Friday, May 6, 2011

Pina Colada and Ancient History

Ostensibly, this post is about the quart of (delicious) Pina Colada ice cream that I just made. But the Pina Colada and I have a lot of history, so I'm also using it as an excuse for that.

Captain Morgan released Parrot Bay Rum late in my junior year of high school. And we loved the shit. It was delicious, it was easy to drink, but it was also made by Captain Morgan so it wasn't sissy stuff. This was, of course, before there were 16 fruit flavors of every alcohol, at least stateside. It was pretty exotic stuff. We'd drink it just about any way you can, straight or mixed, whatever.

So after high school, at my parents urging, I took a year off. They hooked me up with the Center for Interim Programs, thinking I'd go to some state with a good university system, work for Habitat or some other service group, get residency, and go to school. On my first visit with the guy who ran the place, he said, "where do you want to go?" and waved at the world map behind him. And the only answer was Australia.

But Australia's a story for another time. This story is about Pina Colada. The reason I bring it up is that my 19th birthday was a few days before I left for Oz. I was living in a shithole apartment, aptly named The Cesspool, with 4 friends. (random fact, it was the first place of 4 where I lived with Alex Malloy, and I still have lived with Alex longer than anyone else to whom I am not related by blood).

The Cesspool was a total crash pad, and earned it's moniker the hard way. We were among the very few people from our high school who were a) still living near our home town and b) had a place of our own. So everyone who was either still at LHS or living at home ended up on our floor at some point or another.

For my birthday that year, we got several (2? 3? 4?) handles of Parrot Bay, a ton of Pina Colada mix, and ice. And we got trashed. Somewhere in the evening, my buddy Matt Hicks decided he'd call into the local classic rock station (WZLX, baby!). What ensued was somewhere in the neighborhood of completely ludicrous. But you can judge for yourself, as I have set the recording together with a bunch of pictures from that night, The Cesspool generally, and just plain old high school.

A few things about this recording. I've been carrying it around on a cassette tape for 13+ years, so the condition is not great. I digitized it by playing the tape next to the computer mic, making it even worse. But you can hear that I once had something bordering on a Boston accent. You can also hear that I'm a pretty cocky little bastard. I was very proud of what I was doing. And you can't hear it, but there was some hefty editing to our conversation. But whatever. The main point is, I was totally sloshed on Pina Coladas.

Those were pretty good Pina Coladas that night, especially considering the low grade. Maybe the quantity or the company influenced it. Probably both. The best Pina Colada I've ever had was in Playa del Carmen, in 2004. Yes, this is probably somewhat influenced by the setting, but we found this little joint where they clearly made their own mix. And it was delicious. Just a little chunky, totally fresh, just the right rum content. Mmmm. Delicious.

So as I was thinking about cocktail/ice cream combinations to make, naturally the Pina Colada came to mind. And I got to thinking about a recipe. Most of the recipes I saw online called for only coconut milk, which didn't seem quite right to me.

Back when I was trying to convert from server to bartender, I was working at Gordon Biersch. My boss was a big lug. Not a bad guy, per se, but kind of a goofus. He was quizzing me on recipes one day, and asked, "What if someone ordered a Pina Colada?"
"We don't have a blender."
"Sure, but what if they just really wanted a Pina Colada?"
"We don't have mix."
"Yeah, but it's some hot girl and she just wants something that tastes like a Pina Colada." (he generally operated under the stereotype restaurant GM mode of "anything for a hot girl," which included jobs).
"Um, I'd do Malibu, Pineapple, a splash of cream and shake the hell out of it."
"Cream?" He said it as thought it was the dumbest, grossest thing he had ever heard. I nodded and said, "Yeah, cuz otherwise it's just a Malibu-Pineapple."
"Gross," he said, and walked away.

