"What lasts longer? Your bottle of bitters or your marriage?" Petrossian barman Dink Mertz said this in 1998 while grabbing the Angostura from my well in Las Vegas. He was making an old bartender remedy for a guest who had an upset stomach: club soda and bitters, no ice. This was the first time I witnessed bitters being used beyond the Old Fashioned.
Chef Bill Fairbanks and former barman Chad Larson of Minneapolis restaurant Barrio
Photo by Jenn Cress
My, how times have changed! Thanks to new brands and flavors offered by Bitterman, Bittercube, Bitter Truth, Angostura, Peychaud's, Regan's Orange Bitters No. 6, and many others, bartenders are using their bitters to enhance their cocktails flavors. Some bartenders are taking the time to make their own. Chef Bill Fairbanks and former barman
Chad Larson of the Minneapolis restaurant
Barrio open up about their view of the bitters category to the Drink & the Dish.
Bridget Albert: Bill and Chad, Minnesota is covered in snow for a large part of the year. How do you source and get creative with sustainable ingredients during the winter months?
Bill: Minnesota isn't the barren wasteland that some suspect! Barrio's menu is designed to change seasonally to incorporate local, fresh ingredients that reflect the seasons. Obviously spring and summer are the easiest to source, but even fall and winter have hidden gems that make and reflect the season. Winter is generally a time to concentrate on local flours, honey and cheese, not to mention some of the best dairy in the country. It is also a time when one can focus on exploring sustainability in our fresh fish and seafood program, as well as improving our local and sustainable meat program.
Chad: We have to get creative over the winter. We either have to source sustainable ingredients from other regions in which they are still available or get lucky enough to find farmers that have hothouses to grow over the winter.
BA: What is the key to success at Barrio?
Bill: Barrio is a combination of chef-driven Latin cuisine, a sultry hip environment, uniquely designed cocktails-and a 171-bottle tequila list!
: Our success lies in the authenticity and quality of our products that can be replicated in even the busiest of times and in a timely matter. The staff has a great time. This sunny attitude is passed along to our guests.
BA: Bill, what is your food philosophy?
Bill: To use local and sustainable ingredients as much as possible while staying true to the concept. Freshness of ingredients as well as quality is very important. I try to stay true to the culture of Mexican and Latin cuisine while adding subtle changes to keep the food both new and exciting while slightly refining it.
BA: What can bitters do for a cocktail?
Chad: Bitters season a cocktail like a spice seasons food. It also bridges the gap between spirits and the nuances in ingredients as well.
BA: What can bitters do to a dish?
Bill: Bitters are great hidden wonders. Used properly, they can pull flavors and balance acidity. A lot of essential oils come through with bitters.
BA: What advice can you give a bartender who has never made or used bitters?
Chad: Experiment! Try classic cocktails with different flavored bitters or brands. You will be surprised at the differences.
BA: Bitters are not just for classic cocktails anymore. What's your favorite contemporary cocktail recipe that uses bitters?
Chad: I use them anytime I can. My favorite was using Bittercube Orange Bitters in my
GQ Bombay Sapphire competition cocktail-the Coliseum*-which took first place for my local market.
What flavors of bitters would you like to see available for your drinks that are not currently on the market?
: Agave bitters!
1¾ oz. Bombay Sapphire ¾ oz. Yellow Chartreuse
½ oz. Cocchi Americano
¾ oz. fresh lemon juice
¼ oz. anise simple syrup
6 drops Bittercube Orange Bitters
| Stir with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass.
Garnish with a lemon twist and whole star anise pod.
1½ oz. Casa Noble Crystal Tequila
1½ oz. Mathilde Pêches Liqueur
¼ oz. agave nectar
½ oz. apricot purée
Splash of cava
2 dashes peach bitters
Photo by Jenn Cress
| In a mixing glass combine bitters, Casa Noble, Mathilde, agave and apricot purée. Fill glass with ice, shake vigorously and strain over fresh ice in an old fashioned glass. Top with a splash of cava and garnish with an awoken mint sprig.
