More often than not, the most common ingredient found behind a bar is hubris. I should know; I used to stock more than my share. It’s a funny thing: The older you get, the less of it you typically have. But there’s nothing quite like the misplaced confidence of an inexperienced bartender.
Take me, for instance. Back in 2001 I was managing my first “fancy” bar; after years of working in dumps, neighborhood dives and nightclubs, someone actually gave me a chance and I ran the bar program at Bamboo, a now-defunct pan-Asian restaurant in Eugene, Oregon. I had absolutely no experience working with fresh ingredients, but that didn’t stop me from assuming I knew all there was to know on the topic.
I was also enamored of classic cocktails, and as this was around the time of the mojito revival, I decided to put one on my drink menu. And after making 150 of them the first weekend, I knew I needed a better and faster way to build the drink. So, with a heaping dose of hubris, I made a mint syrup in order to expedite the drink.
I had never made a mint syrup before, but I knew that all I’d need to do would be to steep fresh mint in hot simple syrup and…voilà. A mint syrup I could use to make all of those mojitos without the need for muddling. What I didn’t realize at the time was that this process I was so proud of resulted in a nearly-black mint syrup after just a single day. You see, my hubris had kept me from learning that the oxidation of certain enzymes in the plant would turn the syrup an unappetizing color. So what did I do back then, in the early 2000s, to restore the drink to a vibrant green color? I added Midori and renamed it an Asian mojito. Of course.
If I had taken a step back, swallowed my pride, and maybe asked someone from the kitchen, they would have told me that the key to avoiding that unsightly oxidation is a process called blanching. Blanching is a technique that chefs use to preserve the vibrant green color of herbs and vegetables without destroying the delicate flavors that reside within.
Now I keep a bottle of fresh, bright-green mint syrup in my fridge all spring and summer, to use when I make large batches of mojitos (see recipe) or mint juleps (see recipe) for backyard parties at my house. It also works beautifully with a little lemon juice and some sparkling water as a refreshing nonalcoholic drink I can enjoy during the day all week long.
Blanched Mint Syrup
12 ounces 2:1 simple syrup
7 sprigs fresh mint
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, put some ice cubes in a medium bowl and fill with water for an ice bath.
2. Grasping the stem ends of the mint sprigs, immerse the leafy ends completely in the boiling water for 15 seconds. Remove from the water and immediately submerge in the ice bath for 1 minute.
3. Remove from the ice bath, pat dry with paper towels, and pick the leaves from the stems.
4. Blend the blanched mint leaves and simple syrup on high speed in a blender for 1 minute. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer or cheesecloth, pour into a plastic squeeze bottle and refrigerate.
Jeffrey Morgenthaler, longtime contributing editor for Food Republic, is an author and award-winning bartender. He is co-owner of Pacific Standard, a “modern West Coast drinking and dining hall” in Portland, Oregon.
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