Great chefs must always be part gastronome, part scientist. However, occasionally the science part goes a bit over the top. Recently the commercial food and beverage magazines have been abuzz with stories about stuff like "molecular cooking" and creations involving the use of liquid nitrogen and dry ice to change the structure of foods. The equipment used to handle such substances, combined with the vapors invariably given off by such substances, have caused the appearance of the restaurant kitchen, or, "the back of the house," to look more like Frankenstein's laboratory than a kitchen. On the hot side, myriad infernal devices (e.g., butane torches) apply heat only where it is wanted, resulting in such creations as one-sided tuna tataki (seared raw tuna with pepper coating) but also questionable gourmet offerings such as "Iced Belon Oysters with grilled Wasabi Meringue." Ahem.

These celebrated geniuses of the moment may be making the food papers, but Julia Child they ain't. Good food is quite simple. Great food is the combination of simple ingredients utilizing techniques which are part science and part experience. Frozen Beverages may be split into the same two categories.

How lucky the bartender who has at his or her disposal a really fine piece of equipment: the self-contained ice cream maker. Such devices, for example, the powerful (and very expensive) machines made in Italy by Musso Pola, contain a very efficient yet compact micro-compressor to provide instant zero-Fahrenheit cold, and a motorized paddle. Flip the switch and the refrigeration device's evaporator coils (which are wrapped around the bowl or "basket" of the machine) become ice cold immediately. The paddle can then be turned on and off to scrape the frozen stuff from the sides of the basket and subsequently emulsify it into a very smooth consistency, absent any granularity caused by ice crystals. Machines like this can freeze nearly anything; the only exception I can think of are pure spirits of 40% alcohol or more. Chefs are now using such equipment to make fancy appetizers like "Gazpacho Gelato", "Wasabi Sorbet" and the likes, as well as the more customary frozen desserts, whipped up from double cream, honey or sugar syrup, and real vanilla bean or Swiss Chocolate. Mmmm.

In Search of Texture at its Best

How many bartenders, especially home bartenders, are privy to a device the likes of which is described in the paragraph hereinabove? Very few. So the bartender who seeks the Holy Grail of the finest, smoothest frozen drinks which yet have that ability to stand up in a glass, kinda like soft sorbet or frozen custard, must resort to utilizing the humble blender and a degree of skill to achieve icy perfection.

First a bit about blenders. Every summer, a device pops up (occasionally advertised on television) which consists of a blender with an over-sized plastic hopper, into which the manufacturer has sealed a spigot. Ostensibly, one follows the recipe provided with the device (filling the hopper with crushed ice or ice cubes, booze and fruit juice) and then power is applied to the blender. Sooner or later, delightful frozen concoctions ooze at the push of a button from the spigot, filling happy guests' glasses with the professional-looking icy delights pictured on the package the machine came in. This, sadly, is a fallacy. At best, one can expect something the consistency of a half-melted Slurpie to come dribbling from the spigot. The reason is that, unless one utilizes a $10,000 soft ice cream freezer, stiffly frozen drinks cannot be dispensed from the container during the mixing process. Period.

One Needs the Right Tools

Any professional bartender who has a modicum of skill at making frozen cocktails knows that regardless the blender one uses, as the ingredients in the hopper begin to freeze, the stiffest part ends up at the bottom, near the blades, which draw the mixture into a vortex and then rapidly pushes the frozen product to the top of the hopper, where it swirls around, cooling the remainder of the un-frozen mixture, until the consistency is just right. Unless, the hopper is over-filled; in which case the mixture in the bottom of the hopper around the blades becomes solid, and the blades spin freely in the hole ("igloo") then created by the hardness of the product around them. The blender will tell you when the blades are spinning freely; the speed and noise level increase by a great degree. The un-frozen portion of the beverage then languishes at the top of the hopper, until the blender is stopped, and a long spoon is used to free the frozen product from around the blades, and the process is repeated.

Most good quality blenders can make good frozen drinks. Kitchenaid makes a very good model for the home. Oster is a powerful brand, but the glass hopper could break if you try to crush ice cubes in it. The best blender for the task, however, is the Hamilton Beach professional bar blender with a stainless steel hopper. They're about $300 but last forever. One need only change the blades (a kit costs $36) every 300 drinks or so and you're good to go. Vita-Mix now retails their products (most have stainless steel hoppers) and they're cheaper; however, when the blades dull, you must purchase a whole new hopper, as the blades aren't interchangeable.

The non-pro will make the best headway making one drink at a time (or two if they're small). But don't fill the hopper with ingredients more than half-way. And the ingredients should be put in in order (that's what the little removable cap is for on the top of the hopper cover). If one puts all the ingredients in at one time, the cover, if not held down with the hand, is likely to forcibly eject, spewing booze, sticky stuff and ice cubes all over the place.