I never challenged him further, although I knew I was right. And over the years I've certainly learned that the best Pina Colada will have a little cream. Even if you're using the richest coconut milk, a little cream adds a weight and smoothness that you just can't get otherwise. And it's fucking delicious. So anyway, here's my Pina Colada ice cream recipe (I hope you haven't really read this whole random thought train just to get here, but if you have, well done).
  • 1 cup coconut milk (full fat. I discovered at the grocery store that there's a "Light" or "Low Fat" coconut milk. I refuse to acknowledge such a thing as legitimate)
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup vanilla sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 cup pineapple chunks and juice (see below)
  • 1/3 or 1/2 cup Captain Morgan Spiced Rum (depending on how boozey you want it)
  • Handful of shaved coconut
  • 1-2 previously used vanilla bean pods
This recipe varies pretty broadly from the standard base. Obviously coconut milk replaces regular milk. I cut the sugar to 1/2 cup from the normal 3/4 to account for the sweetness in the coconut, pineapple and rum. I cut the eggs because the coconut milk is naturally thick, so the thickening agent wasn't as necessary.

The vanilla sugar and used bean pods are key. They'll add a little extra vanilla component but not overwhelm. The vanilla sugar is not store-bought fakey stuff. Per the recommendations of many, I've taken to putting the (cleaned and dried) used bean pods into my sugar container after use. It gives the sugar a really nice vanilla essence. And the used pods still infuse some flavor when heated in liquid, but not a deep flavor.

Anyway, here's how you do.

Put the coconut milk, 1/2 cup of cream, sugar, vanilla pods and coconut shavings into a sauce pan, heat on medium heat. While it's heating up, get 1 cup of pineapple chunks. Fill the cup with juice, so the liquid fills in around the chunks. Drop it all in a blender and blend the living shit out of it until it's super pureed. Add to the stuff on the stove.

Heat it until it's all warm and steamy, stirring with a whisk, then turn down to low. Heat a few more minutes, continuing to stir from time to time. DO NOT BOIL!

Take it off the heat, let it sit there for about an hour.

After an hour, heat it back up to very warm. Add the rum, whisking aggressively (the rum can cause the cream to curdle if you just dump it in, so be careful here).

While it's heating, take the remaining 1 1/2 cups of cream, put it on an ice bath.

Fish out the vanilla pods, rinse, dry, return to the sugar container. I'm too lazy to properly temper eggs, so I just very slowly add them while whisking aggressively. However you get them in there (my method or true tempering), add the eggs. Shift to a flat rubber spatula, stir slowly, scraping the bottom. Continue until it thickens to where it coats the spatula without running.

Remove from heat, whisk into chilled cream. Whisk the mixture until it's a) thoroughly mixed and b) pretty well chilled. Cover, stick it in the fridge, leave it overnight. I'm usually too impatient to wait all night, but in this case I think it's worth it. All of the flavors are ones that really absorb slowly (rum, coconut, pineapple, vanilla) and giving it the time overnight to get together and make sweet flavor love is probably worth it.

When it's gotten all conjugal and shit, bust out your ice cream maker. With my booze + cream ice creams, I always leave it in a little extra time to really get as firm as possible, so probably 40 minutes instead of 30.

Take it out of the machine, put in a container. Again, the machine doesn't freeze everything evenly, so use your spatula to mix it and get the texture consistent (this should also help keep even flavor throughout). Stick it in the freezer, let it ripen for 4+ hours.

I've discovered that the freezer ripening is a really key step in ice cream. Straight out of the machine it's really delicious and fresh, but the flavors haven't had time to settle in. Once it's been in the freezer and hardened up, the harder flavors mellow, the softer flavors find their place, and the texture of the ice cream really gets nice. So while I may eat a spoonful or two straight out of the machine, I find it's worth waiting a while, and I'm both an ice cream addict and horribly impatient.

And that's my Pina Colada story. In the coming weeks I'll be doing Mojito (probably try ice cream and sorbet), Old Fashioned (I'm gonna candy my own orange and lemon peel for this), and Mud Pie with Kahlua and Baileys. But what other cocktail concoctions should I get into? Help me create some wicked ice cream flavors!

Oh, and I think I'm gonna make a Pina Colada Rootbeer Float later. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Photo from Flickr user SingChan, shared under Creative Commons license

1 comment:

Mira said...

Fantastic. All of it. I remember that apartment, and the big hill we'd go hang out on. I.Need.To.Buy.An.Icecream.Maker.