I love a cocktail. I love the glasses, I love the ritual of making them, I love aperitivo hour and I love nothing more than sitting at a bar drinking them while eating snacks. My go-to is a dirty martini, the murkier the better, although if there is a gibson on offer, I can easily be swayed. Vodka is my default, but I am also partial to gin on occasion. A negroni comes a very close second. I remember the first one I drank; I was taken aback by its boldness, but now I embrace the bitter. My current favourite is a boulevardier, which is similar to a negroni but uses bourbon instead of gin and is reflective of my later-life appreciation of the brown spirits. I like my cocktails classic, icy cold and bracing. There’s a lovely feeling from that first one you drink.
Part of the appeal is the clean, crisp hit, which is why I generally avoid the sweet fluffy ones or the endless variations that are mixed. My exception to this rule is a pina colada. There is something tantalising about them; it could be the association with holidays or the fact they conjure images of beaches, palm trees and lounging by a pool. Sadly, though, the reality of drinking them is usually not as good as the idea. They are a little too sweet, creamy and one-dimensional in flavour for me. But in theory the pina colada uses a sensible flavour combination and thus has led me to make my own cocktail.
It came about years ago when my partner was about to open a restaurant with a woodfired oven and we were talking drinks that could have the kiss of the fire with a hint of smoke. We roasted the pineapple, charred the limes and tested it one night, but it never quite made it onto the menu. I suspect it was a little too silly. Years later, however, it found a place on my menu, named for him. It’s more appropriate there as it is, after all, a tropical island drink.
The restaurant version uses Sri Lankan arrack, a spirit made from the sap of the flower of a coconut palm. The sap is left to ferment for a day, at which stage it becomes toddy, which is a drink unto itself, a slightly fermented palm wine that has hints of coconut sweetness. The toddy is then distilled in the same way as a whisky. Arrack can be quite difficult to find outside the island, so instead I am giving you a version using the classic option of white rum.
Cooking the pineapple with jaggery to the point where it caramelises to just before burnt gives a deep, dark smoky flavour with a bitter sweetness. Limes done in the same manner match this yet add a much-needed hint of sour. And the combination of both coconut cream and coconut water allows for the flavour of the fruit without making the cocktail overly gloopy. If you like the feel of the ocean (and the taste of champagne) and are partial to a little rain, then perhaps this is the drink for you.
Time: 30 minutes + cooling time
- ½ a small, sweet pineapple, about 400g (prepped weight)
- 150g jaggery, finely chopped*
- 2 large limes, cut down the middle
- 180ml coconut cream
- 180ml coconut water
- 300g ice cubes
- 240ml white rum
- Peel your pineapple and roughly chop, core and all, into small triangles. The shape doesn’t matter so much, you just want to try to make sure the pieces are even in size. Place it into a bowl and add 100 grams of the jaggery. Give it a good stir and mix well so the jaggery almost melts and coats the pineapple.
- Heat a large frying pan, ideally non-stick, over a high heat and then spoon the pineapple in so it sits in an even layer. Leave it to sit cooking undisturbed. It will be quite juicy and bubble away until the pineapple has taken on a bit of colour (about seven minutes or so). Continue cooking, stirring every now and then, until the jaggery starts to darken and burn (a further three to four minutes). At this stage the mix will be sticky and charred. Set aside.
- Meanwhile, take a smaller frying pan and place the rest of the jaggery in it. Place the pan over a medium heat and cook until the jaggery starts to melt and bubble (about 2½ minutes). Place the limes, cut-side down, on top of the melted sugar and cook slowly until the limes have a very charred face (about 10 minutes). You can give the pan a periodic little jiggle. Set aside.
- For the next stage, you want the pineapple and lime to be still a little warm. Add the coconut cream and coconut water to the pan with the pineapple and use a spatula to mix it together and scrape the sticky sugar coating from the bottom of the pan.
- Add this mix to a blender.
- Juice the limes into their pan and again use a spatula to mix the juice with the sticky sugar bits. Add this to the blender and blend the pineapple and lime mix until very smooth.
- This mix will be the base of your cocktail. It will happily live in the fridge until you are ready, and can even be frozen until you want to use it. It can be used straight from frozen and will give your drink a slushie-like texture. Either way, make sure it’s cold before you go to fix your drinks.
- Once you are thirsty, add the mix to a blender along with the ice and rum and blend until smooth. Serve in a cocktail glass with a cocktail umbrella if you so desire.
* Jaggery is Sri Lankan palm sugar, usually quite dark with a molasses flavour. If unavailable, replace with brown sugar.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on December 11, 2021 as "Cocktail power".
A free press is one you pay for. Now is the time to subscribe.
Letters & Editorial