Today marks the first official day of summer and few things feel more festive than toasting the start of the new season with a delicious and refreshing cocktail.
This martini highlights the crisp, clean, decidedly summery taste of fresh cucumber. I'm so smitten with this new drink that I just added it to the seasonal cocktail menu at the restaurant I manage. My original idea was to create a cucumber infused gin cocktail, but after a few experiments, and receiving feedback from an expert panel of taste-testers (read: the restaurant staff), I was surprised that vodka beat out the gin, hands down. When made with gin, the cucumber seemed to emphasize the gin itself (which could be a great thing, especially when you are using a gin that already has some cucumber notes in it, as Hendrick's Gin does). When made with vodka, however, the vodka provided a clean slate to highlight the subtle cucumber flavor. Even those that aren't usually into vodka loved it.
The executive chef at the restaurant, who was part of the taste-testing panel, made a very good observation. She wisely pointed out that this drink would be a great palate cleanser or aperitif. I think her exact words were, "one of these martinis would be the perfect start to a summery meal." I agree with her one hundred percent. Contrary to a lot of fun mixed drinks, the delicate, fresh flavors awaken and stimulate the taste buds, versus overpower them like so many assertively flavored cocktails and spirits tend to do.
So, when you find yourself with an extra cucumber or two lying around (which must inevitably happen to everyone at least a few times every summer), experiment with this infusion. It is surprising simple and only takes an hour to make - and that includes the infusing time! Once you're comfortable making this, start experimenting with other homemade infusions. I think you'll find the process to be much simpler than expected (unless you are my husband, that is, who is obsessed with making the perfect bacon-infused bourbon, which is a very time consuming and complex process). Once you have an infused spirit, it doesn't take much more than a few staple bar ingredients to create a lovely and inspired cocktail.
Plus, how impressed will your guests be when you whip up a few house-infused martinis at your next party? I would be, and I wrote this recipe.
2-1/2 ounces cucumber infused vodka (recipe below)
3 slices cucumber, 1 slice reserved for garnish4 mint leaves, torn
1/2 ounce simple syrup (*technique noted below)1/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
Combine infused vodka, 2 cucumber slices and mint leaves in a cocktail shaker. Muddle with a wooden spoon or, well, a muddler. Add simple syrup, lemon juice and enough ice to fill half of the shaker. Shake vigorously and strain into a chilled martini glass. Float the reserved cucumber slice on top for garnish.
*To make simple syrup, heat 1 part sugar to 1 part water in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Stir until sugar is completely dissolved. Allow to cool and then transfer to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to a month.
Cucumber Infused Vodka
makes enough for 6 martinis2 cups high quality vodka (I use Titos)
1 cucumber, sliced thinly into rounds
Combine vodka and sliced cucumber in an airtight jar and let sit for 1 hour. Remove cucumber slices and discard. Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.