Friday, July 29, 2011

Watermelon Bonanza

I haven't posted for a bit, but I've been busy in the kitchen. Couple weeks ago, this was my three day weekend:

Chocolate chip-banana cookies, Watermelon Margarita Sorbet, Apple Crisp, Honey-Cinnamon Ice Cream, Cherry Pie, Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, Oatmeal-Toffee Cookies. Yep, one weekend.

So yeah, I've been busy in the kitchen. And because it's summer, my biggest experimentation has been with the king of summer - King Watermelon.

I won't launch into a treatise on why watermelon is the king of summer. You get it or you don't. And if you do, I have some recipes for you to help make the most of summer's lord. Without further ado, it's Evan's Watermelon Bonanza!

Four recipes included in this post:

Perfect Watermelon Lemonade
Perfect Watermelon Sorbet
Watermelon Margarita Sorbet
Watermelon Mojito Sorbet

Perfect Watermelon Lemonade:

4 cups watermelon, cubed small (about 1/4 of a medium seedless)
1 cup sugar
1 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup water

Put the water and sugar in a sauce pan and heat, stirring. Continue until sugar is fully melted, and voila, simple syrup. This is important. Sugar WILL NOT dissolve in cold water. If you make this without turning the sugar into simple syrup, the sugar will sink to the bottom. (This is the truth for all beverages, and why you should just make simple syrup and keep it around if you like to sweeten cold beverages.)

Once you've got your simple syrup, blend the watermelon until it's fully liquified. It should come to about 3 cups once blended. Add the lemon juice and simple syrup, and pour them all into a one-gallon pitcher. Fill the rest of the way with water. Stir. Drink.

OK, so you've got some watermelon lemonade. But you've also got 3/4 of a watermelon (or more!) remaining. OK, you probably have 1/2 remaining, because you've been snacking along the way. So it's on to recipe #2...

Perfect Watermelon Sorbet:

4 cups watermelon, cubed small
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/8 cup lemon juice
1/8 cup vodka (NOT optional)

Again, make your simple syrup. Blend watermelon until fully liquified. Add lemon juice, syrup, vodka, and chill until cold. Drop this puppy into your ice cream machine and freeze until it looks good. When transfering to a container, mix it well. Depending on how close to the edge it's spent its time, your sorbet will range from very frozen to kind of soft. If you don't mix it before freezing, then you'll get lumpy, irregular sorbet with drastically different flavor pockets. Once it's all nice and uniform, drop it in the freezer for a few hours to mature. After about two hours, open it up. Use a spatula or spoon to mix and incorporate so it's nice and even. Put it back in until you're ready to eat it.

A few key points:

-The lemon juice balances the watermelon and really adds depth to the sorbet. Otherwise, it's kind of flat

-The vodka is not optional. The alcohol will prevent the sorbet from hardening into a rock, which it otherwise will. Commercial sorbets use a variety of stabilizers to keep them soft, but you don't use those. You use vodka. And it's delicious. Without the vodka, it'll be a watermelon ice cube. Not only does this mean 15 minutes on the counter before you can scoop it, it also ruins the flavor. So use vodka, people. The vodka has no flavor, you won't get any alcohol taste in this concentration, and it's diluted to a level where you'd have to eat the entire 1.5 quarts by yourself to feel anything, and even then only a true lightweight would feel anything.

-If you want to add more depth and give it a slightly different profile, add 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt before blending the watermelon. It's a nice touch, but not for everyone.

OK, so you've got watermelon lemonade, and watermelon sorbet, but you still have 1/4 watermelon. What will you do with it? I'll tell you, but first, a quick vaudeville interlude.

OK, and now it's time to tell you about a little something I call...

Watermelon Margarita Sorbet:

4 cups watermelon, cubed small
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup tequila (doesn't have to be fancy, but please, 100% agave, not Cuervo)

Again, make your syrup. Blend your watermelon. Add everything together, chill until cold. Put in machine.

This recipe may look a bit odd. "Wait, where's the lime?" you ask. "Hold on, shouldn't that have triple sec or grand marnier?" If this was margarita ice cream, the answers would be yes to both. But I've played with this. And the answer is no. Lime creates a weird profile with the watermelon that's just a little off. The orange liqueur is just unnecessary, and complicates the flavors unnecessarily.

In this recipe, the two-step mixing process is critical. Because there's more booze, it will separate more from the non-booze. So the softer parts will be very boozy, and the outer parts will be icy and booze-less. Mix it gently but thoroughly in the container before putting into freezer, and again after two hours. Voila, delicious Watermelon Margarita Sorbet.

OK, now we're really cooking. You've eaten 1/4 of a watermelon as you worked. You've got a gallon of Watermelon Lemonade (rough cost, about $2). You've got 1.5 quarts each of Watermelon Sorbet and Watermelon Margarita Sorbet. What else could you want?

But then, you step onto the back porch to enjoy some of your hard-won gains, and smell the alluring smell of mint! That's when you remember that there's an ocean of mint growing in your yard, and you need to do something with it. Well, never fear, it's time to make...

Watermelon Mojito Sorbet!

3 cups watermelon lemonade
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup white rum
1/8 cup lemon juice
1 large bunch mint leaves (give or take 2 cups leaves, but use both leaves and stems)

Make your simple syrup, and add mint leaves to hot liquid. Use a potato masher to gently mash mint. Don't crush, smash, or shred the mint. The best flavor comes from the oils, which are best released by bruising the leaves then letting them simmer a few minutes in the syrup. So do that.

Meanwhile, add the rum and lemon juice to the watermelon lemonade. Strain the syrup into the mixture (to remove mint leaves and stems). Chill until cold. Once cold, put in your machine until ready. Again, it's critical that you mix the sorbet once in the container, and again after about 2 hours in the freezer, to ensure the booze is incorporated and the flavors are evenly distributed. A few notes here:

- DO NOT use anything other than white rum. Not spiced. Not dark. Not pineapple or coconut. Those have no place in a mojito. Seriously. No place.

-Again, you're using lemon as the citrus instead of lime. The end result is quite different if you use lime, and, in the opinions of about 18 people at home and work who are my unwitting (and very happy) test subjects, the lemon is much better.

-It probably seems weird that I'm basing this recipe on 3 cups of the lemonade. "Why doesn't this dufus just write a new recipe?" you're probably asking. The answer is, the very best batch of this I've made was done with the recipe above. I haven't been able to get the proportions just right in any other batch. This was, by unanimous decree of my entire office, the best sorbet I've made yet. So just go with it, 'K?

And there you have it. One medium watermelon can yield one gallon (minus three cups) of Watermelon Lemonade, 1.5 quarts each Watermelon Sorbet, Watermelon Margarita Sorbet, and Watermelon Mojito Sorbet.

If prices are similar where you are, you'll spend about $10 total for all of this, and that's using organic sugar and lemon juice. Can't beat that with a stick, fools. And here's my happiest constituency. Amy, obviously very pregnant, is quite happy for the cooling watermelon treats in our unrelenting DC summer of pain. The kids are less bothered by the heat, but no less appreciative of the goodies.

1 comment:

Mira said...

These are fantastically awesome. I will be trying them. Very very soon. I had missed the memo that your family is expanding - best to you guys, and many congratulations. Love the pics, and the recipes are boss.