sit at a long bar stocked with every liquor bottle imaginable, all filled with colored water, of course. I've long since lost my cocktail flashcards and my class notes, but it was a fun way to waste a little time and money. I ended up bartending for real not too long ago, and while I know I don't care for the drunken customer service aspect, I quickly took to making classic cocktails, and making them delicious.
"It's not unusual for the pastry department of a restaurant to supply the bar of said restaurant with simple syrup, infusions, and even edible garnishes."
When discussing the setup of the pastry department at my newest job, I mentioned to the chef that I'd be happy to have my department provide the bar with anything they might need in the way of syrups and other cocktail ingredients. It's not unusual for the pastry department of a restaurant to supply the bar of said restaurant with simple syrup, infusions, and even edible garnishes, and it always pays to have a friend behind the bar who won't be stingy about giving me whatever booze has caught my fancy for my next experiment.
I also knew that creating things for the bar would keep us on our toes and make a case for the department's existence in the event of a slow season. I was not expecting the chef to request a full nonalcoholic beverage menu, with as many choices as the house cocktail list.
Since I've had my opening menu finalized for a while, I immediately set to work writing a list of different options, and surprised both the chef and myself when, less than an hour later, I handed her a piece of notebook paper with about fifteen well-thought options, ranging from varying flavors of egg creams, to flavored iced teas and fruity shrubs.
"An old-timey way of preserving, it generally involves fruit, sugar and vinegar, and makes quite a refreshing beverage."
Shrubs have been gaining in popularity among artisan bartender- types and thrifty food bloggers alike. An old-timey way of preserving, it generally involves fruit, sugar and vinegar, and makes quite a refreshing beverage. I chose three different fruit bases: blueberry, pineapple, and watermelon. Each requires a slightly different method and combination of sugars, seasonings, and vinegars, but they all take at least three days to fully mature and mellow out. A week after you make them, they don't even smell like vinegar. All three were luckily smashing successes on the first try, but watermelon is by far my favorite. The poor, overgrown things are usually relegated to salads with feta or crammed into vacuum sealers with herbs for "carpaccio" in restaurants, and I've always wanted to change that.
To add a little more depth of flavor and to round out the tartness for a mainstream audience, I crafted a syrup for each shrub in a complementary flavor. In the case of watermelon, it's a fresh mint simple syrup that makes the whole thing more subtly refreshing.
I've also been working on edible garnishes for each drink, pickling blueberries, candying strips of citrus zest and ginger, and preserving peppery wedges of pineapple. For the watermelon shrub, I knew I wanted to use pickled watermelon rind. Not only is it practically free to make, but it's sweet-tart and fits in well with the theme of the restaurant. The recipe I tried first, though delicious, wasn't exactly what I was looking for. I scanned the cocktail menu again for further inspiration. There's a cocktail with Kool Aid in it. And Watermelon Kool Aid pickled watermelon rinds were born. Yes, the rinds taste like artificial watermelon, but if you love sour gummy watermelon slices you'll adore them. They're the perfect garnish for a glass of pink eau de watermelon.
But wait! There's more! Because it's easy and delicious (and because watermelons are BIG) I'm also sharing my recipe for watermelon spoom (you know, that sorbet with the meringue in it) so you can have your watermelon three ways. Rejoice!
For the Shrub:
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup water
3 cups puréed, strained watermelon
2 tablespoons fresh juice from about 2 limes
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
For the Mint Syrup:
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1/2 cup mint leaves
For the Pickled Rind:
Rind from 1/2 medium watermelon
1 cup water
1 cup champagne vinegar
2 packets unsweetened watermelon Kool Aid
1 1/2 cups sugar
For the Spoom:
3 cups watermelon purée
2/3 cup water
3 large egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
For the Shrub: Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Continue boiling briefly, until all sugar crystals are dissolved. Allow to cool completely before proceeding. Combine with watermelon purée, lime juice, and vinegar. Skim off any foam from surface. Cover and let rest in refrigerator for at least 2 days.
For the Mint Syrup: Combine sugar and water in small saucepan. Bring to boil and cook to dissolve sugar. Add mint, reduce heat and simmer 1 minute. Remove from heat, cover and steep 30 minutes. Strain out mint and discard. Chill syrup thoroughly before using.
For the Pickled Rind: Peel the green skin from the outside of the melon rinds. Trim any remaining flesh from the inside or overly tough rind from the outside. Slice remaining rind into 1/4-inch planks. Cut into small decorative shapes with a cookie cutter or knife. Combine water, vinegar, Kool-aid, and sugar in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer. Add watermelon and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain rind out into a heat-proof container and continue simmering liquid until it reduces by about 1/3, around 10 minutes. Pour reduced liquid over rind and allow to cool to room temperature, then cover and chill at least 24 hours.
For the Spoom: Combine watermelon purée and water. Using a stand mixer or electric handheld mixer, whip egg whites with salt on medium-high speed until foamy, then add sugar and whip on high speed until it forms glossy, firm peaks. Pour watermelon purée into meringue and fold with a whisk. Don't panic when it doesn't incorporate like most meringue-based treats, just keep mixing. Eventually you'll have a light pink, slightly fluffy thick liquid. Process in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions. Allow to firm up in the freezer in a sealed container for at least 4 hours before scooping.
To Make a Drink: For a 10-ounce glass, mix together 1/4 cup shrub and 1 tablespoon mint syrup. Fill glass with ice and pour in shrub mixture, then top with still or sparkling water. Add a few pieces of pickled watermelon rind and stir gently with a straw. Serve with watermelon spoom.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 0g||0%|
|Saturated Fat 0g||0%|
|Total Carbohydrate 49g||18%|
|Dietary Fiber 1g||2%|
|Total Sugars 47g|
|Vitamin C 13mg||64%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|