Vodka and Me: The Reset Button

By June 15, 2011September 19th, 2019Cuisine, Russia, Uncategorized

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I was taken aback last month when a reader wrote to ask me if bacon-flavored vodka is as popular in Russia as it is in her part of the world:  the Southern United States.

Bacon vodka?  Really?

I’ve never been a big vodka fan, which is probably the reason I am still alive after twenty years in Russia, where vodka is a way of life.  I’m more of a gin or chardonnay gal, but the idea of bacon-flavored vodka, and what a basic Internet research revealed to be its unquestioned popularity, forced me to take another look at vodka and experiment with its seemingly endless possibilities.  Flavor infusion has helped vodka and me hit the reset button!

Since the Poles first brought vodka to Russia in the 8th Century, the clear, strong, largely flavorless beverage has been the liquor of choice to accompany both the lavish banquets of the Tsars as well as the simple fare of Russian peasants.  In the 18th Century, Catherine the Great granted distillery rights to select members of the aristocracy, who vied with one another to produce the purest and most sophisticated brands of vodka, as well as flavored versions which, as Moscow’s Vodka Museum points out used, “all the letters of the alphabet…cherry and pear, blackberry and acorn, caraway seed and dill, bird cherry and sage!”

Vodka, then, is a blank culinary canvas on which the creative cook can paint almost any flavor by infusing fruit, vegetables, herbs, spices and yes, even bacon.   Infusion is a simple process which combines a flavor component with any liquid at a specific temperature for anywhere from four hours to four weeks (depending on the properties of the component.)  Vodka is particularly suited to infusion because of its odorless clarity and high alcohol percentage.

Summer is the perfect time to start experimenting with flavored vodka, particularly in Russia where vodka is always cheap, and the bounty of summer floods the market with fresh berries and pungent fresh herbs.   Flavored vodka is not only delicious on its own: chilled in a simple shot glass, or as the basis of imaginative mixed drinks; but it also adds wonderful flavor to soups, risotto, stews, and makes a marvelous marinade to meats, poultry, and fish, and are a great accompaniment to traditional Russian summer staple of shashlik.

Here are some of my favorite infused vodkas, and the foods they match to perfection!

Ginger-Infused Vodka:

This is ideal for mixed drinks, a marinade for fish and chicken, or on its own to accompany Asian food.  I serve this with sushi and spring roles for an innovative, light appetizer.

Ingredients:

One large knob of fresh ginger (10-12 centimeters long) peeled and sliced very thin.

750 ml of plain, unflavored vodka

Instructions:

1.Wash and sterilize a one liter bottle or jar with a non-metal lid.

2.Using the back of a spoon or the smooth end of a meat tenderizer, gently crush the ginger slices to release their essential oils.

3.Combine the ginger slices and vodka in the jar or bottle, shaking lightly to combine.

4.Place the mixture in the freezer for 5 days.

5.Remove the mixture from the freezer and allow the mixture to come to room temperature.

6.Sieve the mixture through a coffee filter or fine mesh colander.

Thyme-Infused Vodka:

This vodka infusion pairs wonderfully with lamb chops, poultry, and grilled vegetables.  Combined with extra virgin olive oil, the vodka does well as both as a dipping sauce or marinade, or drizzle it over goat cheese, to add a wonderfully fresh flavor component.

This recipe works well for almost any fresh herb. Try tarragon, dill or basil!

Ingredients:

One bunch of fresh thyme

750 ml of plain, unflavored vodka.

Instructions:

1.Carefully remove the thyme buds from the stems.  Wash in a salad spinner and pat dry on paper towels.

2.Wash and sterilize a glass jar with a tight, non-metal lid.

3.Gently crush the dry thyme buds in a clean mortar and pestle and place in the bottom of the jar.

4.Pour vodka over the thyme buds and gently shake to combine.

5.Cover with lid and place in a dark location at room temperature (no warmer than 20°C).  Allow to steep for up to three days; periodically shaking to ensure the vodka absorbs the thyme flavor.

6.Strain vodka through a coffee filter or fine wire mesh with cheesecloth.

Lime and Coriander Infused Vodka:

I combined these two flavors, which go wonderfully together, for a delicious pairing for Middle Eastern meze:  hummus, baba ganouch, and tabouli!

Ingredients:

Zest of one lime (be careful to remove only the green rind and not the inner white part of the rind.

5-Tbl of lightly toasted coriander seeds, crushed in a mortar and pestle

750 ml of plain, unflavored vodka

Instructions:

1.Combine lime zest and coriander in the bottom of a sterilized glass jar or bottle with a non-metal top.

2.Add vodka and shake gently to combine.

3.Let the mixture steep for four days in a dark area at room temperature (not warmer than 20°C).  Do not steep for more or the lime rind will make the vodka bitter.

4.Shake lightly periodically.

5.Strain the mixture through a coffee filter or a fine wire mesh with a piece of cheesecloth.

6.Return the mixture to the dark location to age for approximately 30 days.

7.Serve chilled.

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This article was first published in French under the title “La vodka se reinvente pour les gourmets,” in La Russie d’Aujourd’hui on June 15, 2011.  A link to that original article may be found here.

