You know simple syrup. Or at least, you two have crossed paths. This 1:1 ratio of sugar to water—hot, so the sugar dissolves almost instantly—is as much a staple in cocktail bars as booze. Just a few examples:
Still, as much as bartenders adore it, there’s one thing that bugs me about simple syrup: It’s simply, well, sweet. Which is to say, all it offers is sweetness—no pucker, tang, or punch. When cocktail recipes have only a few ingredients (like when I make them at home), I want each one to do a lot of work. Take carrot juice: liquid bulk to stretch the alcohol; tamed, vegetal sweetness; gorgeous color.
Of course, you can customize simple syrup, make it lemony or limey or both. But what if there were a more to-the-point way to infuse flavor? And what if we wanted that flavor even more concentrated and vibrant? Meet simple syrup’s lesser known, big-personality cousin: oleo-saccharum.
It sounds like a spell from Harry Potter, which we shall call bonus points, yes? Instead of combining the sugar with water, here you combine it with fresh citrus peels. Use a muddler or wooden spoon to mash the two into oblivion, then move on with your life. Maybe every so often you pass the mixture by and give it a smush here, smash there. Maybe not. A few hours later, the sugar will have lured out all the citrus oils, yielding a thick, practically neon syrup, like olive oil glowing in the dark. You can use oranges or grapefruits, lemons or limes, really any citrus that happens to be nearby. I like a mix.
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Put this in any citrusy-sweet cocktails, from whisky sours to palomas, adding bit by bit to taste since it’s so intense. In my kitchen, I’m putting it toward a lot more than that: lemony olive oil dressings that want a little oomph, even drizzled on Greek yogurt or ice cream.
Emma is a writer and recipe developer at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram and Twitter at @emmalaperruque.