posted by Dave Arnold
The weather’s getting chilly again, so L’Ecole (The FCI’s restaurant) asked me to start thinking about this year’s crop of Red Hot Poker drinks. (If you don’t know about the poker and our modern take on 18th century drinks, look here.) I brainstormed with Alexis Kahn, who, along with many other duties, runs L’Ecole’s beverage program. She suggested making a poker drink using our rotovapped scotch and dry-roasted peanuts (the recipe is in our Rotovap Primer). Great idea—but making all that peanut scotch would be a pain in the petoot. I wanted to try something faster.
I thought about doing some fat-washing—a technique to flavor alcohol with fats that a lot of my buddies use—but it wouldn’t be quick enough. I had a lot of scotch to make and not much time. I wanted to work REALLY FAST. So I had my guys blend Dewars and peanuts in the Vita-prep and spin it in the centrifuge at 4000 g’s for 20 minutes.
I thought we’d get a layer of peanut butter on the bottom (the densest stuff), a layer of peanut flavored scotch (middle density), and a layer of peanut oil on top (the lightest stuff). We did get that—but in a weird way. There was a lot of very, very smooth, highly alcoholic peanut butter with very little scotch taste on the bottom. In the middle was a small layer of scotch and peanut flavored liquid with a low alcohol content and a strange flavor balance. The real surprise was the peanut oil on top. We had a very high yield of very good peanut oil with an incredibly pleasing scotch taste. The oil was a real winner.
Why did this happen? I know from our experiments centrifuging nut oils and butters that adding a small amount of simple syrup to ground nuts before they are spun increases the yield of oil and makes denser pucks of nut butter. The high-yield oil you get by adding simple syrup isn’t as flavorful as the smaller quantity you get by spinning the nuts without adding simple syrup. Strangely, even though we add water in the form of simple syrup, there is no middle water layer in these preparations. All the water gets absorbed in the nut-paste layer. Shinderhannes, a reader, commented on this simple syrup phenomenon, and pointed out that alcohol should work the same way. We never tried it till now.
What blew my mind was that the peanut butter absorbed so much alcohol but so little flavor from the scotch. Strange. Also, unlike the simple syrup technique, the high-yield oil from the alcohol trick is full flavored (plus has the extra yummy flavor from the scotch). Next up: Bourbon flavored pecan oil (America in nut-oil form). And a different idea for the red-hot poker drink.
Side note for anyone who enjoys stupid troubleshooting stories: Some of you may remember that our new centrifuge, the Jouan C412, was acting up on us. All of a sudden, the motor went from a 4000+ rpm max speed to 3200 rpm. The good folks over at Ozark Biomedical who service Jouans spent hours trying to help me. We checked the resistance of the motor windings, we adjusted the current of the driver circuit, we looked at the tach circuit, we checked and replaced the brushes. In an attempt to check the FET’s on the driver board during operation I dropped my test lead and fried one of the drivers. Now it was really broken. I found a replacement FET and got back to work. As a last effort, I ordered replacement bearings for the motor even though the ones we had felt smooth. When I took the motor apart to replace the bearings I noticed that one of 4 magnets on the rotor that signal the tach had come loose and flown off. The tach was only sensing 3 magnets, not 4. The damn thing had been working fine the whole time, just reading 25% low. I bought an optical tach and verified that the machine was reading low. What a waste of time! I feel even dumber because a reader named Paul A. suggested I use a tach right off the bat. Kudos to you, Paul. I wish you had been the troubleshooter.