Two months ago if you would have asked me about my experience with cocktail bitters my answer would have been zero, zilch. My main game has always been wine, but recently I’ve been setting foot in the cocktail corner. I’ve discovered that amazing great drinks are similar to a fine wine. They have several layers of flavors, complexity and depth, different textures, and can compliment food beautifully. It’s true that some of these characteristics come from the spirits used, but the addition of a homemade infused syrup, seasonal fruit puree, or artisan bitters can be a game changer.
Through the bustling food and drink community we have here in the Twin Cities, I’d heard a lot of buzz about Easy & Oskey, two local guys who founded their small batch bitters company just a year ago. What really got me interested was that they put you in the drivers seat with their “Make Your Own” Bitters set. It comes with simple instructions and everything you need including the dropper bottles, filters, spice mixtures, and funnels. All it really comes down to is toasting, mashing, mixing, and waiting.James Eastman}
As someone who loves to experiment in the kitchen, I was intrigued to start learning. After tasting their Autumn Spice bitters in a cozy drink called “The Bamboo” and the Habanero bitters in a zippy “Cobra Kai” during one of their tastings at Solo Vino, I was sold.
I purchased a kit of my own that night and was fortunate enough to arrange dinner with Erik, also known as “Easy”, and his girlfriend Angela. We decided to embark on a night of cooking and cocktails, as I had started thinking about what a great addition bitters could be to things like dressings, sauces, & garnishes. My sights were set on developing a recipe for a Roasted Squash & Bacon Risotto with Autumn Spice bitters (to appear in the cookbook) for the main dish and then incorporating the Habanero bitters into a light salad with apples and this ugly duckling, celery root (also known as celeriac).
Definitely not easy on the eyes, but once its warty covering is removed, you’re left with an earthy winter vegetable that has a mild celery flavor and the texture of jicama. You can find it at farmer’s markets this time of the year, as well as Whole Foods or your local co-op. Its fresh, clean flavor is a wonderful compliment to the crunch and sweet Fuji apples. I loved the idea of julienning them both to make a light salad with a little avocado for some creaminess, and then a simple vinaigrette to round things out.
A blend of olive oil, lemon juice, honey, and the Habanero bitters turned out to be just the right combination. I was a little hesitant that the heat was going to be too much, but when Erik had me taste the bitters on their own, I was amazed at how the spice hits the front of the tongue and then disappears. It didn’t linger or overpower, which is exactly why it’s the perfect addition to cocktails. It’s also something that’s difficult to achieve if you were to use actual peppers to get the same effect, hence the reason bitters are definitely a new weapon in my kitchen. Tomorrow I’m making a Southwestern Chicken Pasta and guess what’s going to make it’s way into the cilantro sauce? Yep, a couple dashes of habanero love.
If you’re thinking about holiday gifts, an Easy & Oskey Bitters Kit would be an excellent choice for a wide range of people, like maybe your hard to buy for father in law who loves his Manhattans. Give him one of these to make his own orange bitters and you won’t hear the end of it. :) They’re available at several local shops including South Lyndale Liquors, Solo Vino, Kitchen in the Market, Surdyk’s, and France 44 just to name a few. Click here for the full list and more info!
Celery Root & Apple Salad with Habanero Bitters Vinaigrette
2 c julienned apples, pink lady or honeycrisp
2 c julienned celeriac root (first cut the skin off with a sharp knife)
juice of a half a lemon
1/4 c walnuts, coarsely chopped
2 T minced fresh parsley
Habanero Bitters Vinaigrette
2 1/2 T olive oil
2 T fresh lemon juice
1 t honey
1/2 t salt
1 1/2 t Haberno bitters
For salad, put walnuts and parsley in a bowl. Julienne the apples and celery root and add to bowl, tossing everything in lemon juice as you go to prevent browning. Whisk together the vinaigrette and stir into the salad to coat. Arrange on plates with avocado on the side and a sprinkling of fresh parsley. Best served shortly after it is made.
*I was not compensated for this post – these thoughts and views are my own that I am very happy to share with you! I stand behind their product and their collaboration with other local tastemakers and businesses.