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Privyet Readers!

Want to know the secret to bacon vodka? You know you do!  Leave a comment below and I’ll send it right along, along with some creative ideas on how to use it (and not abuse it!)  Don’t knock it ‘til you try it – it makes a mean Bloody Mary, and has a truly phenomenal flavor!

21 Comments

  • We use thyme infused vodka to make Bloody Marys–give it a try 🙂

  • Sarah says:

    I’m definitely going to make the ginger-infused vodka. Might start right now in fact!
    Thanks for this post.
    IW

  • Heather says:

    I live in the Southern United States and have not heard about the big bacon-infused vodka craze. Do tell-what is is the secret?
    Cheers!

  • I’m just about to leave Moscow for a much-deserved (in my opinion!) summer break, but when I come back in September I’m definitely going to give the ginger vodka a try! Might just help me survive another winter!
    What’s all this about bacon vodka, though? Is it really that great? Convince a non-believer!

  • Chris – I plan to! I experimented with BMs with Aquavit over XMAS and won’t ever go back!

  • Let me know what you think! I like ginger with almost anything, and this is the perfect time of the year for it.

  • Hey Heather! Keep this space bookmarked, I’ll be posting soon on bacon flavored vodka!!

  • Dear Caroline –
    Any any any departure from Moscow is well deserved, especially for an english teacher! Enjoy your time away and keep this site bookmarked for the soon-to be revealed bacon vodka recipe! Enjoy your summer!

  • Beth says:

    Bacon flavored vodka…perfect with salo (raw pig fat, that Ukrainian delicacy)?? Hmm…

  • Not only is bacon vodka a big trend here in the US, there is a BRAND dedicated to the trend as well: http://www.bakonvodka.com/
    Apparently there’s a whole “carnivorous cocktail” movement a-brewing here. I love me some meat and I love me some vodka, but I prefer to keep the two somewhat separate, at least out of the same drinking vessel.

  • Hey Stephanie,
    I’d be interested to know what your HRH thinks about bacon-flavored vodka? Mine looked baffled and moved on quickly to the next topic of conversation.

  • Beth,
    I saw the salo playing more of a maraschino cherry role: cubed and on the end of a long swizzle stick to help stir the bloody mary made with the bacon-flavored vodka. It’s certainly one way to bring on cardiac arrest.

  • Marilyn says:

    This is definitely a naive question from one whose only experience with vodka is watching its being tossed down in Russian films….always followed rather quickly with food or water(?). Necessity or tradition???

  • Oh…I think both, don’t you?

  • Mark says:

    One of life’s fundamental truths is that bacon improves everything. As proof of the devoted lengths to which bacon-lovers will go, I present the Bacon Explosion – for those who were wondering how best to prepare bacon on a typical outdoor grill. The eureka moment? Weave it into a mat, of course!
    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/28/dining/28bacon.html
    As shown, it is meant to be sliced thick and served in a bun, like a hamburger or pulled-pork poorboy. I’ve never made it, although it’s been on my list since I first saw it. You can almost feel your heart beating slower and your coronary arteries narrowing when you look at it, can’t you?
    As much as I am a disciple of bacon, the idea of bacon vodka is simply repulsive, like chocolate sauce over cauliflower or beer with a live frog swimming in it. They two are different concepts altogether, and while they might be enjoyable at the same time, should not be combined.
    Then again, have you ever heard of the funnel cake? Loathsome in concept, but….

  • Ildiko says:

    I learned to love vodka while staying in Novgorod for a month in summer of 2004. Still drink some almost daily. Love your ideas for flavoring vodka. We like to take a bottle of vodka and infuse it with the flavor of a hot pepper. We simply drop in a hot pepper and leave it in the bottle for a week or so. Delicious…

  • Dear Ildiko,
    Thank you so much for your comment! A month in Novgorod sounds fantastic! I liked your idea of the hot pepper in the vodka, for some reason I didn’t try that when I was working on these infusions, but I can see how that would be a great option! Do you use jalepeno or red or which kind of pepper?

  • Mark,
    As ever, I’m speechless. I did see that piece in The Times but I didn’t really delve into the mechanics until you posted the link. That really is amazing. Where I live in MASS, they perfected the Krispy KReme Bacon Cheeseburger which I thought was something the Gestapo at Weight Watchers made up until I saw a billboard for it.
    Bacon vodka, on the other hand….
    Stay tuned!

  • Ildiko says:

    I use a pepper which is called a “Peter Pepper.” It is red when ripe, and is shaped like the name (a part of the male anatomy). It is somewhat hotter than a jalapeno and has excellent flavor. One could use any hot pepper according to how hot they like their food or drink. I got the idea from a pepper vodka I bought in Novgorod by Nemiroff.
    A month in Novgorod ~was~ fantastic! I still miss all the people I met – lived with a Russian family including a true babushka who used to patiently teach me Russian words while sitting at the table with her. I really want to go back and see them as soon as I am able.

  • Elsie says:

    ohhhh!! yum yum yum! I love drinks, but I pretty much get drunk of fumes!! Oh well!

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