The Classic Lime Daiquiri - And Basic Method

I like to start with as much booze as one is going to need for a basis; rum, typically but there're lots of alternatives. I start with 3 ounces of rum for one large (beer-mug sized) drink. Fill the blender half full of ice cubes (or for faster results, crushed ice, if your refrigerator dispenses such). Start the machine on speed number 1 ("Low"). The blender will slow for a moment and then start spinning freely; the "igloo" described above has formed. Now, add fresh lime juice and simple syrup in equal amounts until the blender starts groaning, meaning that you're on your way to creamy goodness. Increase the speed to number 2 ("High"). Feel free to vigorously shake the entire appliance if another igloo forms. If your mixture is really firm, add your choice of a dash more rum, or for a sublime flavor, about a half ounce to an ounce of Cointreau. If you have a zester (a tool used for removing the peel from citrus fruits) a tiny bit of lime peel is a fabulous flavor-enhancer, and should be added at the beginning of the process so that it's thoroughly macerated.

Although the racket caused by a blender is usually annoying (especially so to nerves not yet numbed by the first cocktail), it cannot be stressed more that the blender must run for a good 3-5 minutes. This will dissolve ice crystals and render the potion drinkable from a straw. Chunks of ice are a no-no. Prior to serving, remove the hopper from the motor base, and being sure to hold the cover on firmly, give the hopper a good up-and-down shake. This will release the more firmly-frozen product from the bottom of the blender, and therefore make it easier to pour into glasses. A bit about the glasses:  if you've enough room at all in the freezer or the fridge, chill 'em. This will reduce the chance of your hard work turning to lime soup half-way before your guest finishes the cocktail.

VARIATION: FROZEN MARGARITA substitute good-quality tequila for the rum. Use a little less lime juice, and start adding the Cointreau with the lime juice. Use about 1 part Cointreau to 3 parts Tequila and 2 parts lime juice. Place in salt-rimmed glasses. Please note that no recipe for "strawberry" or "raspberry" daiquiri nor margarita has been included here. Leave the berries in your fruit compote and use more booze in your cocktails.

VARIATION: FROZEN PINA COLADA use rum; preferably one of the new coconut-flavored ones ("Parrot Bay" and "Malibu" work well). Get a can of Coco Lopez; it's smooth, lovely "cream" of coconut, somewhat the consistency of sweetened condense milk. Get yourself a nice, ripe pineapple (the fruit should give under a bit of pressure, and the bottom of the fruit should be sweetly fragrant). Peel the pineapple and core it. Save the top to garnish one of your appetizer platters - don't hesitate to use a scissors to remove unsightly brown leaves - and dunk it in very hot water before plunging it into cold water; that way you get a lovely, green decoration. Place 3 ounces or more of rum into the blender with about a cup of pineapple chunks. As the mixture becomes frozen, add about 1/4 cup Coco Lopez. Magic happens — you'll see the drink go from granular to smooth in a matter of 30 seconds; it's the oil in the coconut cream that does this, and this is why the frozen Pina Colada is one of the most decadent of conventional frozen drinks.

There are few surer ways to get "oohs" and "aahs" from guests than by presenting frozen drinks piled high into glasses (do your best to make a little mountain atop each drink). Garnishes should be kept to a minimum; the appearance of the frozen concoction is what appeals here (and the garnishes get in the way as the potions start to melt).

Ice Cream

Dessert time is a great time to bring on the frozen cocktails. Here are two of the best examples:

MUD SLIDE:  place a scoop of very good quality dark chocolate ice cream in the bottom of the blender. Add ice until half-full. Start the machine. Now add 2 ounce Tia Maria or Kahlua coffee-flavored liqueur. Let the mixture get very firm (if it's not, add ice and start from "Low" again). Once the mixture freezes and you've made your "igloo," dissolve it with 2 ounces of Bailey's Irish Cream Liqueur. Garnish with chocolate shavings if you're a Martha Stewart wanna-be.

FROZEN CREME BRULEE: a scoop of very good quality vanilla ice cream, this time. Add ice. Now use 1 ounce Tuaca Italian Vanilla-flavored liqueur, 3 ounces Stolichnaya Vanilla Flavored Vodka, and 1/2 ounce Kahlua. It's important to garnish this time; with powdered cinnamon.

A Final Word

Although it may seem obvious to some, this writeup would not be complete without stressing the fact that frozen drinks are vastly different in proportion to their "on the rocks" or "martini-style" relatives. Remember that ice is made from water; so when creating frozen drinks, always go the extra mile when adding flavors. When given the chance, utilize intense flavors. Do not hesitate, if your drinks seem to have a "watered down" taste, to add "sour mix," sometimes called "whiskey sour mix" to fruit drinks for that added punch. Ice cream drinks thrive on the addition of intensely-flavored liqueurs, so don't use them sparingly.

Should you be successful in your endeavors, your guests will not only be impressed, but they'll be plastered in no time, if only because the low temperature makes the taste of the alcohol disappear. Who knows? You might be a candidate for a $2,500 ice cream freezer after all.

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