There’s an obvious answer to the question ‘Why don’t people cook with gin much?’
The answer is, of course, thus: because why on earth would you want to cook with gin when instead you could do all of the following things with it, preferably in the following order:
2. Feel small thrill of excitement at the promise contained within said bottle’s glassy depths
3. Wonder if it is the right time of day to drink gin
4. Decide that yes, it is the right time of day to drink gin, because one or more of the following apply: a) it is after noon b) you’ve had a bad day c) you’ve had a good day d) you’re a bit warm e) you’re a bit cold f) there are limes in the fruit bowl so why let them go to waste g) you need something to do before dinner h) you have friends over i) you are alone j) you’re thirsty k) you feel a cold coming on so need to kill off the germs l) it’s Friday m) there is both ice and tonic in the house, plus glasses to drink out of – would be rude not to use them n) you’re having a barbecue o) you’re having food generally p) it’s Tuesday q) wait a minute, you don't actually need to justify yourself.
5. Find a glass. A nice one. But a mug will do if all else fails. Just don’t give that one to me, I refuse to drink alcohol out of anything made of porcelain
6. Fill up a third of the glass with ice. If you don't have ice, give up this plan now, it won't be the same and you'll miss out on the best bit (see no. 9)
7. Squeeze two lime wedges into the glass then drop onto the ice
8. Open the bottle of gin. Inhale. Make an ‘aahhh’ sound. Repeat this process. Mmmm sweet juniper.
9. Pour gin over ice. Relish the crackle and the silvery fissures that snake their way through the ice cubes. The amount is definitely up to you but basically keep pouring until either someone tells you to stop or you realize there is no room left for the tonic
10. Add tonic (optional)
11. Savour the weighty reassurance that comes from having a glass of gin in the hand. Possibly also put your feet up at this point to maximize this feeling (assuming you’re sitting down, of course – I wouldn’t recommend trying to put your feet up while standing up and holding a glass of gin, people might think you’ve had enough and take it away from you)
12. Imbibe gin, possibly while talking about how great it is to imbibe gin.
So you see the problem, really. There are just too many other priorities involved when it comes to the world of gin that activities involving heat, pans and chopping don’t really get a look in. This doesn’t make a great deal of sense, because nearly every other alcohol has, at some point in the history of food and culinary experimentation, been given its chance to shine. Wine gets most of the limelight - from dishes like coq au vin or white wine sauce to desserts like sabayon or pears poached in red wine - but think also of crêpes suzette, whose syrupy orange sauce would simply not be the same without a heady glug of Grand Marnier; tiramisu, with its marsala-laced sponge doused in cream; the splash of port that gives a kick to the Christmas cranberry sauce or the gravy of your Sunday roast; the brandy-based inferno that haloes the festive pudding once a year. I’ve even seen pasta with vodka sauce crop up on restaurant menus now and again.
In fact, I bet nearly every bottle in your alcohol cupboard has been used to great effect in gastronomic history to lend its distinctive flavour (or pyrotechnic potential) to at least one dish.
So why not gin? It makes so much sense. Gin, depending on the brand you buy, is flavoured with all sorts of delicious botanicals that give it a complex aroma and flavour. It’s clear, so won’t discolour your food, nor is it overwhelmingly strong and likely to overpower it, unlike something like brandy or sherry (I once put a splash of sherry in some apples I was sautéeing for a brunch dish...let's just say that sherry is not a flavour that works well in brunch). It’s potent, so you only need a little to lend its beautiful fresh, clean, juniper-scented flavour (leaving the rest for you to savour as described above).
That list above, about how to drink gin. I wrote it from personal experience, because I was recently introduced to Elemental Cornish gin, and ever since have been in a juniper-addled haze of admiration and delight (and a lot of that was simply due to the super-stylish wax-sealed bottle, before I'd even opened it). I did indeed spend a good few seconds just inhaling the top of the bottle after I broke the seal (which created a slight frisson of excitement and made me feel like a medieval lord). Like all products made in small batches with love and attention, this gin is just a beautiful thing: created in Cornwall using traditional methods and a blend of twelve botanicals, it's full-bodied, robust and delicious - I found myself drinking it neat without any need for tonic, which is something I rarely do with spirits.
I hadn't thought of cooking with gin until I tried this variety, but its vibrant flavours intrigued me so much that I started thinking about how to combine the clean, complex taste of Cornish gin with other ingredients. I don't want to give too many of these ideas away, as you'll be seeing them materialise on the blog soon, but a gin and tonic sorbet was definitely up there near the top of the list, as were a couple of dishes involving game: dark, ferrous venison, pheasant or partridge are brightened beautifully by the tang of fresh-tasting juniper berries, so it follows that gin would work well too.
As a self-confessed fiend for fruit in all its guises - but never more so than when it's sweetened, baked and combined with butter and sugar in some form - I was particularly excited by the potential for combining the aromatics of gin with fruit. When it comes to fruit that pairs particularly well with herbs and spices, strawberries are definitely king. This I discovered over the summer when I got out the pestle and mortar and smashed together coarse crystals of sugar, clove-scented basil leaves, orange peel powder, black pepper and cinnamon to make the most incredible lime-coloured, flavoured sugar with which to macerate plump, halved summer strawberries. Strawberries soak up aromatics like glossy red sponges, becoming sweeter, tangier and more fragrant in their presence. I figured they'd combine wonderfully with gin.
Running with the Cornish theme, this dessert is inspired by a classic Cornish cream tea and its main ingredients: scones, clotted cream, and strawberries (in jam form; here I use them fresh). Strawberries and rhubarb (I live in Yorkshire, so think of this as giving my own Yorkshire twist to this otherwise Cornish idea) are laced with gin, vanilla, sugar, a squeeze of lemon and a hint of black pepper, turning thick, hot pink, syrupy and sweet in the heat of the oven. On top sit little cloud-like scones, enriched with Cornish clotted cream, fluffy on the inside, burnished and crispy on top, their undersides soaking up all the delicious bubbling fruit juices. The gin gives the fruit a wonderful kick without being overpowering, infusing it as it cooks.
This dessert shows how versatile gin can be in the kitchen, and with what gorgeous results. Served with a big scoop of cold, cold vanilla ice cream, it’s a beautiful marriage of textures, temperatures, sweet juniper-scented fruit and crumbly, comforting scones.
Way more interesting than a tiramisu, and substantially more filling than a gin and tonic. It might just be time for that bottle of gin to make the transition from your cupboard to your kitchen.
Rhubarb, strawberry and Cornish gin cobbler (serves 4):
- 400g rhubarb, cut into 1-inch lengths
- 400g strawberries, hulled and halved
- 60g light muscovado sugar
- 40g cornflour or arrowroot
- Squeeze of lemon juice
- A good grind of black pepper
- 2 tbsp gin
- ½ tsp vanilla powder or extract
- 150g plain flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 25g butter
- 25g golden caster sugar
- 130ml buttermilk
- 2 tbsp clotted cream (optional – use 2 tbsp extra buttermilk if you don’t have any)
- 1-2 tbsp demerara sugar
Put the rhubarb and strawberries in a baking dish and toss together with the sugar, cornflour/arrowroot, lemon juice, black pepper, gin and vanilla. Pre-heat the oven to 180C. In a large bowl, rub the butter into the flour and baking powder until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the caster sugar, clotted cream and buttermilk to make a thick dough. Drop spoonfuls of the dough onto the fruit mixture, then sprinkle with demerara sugar. Bake for 30 minutes until the topping is golden and the fruit bubbling and juicy. Cool for 5 minutes before serving with vanilla ice cream.