Serious Eats: Drinks
Cocktail 101: Eggs in Cocktails, Part 2
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With last week's Salmonella 101 out of the way, it's time to turn to the practical use of eggs in cocktails. This week, we'll look at the roles that eggs play in cocktails, we'll rock just a little more science, and we'll examine several classic types of cocktails that use eggs. Let's get cracking!
Benefits of Egg Whites in Cocktails
Why use egg whites in cocktails? First thing to say is, they add very little in the way of flavor, so don't expect an eggy-tasting drink. What they do provide is texture: a silky and foamy body that feels rich on the tongue. They also provide an attractive frothy "cap" to a drink, like the foam on a latté. And indeed, much like a barista will decorate a latté's foam with shapes and patterns, a creative bartender can use drops of cocktail bitters to decorate an eggy cocktail, such as a Pisco Sour, with bitters-based art.
After dropping the science bomb on you last week, you'd think I'd let you off the hook this time, but alas no. Fear not, though, this week's science lesson will pass quickly. (In fact, you can skim right past this section if you want.)
The silky, foamy texture that I mentioned arises when egg white is shaken into the cocktail. When you beat or shake an egg, you cause the main protein in the white, ovalbumin, to "unfold" or unravel. You also mix air into the liquid of the white; the air gets trapped by the proteins, forming a foam.
Those of you who make meringue are already familiar with this process, and SE's own Lauren Weisenthal has provided a fuller explanation, if you're interested. The only real difference, of course, is that you're making your foam in a cocktail shaker, not a mixing bowl.
Benefits of Egg Yolks in Cocktails
Egg yolks are not often used alone in cocktails. You won't encounter many recipes that call for just the yolk; recipes that call for egg normally call for either the white alone or the whole egg. Unlike the use of just the white, though, the yolk does add a bit of flavor to a drink; in addition to helping to emulsify the other ingredients, a yolk makes a drink taste a little like eggnog.
Benefits of Whole Eggs in Cocktails
Well, this isn't hard to figure out. If whites alone make a drink frothy and textured, and yolks alone give a cocktail a "noggy" flavor, whole eggs accomplish both, providing a rich flavor and a creamy body.
If you've never separated an egg before, you might be wondering right now how to go about it. I have to say, there's no single best way to separate an egg, but I'll give you a few techniques you might try, to find what suits you. First, though, a few tips:
- Make sure your hands are scrupulously clean. No matter how you separate your eggs, the yolks and whites are likely to come into contact with your fingers. You don't want to transfer anything germy from your hands to the eggs.
- No matter what method you use, start by gently cracking the egg against a flat surface, so that you don't get eggshell into the egg.
- Cold eggs are easier to separate than those at room temperature; the yolk breaks less easily. But that's not a problem, right? You've read last week's article, so you know to keep your eggs cold until you need them.
- Fresh eggs are easier to separate than older ones. Again, last week's article gives a hint as to why; the older the egg, the thinner the membrane separating yolk from white.
Now, there are many tried-and-true techniques for separating eggs. Here's the one that most home cooks and many bartenders know, and it's one you should think carefully about before you use it:
- After cracking the egg, gently pry the shell halves apart. Let the yolk settle into the bottom half of the shell, allowing the white to run over the shell and into a measuring cup or small bowl. Some white will remain with the yolk, so you can gently transfer the yolk back and forth between the shell, continuing to let the white drip over the shell into the bowl.
Now, that's a common technique, but here's the problem for you, barman or barwoman: In some cases of salmonella infestation, the bacteria enter the egg through the shell, which means a certain amount of bacteria may be present on the exterior of the shell. As the white runs down the shell and into the bowl, it can pick up some bacteria. If you're cooking the egg, that's not a problem. But we're not; we're serving it raw. Many bartenders separate eggs this way and never encounter a problem, so I don't mean to suggest it's a highly risky technique. If you wish to eliminate any risk that you can, though, you might consider another method.
And here are those other methods:
- Crack the egg as before, but this time, dump the entire egg into the palm of your scrupulously clean hand. (I remove my wedding band before separating eggs this way.) Let the white ooze through your fingers into a bowl, while holding the yolk in your cupped hand. This has the added benefit of being fun and gooey.
- Crack the egg into a slotted spoon, letting the white run through the slots and the yolk stay in the spoon.
- Crack the egg into a small funnel, letting the white drip through the funnel, leaving the yolk behind.
- Crack the egg into a small bowl. Use a teaspoon to scoop out the yolk.
- Finally, you can use an egg separator, a kitchen gadget into which you crack an egg. It does the work of separating the white from the yolk. Frankly, though, if you've got a full bar setup at home, you already have an egg separator: a Hawthorne strainer. Set it atop a mixing glass or shaker tin, with the wire coil facing up toward you. Crack the egg into the strainer. The white should neatly fall into the glass or tin, leaving the yolk behind in the strainer.
Shake, Shake, Shake
Mixing up an eggy cocktail requires a little extra work because you need to emulsify all the ingredients, to make sure the whites form their frothy protein structure. Traditionally, you accomplish this by shaking the hell out of the cocktail, for at least one minute, and for as long as five.
Some bartenders swear by the so-called dry shake, in which you add all of your ingredients to your shaker, except for the ice (this makes it "dry"), and shake to emulsify the egg with the other ingredients. Add ice and shake again to chill and dilute the drink.
Some drinks, such as the Ramos Fizz, truly benefit from a longer shake. The original recipe calls for a very hard shake of at least one and preferably two minutes. I've tried this, and although it sounds trivial, shaking a cocktail very hard for two full minutes is quite tiresome.
Now, the drink is reward enough for your labors, don't misunderstand. It's silky and smooth and very rich, a little like a boozy and not-so-sweet milkshake. But it's okay to cheat. Really. You can use either an immersion blender or a traditional blender to do the work. No less an authority than Gary Regan says so, in his seminal book, The Joy of Mixology.
Theory in Action: Categories of Eggy Cocktails
Historically, several types of eggy cocktails have been served:
Nogs and flips both use the whole egg. The difference is that eggnog (and its cousin, the Tom and Jerry) generally also uses milk and/or cream. Flips can contain cream, beer, or other ingredients but don't require those elements, whereas nogs, by definition, contain dairy in addition to eggs. Take, for example, this recipe for a Colleen Bawn: its prime elements are whiskey, two liqueurs, a hint of sugar and spice, and one whole egg, with not a hint of cow juice to be found.
Sours and fizzes can be made either with or without eggs. A sour is simply a drink with citrus juice in a starring role, adding a sour component to the drink. A fizz can have similar ingredients, but it's topped off, just prior to service, with soda. (I'm oversimplifying somewhat here so that I can focus on the eggs and not the other components of each drink. For a fuller and more complete discussion, refer to Paul Clarke's Tippler's Taxonomy.)
The egg components of each drink are pretty straightforward:
- The sour never uses a whole egg, only (in some cases) the white. The pisco sour is the best-known example.
- The fizz can use the white alone (in which case, it's a Silver Fizz), the yolk alone (Golden Fizz), or the whole egg (Royal Fizz).
In the modern bar, however, the Golden and Royal Fizzes are almost entirely unheard of. The best-known variant today on a Silver Fizz is the New Orleans classic, the Ramos Gin Fizz. Not a fan of gin? Not to worry, try the Apple Blow Fizz, a Silver variant using apple brandy.
About the Author: Michael Dietsch writes A Dash of Bitters. He is an accidental bartender, boozologist, and cocktail curmudgeon. He lives with a spirited female and crazy felines in Providence.