How To Zest A Lemon For Classy Cocktail Garnishes

If you are looking to upgrade your bartending or mixology game, it is important to not only have a well-stocked liquor cabinet — complete with an array of spirits, mixers, and bitters — as well as a variety of glassware options, but it is also imperative to keep the proper tools on hand.

When it comes to using citrus to finish off a perfectly handcrafted cocktail, you might want to elevate your game and go beyond a simple wedge or circular slice of lemon. For a classier cocktail garnish, lemon zest is the way to go. However, this doesn't mean you can reach for your microplane or box grater. While this will give you great lemon flavor in the cocktail itself, it won't make a stunning garnish.

Now is the time to invest in one simple yet genius tool used by bartenders — a channel knife. Not only will this tool help you expertly finish a cocktail, but you will soon find it is incredibly useful in other ways in the kitchen as well.

A channel knife is the lemon zest tool bartenders use

You might not have ever heard of a channel knife specifically by name, but you likely have seen this classic tool being used behind the bar. It is a handheld gadget with a sharp rectangular or triangle blade attached to a simple handle — and it sometimes has a zester on the other end. The key to the design is that this blade can only cut to the perfect fixed depth. 

With a small amount of pressure, the blade of a channel knife can cut deeper into the skin of a lemon, lime, or other citrus than zesting tools. However, the fixed depth prevents the user from cutting too deep and getting too much pith or piercing the flesh itself.

This achieves long, elegant ribbons of zest to finish cocktails with a twist. Using a channel knife results in the perfect spiral every time. It gathers just enough of the pith to allow the thicker pieces to hold their shape on the glass without imparting a bitter flavor.

Zest uses beyond cocktails

The reason citrus zest is so revered for both cocktails, as well as culinary uses, is that it provides concentrated, intense flavor. If you used part of a lemon for a cocktail twist, don't let the rest of that beautiful fruit go to waste. Use the channel knife to zest the remainder of the lemon because there are other creative ways to enjoy the rind.

Make the most out of citrus peels by turning these ribbons of zest into candied fruit. Candied lemons, oranges, limes, or even grapefruit can be used as a garnish for elegant desserts. They can even be dipped in chocolate and enjoyed as homemade candy. Try adding a sprinkle of flaky salt as a way to really boost the flavor.

Smaller strips of citrus zest can also be used to make marmalade. As the zest is cooked with water and sugar, it imparts that incredible flavor to the spread. Plus, the bits of zest in each spoonful give the marmalade its unique texture.