Compart Family Farms Pork Belly with Apricots, Local Fingerling Potato and Red Mole
12 1½-inch cubes cooked pork belly (recipe follows)
6 fingerling potatoes cut in half cooked in salted water until just tender
2 tablespoons olive oil
12 sous vide dried apricots (recipe follows)
1 cup watercress, large stems removed
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
1½ cups red mole (recipe follows)
Photo by Jenn Cress
Preheat oven to 400°. Warm the red mole in a small sauce pan. Heat a steel pan over medium high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil, season pork belly with salt and pepper and sauté on one side until lightly caramelized. Turn pork over and cook in oven until warmed through.
Meanwhile add the remaining olive oil to a sauté pan over medium high heat and add fingerling potato cut side down, sauté until lightly browned; add the apricots to the pan to just warm through. Toss watercress with extra virgin olive oil and salt.
To plate, spoon two tablespoons of mole onto each plate. Place three pieces of pork belly on each plate and spoon a little red mole over each piece. Garnish with watercress in between each piece of pork belly and top watercress with fingerling potato and apricot. Garnish with pine nuts and sea salt, then drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.
| For the pork belly:
4 lbs. Duroc Pork Belly, skin removed
3 chipotle peppers, seeded and toasted
3 ancho peppers, seeded and toasted
2½ tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons dried Mexican oregeno
12 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 Chile de Arbol
1 white onion, large dice
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
2 fresh bay leaves
Combine the salt, toasted peppers, oregano and grind in blender to a powder. Transfer to a food processor and pulse garlic with powder to combine. Rub all surfaces of pork belly with chipotle rub. Allow to cure for 2-3 days.
Preheat oven to 250°and then heat a heavy bottomed pan over med high heat. Add olive oil and sear pork belly on both sides. Add remaining ingredients and just enough water to cover. Cover pan with parchment paper and aluminum foil and cook in oven at 250° for 8 hours or until fork tender. Cool in liquid. This can be done 2 to 3 days in advance
|For the mole:
4 teaspoons sesame seeds toasted
1½ ounce rendered lard
4 ancho peppers, seeds removed
1 garlic clove, peeled
4 teaspoons pine nuts
1½ oz. dried apricots, chopped
2 cups chicken stock
1/8 teaspoon Mexican cinnamon or Ceylon Cinnamon, ground
½ ounce Oaxacan chocolate, chopped
pinch freshly ground black pepper
pinch ground cloves
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1½ tablespoon sugar
Grill tomatillo until blistered with black spots, roast in a 400 degree oven until soft. Heat lard in a saucepan over medium heat. Add peppers, turning over constantly for 10 seconds until blistered, and remove. Place chili in a bowl with cold water and cover with a plate to hydrate for 30 minutes.
Cook garlic in lard over medium heat until soft and lightly browned. Add pine nuts and cook until lightly toasted. Remove garlic and pine nuts with combine with the tomatillos, sesame seeds, apricots. Drain peppers, discarding water.
Add peppers to blender with ½ cup water and blend until smooth, passing through a chinois when finished. Add the pine nut, sesame seed and tomatillo, spices and chocolate, and 1/2 cup chicken stock. Blend until smooth and chinois into a separate container. Over medium heat add the ancho purée to the lard. Cook over medium heat, thickens slightly. Add the pine nut mixture and remaining chicken stock, salt and sugar and simmer until the mixture coats the back of a spoon.
| For the apricots:
2 cup dried apricots
1 cup Casa Noble Blanco reduced ¼ cup
1/8 teaspoon Fee Brothers Orange Bitters
3 ounces water
1 fresh bay leaf
2 allspice berries
| Combine apricots, tequila, bitters, bay leaf, allspice berries and water in a vacuum packaging bag. Vacuum seal and cook at 150° for 40 minutes. Immediately cool in an ice bath.