Muddle Through It
Muddling is the gentle but thorough bruising of fruit (or mint) with sugar at the bottom of a cocktail shaker or glass to release juice and essential oils. Once muddled and the glass is replete with this heightened essence, you add alcohol, soda water, ice, and whatever else you need to complete the cocktail. If drunk within the first few minutes after muddling, the happy imbiber gets the full force of the flavors (to wit: the better the fruit or herb, the better the flavor.) The wonderful thing about muddling is that you release the flavor you want without breaking the fruit rinds or mint leaves into tiny, annoying bits that can float around creating both aesthetic and gastronomic unpleasantness.
Here's How to Get the Best Flavor
Muddled drinks at home have the potential to be much better than those made at most bars and restaurants. In commercial bars, they use sour mix or simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water heated gently until the sugar completely dissolves) to sweeten drinks, eliminating worry over dissolution of sugar and speeding up the mixing process. Bars are, naturally, more about speed and volume than about mixing with love. While this adds to the efficiency of the drink-making process, it also eliminates an opportunity for better flavor.
At home, where we rarely take the time to make simple syrup, granulated sugar can be added to the glass along with the fruit before muddling. The sugar, with all of its sweet, pointy crystals, acts as an abrasive medium that increases the efficiency of the muddle. For each press of the muddler (or spatula handle, as the case may be) more of the surface of the fruit rind or mint leaf can be affected and more flavor is released. Take home thought: before you muddle, add the granulated sugar.
How to Muddle
If you're thinking about crushing, piercing, smooshing, or pounding...forget that. The process of muddling is to bruise and press. You want to release essential oils and fruit juice, but not make a mash of the ingredients. Press firmly but slowly and in a controlled fashion that adds all the pressure you want, but doesn't break down the ingredients into mush or bits.
There are all kinds of tools you can use to muddle, but here are a few important characteristics:
- The muddler should have a flat end rather than a round or pointed end...this lets you get more of the surface of the muddler in contact with the fruit or mint.
- The muddler should not be made of any reactive material like aluminum or a plastic that could transfer flavors. Wood is a good choice as long as it's easily cleaned.
- The muddler should fit nicely in your hand and be easy to handle.
- The muddler should be long enough to easily get to the bottom of whatever glass or cocktail shaker you'll be using to muddle in.
Best Mojito Recipe
For this recipe, you'll need a pint-sized bar glass, a stainless bartender's cup, and a muddler.
1 Lime, halved
Five or six fresh, lush, large mint leaves
2 or 3 Cubes of Demerara sugar to taste (it's a sugar with 2% molasses that comes in handy cubes)
1.5 ounces of rum, preferably a silver rum (colorless) of decent quality
Juice the lime halves into the pint glass and add the remaining rinds. Add the sugar cubes and mint leaves, and muddle. The sugar cubes need to be mostly crushed and will partially dissolve in the lime juice. The mint leaves should be darkened by being bruised but not in pieces. Next add ice, rum, and a splash of soda water on the top. Place the stainless cocktail shaker over the pint glass and turn it over once or twice gently (don't vigorously shake). Separate the glass from the stainless cup, leaving the cocktail in the stainless cup. Pour it all into serving tumbler and garnish with a mint leaf. The undissolved sugar will settle to the bottom, and that's ok. It adds to the rustic charm, and the lucky drinker can choose to mix more in or let it alone to suit their taste.