Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Gibson girl

A gibson is a profoundly grown-up cocktail. Gin, a whiff of dry vermouth, and a pickled pearl onion. That's all it is. No fancy stuff.

Recipes for the gibson go back to the turn of the 20th century. Some say that gibsons were drier than ordinary martinis, so the onion garnish helped their afficianados distinguish them. Other stories claim that the gibson was actually a trickery practiced by canny bar schmoozers hoping not to get drunk - it was mere water, and the onion garnish marked it out.

No matter; today a gibson is a sophisticated take on a classic martini. This is not your sweet and fruity cosmopolitan, or a vodka charade. It's even more hard-core than the pure, bright and citrusy chemical classic gimlet. It's unconditionally gin, and when you have one, you know you're having a goddam drink.

For the home cocktail lover, the only trouble is finding the pickled onions. Supermarket pickled onions vary in flavor and quality, and - let's face it - they look a little creepy in those teensy dusty jars that stay neglected on the shelf for ever.

This Sunday, at our local farmers' market, I noticed one stall that had baskets of assorted pearl onions for sale. White, yellow, and red baby onions, the perfect size to garnish a cocktail. What if I tried to make my own?

I make some pretty good pickled red onions for enjoying with meats, but I thought that a cocktail onion called for a little less sweetness.

Pearl onions are tricky - you have to peel off the papery outside, and preserve the whole, round shape of it. The trick is to blanch them in boiling water for a minute or two. After draining, you cut off top and bottom ends and squeeze - the center sphere of the onion pops free from the outer skin. (one internet tipster says you can buy frozen peeled pearl onions in the supermarket. You don't have to peel them. Sounds like a good thing to try.)

Wash a jar in hot water. If you want to make a batch of onions, then you'll need to process them in a water bath, but I think this is a recipe you can make in small batches and keep in the fridge.

Make a brine, and put it on the stove to boil. You  want to have a 2:1 ratio of vinegar to water - so 2 cups of vinegar to one cup of water. A light vinegar is best - I used champagne vinegar because I found an old bottle in my cupboard, but you could use white vinegar, or white wine vinegar, or even rice vinegar.

Add some flavorings. You can put these in the jar before your fill it, or you can put them in the boiling brine. You might want bay leaves, peppercorns, or pickling spices. Herbs are good; so are red pepper flakes or little dried cayenne peppers. If you like gin, you might want to enhance the taste by using juniper berries. Or lemon peel, for a citrusy taste. For my onions, I used peppercorns, a sprig of rosemary, and red pepper flakes.

The red onions turn a lovely pink!
 The critical issue is how much salt and how much sugar to add. Do you like a sweeter pickle, or one that's more tart, or even sourly puckery? The recipes I've seen vary greatly - some add equal amounts of salt and sugar; some have a lot of each, and others have only a little of each.  I think for a small batch, a couple of tablespoons of sugar and salt work well without being too strong. Start out conservatively, and TASTE. If you are not processing them to keep on the self, but keeping small batches in the fridge, you can safely experiment.

Boil the brine, add the peeled onions, and boil for another minute or two before taking it off the heat. Then ladle into the clean jars, fill with the hot brine, cap and cool, and put in the fridge. Wait a day or so before you try.

Your pickled onions will be crisp, delicious, and oh, so sophisticated! You'll feel just like Roger Sterling is buying you a drink!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My mother mixed up a batch of martinis, with gin and pickled onions so I guess they were Gibsons, every evening before my dad came home from work. They were in a tall square plastic pitcher, with a swizzle stick.