We've always been a big fan of vodka. For the sake of, um, journalism, we even tasted 10 different vodkas in one night, just to save you the trouble. But we've generally stuck to consuming our vodka from a glass of some sort. Not so John Rose, the author of The Vodka Cookbook. John, whose passion for vodka was ignited when he began traveling to Moscow for work (he now lives there). Simultaneously, he had to learn how to cook, given the dearth of decent restaurants in Moscow at the time, and behold -- the origins of The Vodka Cookbook.
The book itself spans cuisines around the globe, and goes far beyond the penne alla vodka that immediately comes to mind. Although in many dishes, the alcohol itself is cooked off, the vodka still manages to impart a great deal of flavor into any given dish, Rose explained. In addition, it raises the boiling point of sauces, and keeps cheese or cream from curdling. One section of recipes focuses on vodka infusions (many of which are used in other recipes), where fruit, herbs, or spices are placed into plain vodka, left to steep for a period of time, then strained out, leaving a vodka infused with the flavor combinations of your choice. We met up with John at a few places known for vodka to taste some infusions and learn more.
Our first stop was the Anyway Cafe, where the influence is partly French, in addition to Russian. A string bass and trombone duo played jazz standards in the background while we sipped on three infusions: currant, pineapple, and mango. John pointed out that generally, when people drink vodka, it is served chilled, but the chilling masks impurities. A taste test at room temperature might yield different results. We declared the currant vodka to be the winner in this round, and continued on to round two, at the Temple Bar, a few blocks away. The Temple Bar is definitely not Russian, and their list of over40 vodkas listed contenders from probably a dozen countries. We stuck with one Russian infusion, the Jewel of Russia Berry, which was a little too sweet for our taste and, on the recomendation of the bartender who had been to a vodka tasting recently, Christiana, from the Netherlands. The Christiana was not an infusion, and it was crisp, pure, and smooth tasting. The clear victor in this round.
We finished up and moved to our final stop, Pravda (home of the aforementioned
binge tasting). At Pravda, we decided to go a little crazy: our final infusions were fig in one corner and chili horseradish in the other. We also took the opportunity to soak up at least a portion of our earlier samples with some oysters on the half shell and potato chips with caviar and creme fraiche. Although there wasn't nearly enough caviar for our tastes, we did find that the chili horseradish infusion was a nice complement to the oysters, both side by side and when dribbled directly on top. Chili horseradish was the clear winner.
Many thanks to John Rose for guiding us through the wonderful world of vodka, and we look forward not only to making some infusions of our own (holiday gifts anyone?), but using them to cook through the tantalizing looking recipes in his cookbook. For more on John Rose, visit his blog www.cookingwithvodka.blogs.com