The Bare Necessities
Keeping it simple keeps it delicious
By Tony Cross
Until recently, among the books in my possession that I’d barely started or hadn’t opened at all was Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. I adored the man, yet had not read his epic first book. One of the chapters, “How to Cook Like the Pros,” has Bourdain giving tips to those at home who want to cook well enough to amaze their next dinner party guests. He starts with tools: a chef’s knife, other knives, plastic squeeze bottles, pots and pans, etc. He then moves on to ingredients: butter, stock, shallots and more. So, in this column, I’m going to blatantly rip off Anthony. (It’s OK, we share the same first name.)
As a mixologist, people always ask me questions like, “What’s your favorite drink to make? Do you really like egg whites in cocktails? What’s a good recipe?” (I get that one a lot.) Or, “How do you make your old-fashioneds?” and “Do you really like mezcal?” I usually respond to the last one with “no” and a grin on my face. One time, a married woman (claiming to be newly separated) actually messaged me on social media late on a Saturday night to find out what my favorite rye is. It’s Rittenhouse, but that’s not all she asked.
The point is, you only need a few tools and a few ingredients to make a ton of delicious cocktails. So, in no particular order, let’s go.
There are a ton of bitters on the market. They’re everywhere. By all means, experiment and check them out. But Angostura is the essential bitters that should always be stocked in your place. Plain and simple. Plus, it’s available everywhere, and it cures hiccups (doused on a lemon wedge). Just saying.
A Good Juicer
A durable, inexpensive, hand-held juicer is all you need when making drinks at home. The Chef’n FreshForce model sells for about $20, and it’s durable as hell. Even if you’re hosting a 12-person cocktail party, this hand-held juicer is really convenient. Once you get the hang of it, you can juice 10 ounces in no time. Oh, and measure the stuff while you’re at it.
Use a jigger with a few different measurements on it. I prefer the Japanese style, but choose whatever is easiest for you. Cocktail Kingdom offers a lot of fancy plated ones; to each their own. The original stainless steel ones have lasted me for years. (If you’re not measuring, stop reading right here.)
If you’ve always got a half to full cup of simple syrup in your fridge that hasn’t gone bad, good for you. The rest of us probably have that “Oh, no” moment when realizing that we’ve got everything for the drink ready except for said syrup. Syrup or no syrup, it helps to have a small amount of demerara or cane sugar in the cabinet. It makes all the difference in the classics. Don’t believe me? Make a rich demerara syrup for your next daiquiri and tell me that the sugar doesn’t bring out the flavors in the top of the line rum you used. The color may not be Instagram-worthy, but who cares when you’ve made one of the best drinks in the world.
I can’t believe the number of bars and restaurants that still have vermouth on their shelves. It’s rancid. Refrigerate it, or you’re only wasting your own hard-earned dollars and taste buds. Get a white and a red. You don’t need four of each, unless you’re using them before they spoil. Dolin Dry is great for martinis, and Carpano Antica is ideal for Manhattans.
I see a lot of articles online that read something like this: “The 8 Gins You Should Have at Home!” Really? Eight? No thanks, two or three is fine. I like Plymouth best for martinis, and Beefeater’s for gin and tonics. For whiskies, I love rye, so I usually have Old Overholt, Rittenhouse and/or Wild Turkey Rye, and whatever decent bourbon I can get my hands on from the ABC store. And of course, a good bottle of Scotch.
And for the rest:
agave: If you are really just into margaritas, get a blanco; I particularly enjoy Herradura. If sipping is your thing, grab a nice anejo. A bottle of Del Maguey anything wouldn’t hurt.
rum: Choose one white rum and one funky. For me, it’s Cana Brava and Smith & Cross. Actually, I’m lying. I have more. But the former is a good start.
vodka: This is easily the most debated. For me, it’s always a vehicle to a destination. Just don’t let that ride be a Ford Pinto.
brandy: Remy Martin. Damn good cognac. SP