I need to get a little science geeky here for a moment. Did you know there are flavour compounds in food that you absolutely, positively cannot release unless you hit ’em with alcohol? It’s the truth. There are two reasons for this:
- Volatility: You know how you can smell whiskey or another strong alcohol right when you open the bottle? It’s because alcohol evaporates so quickly and the molecules carry the essence of the flavours straight to your nose.
- Versatility: Alcohol bonds with both fat and water making it the perfect vehicle to grab every water soluble flavour (basic salty, sweet, bitter, and sour) AND every fat soluble flavour (aromatics like garlic, herbs, spices, and other seasonings) and combine it into one perfect umami bomb.
You just can’t get that kind of performance from anything else. You can’t fully TASTE food unless you can smell it, and alcohol binds to those aroma receptors that are otherwise only dissolved in fat unlike anything else.
That being said, you’ll understand why I say it’s crucial that you try making Strawberry Basil Infused Vodka this summer. CRUCIAL, I SAY! Why? Because strawberries are both sweet AND aromatic (see geeky moments above) and you haven’t experienced the true glory of strawberries unless you’ve hit them upside the head with vodka. Ditto on the basil. We’ve had this strawberries-plus-basil discussion before, right? Here and here, for starters. Basil is also highly aromatic. Are you seeing my pattern here? Taking aromatic and sweet fruit and pairing it with an aromatic and sweet herb and giving them both a nice long soak in a liquid that will dissolve and take on the properties of both of those aromatic and sweet things? GOOD THINGS HAPPEN HERE! It doesn’t get a whole lot easier than this, friends.
After it soaks, though, you may look at the jar and think you’ve gone horribly wrong. The strawberries look white and kind of, um, unappetizing. Here’s the thing, though, they have given all of their lovely redness to the vodka rendering it a gorgeous deep pink hue. Those strawberries have given their glory to that vodka. Don’t worry.
If you open the jar, you’re instantly going to know that it’s all good. You smell the headiest strawberry scent possible. You don’t OVERTLY smell basil… it’s an undernote if you balanced it right. It should smell like the pure essence of strawberries. If you taste it, you may find it a little powerful for straight sipping. THAT’S OKAY. This is meant as a mixer or an ingredient.
So what do you do with a quart jar full of spent strawberries and tempting smelling if slightly bitter tasting Strawberry Basil Infused Vodka?
Uses for Strawberry Basil Infused Vodka
- Use in equal amounts in place of Grand Marnier or other liqueurs in your fruit salads. It’ll bring a whole new dimension of flavour to the party.
- Add a tablespoon to your next strawberry pie. It will boost the strawberry quotient.
- Likewise, add a tablespoon or two to your next homemade ice cream recipe. It brings flavour, to be sure, but also helps prevent the ice cream from freezing rock hard.
- Add a tablespoon or two (for adults only, obviously) for an ultimate strawberry milkshake.
- Use in cocktails! Seems obvious, right? But those cocktails will be memorable!
- You can scale this up or down as much as you’d like. Don’t feel like you have to commit to an entire quart jar of infused vodka. I think you’ll find more uses for it, but if you’re concerned at the expense or quantity, please reduce it and start off with a pint!
- You don’t have to use the besty-best vodka here, but you also shouldn’t go for the cheapest of the cheap. Ask the clerk at your liquor store for a middle-of-the-road vodka that is decent for sipping or mixed drinks.
- I mention air drying the strawberries and basil after washing them. They don’t have to be bone dry, but they shouldn’t be dripping either. You could speed the process by lightly patting with paper towels, but that’s up to you. I prefer to let them dry for 30 minutes in a colander or on towels on the counter after washing.
- You get the best flavour extraction if you shake this once or twice a day while infusing. Will it be disastrous if you forget? Nope.
- You do not need to strain out the strawberries and basil for storage but you may find it easier to use the product if you do so. To strain it, simply pour through a fine mesh sieve into a 4-cup measure or a bowl (preferably one with a spout) then pour immediately into a clean jar with a tight fitting lid.
- You don’t want to let this sit uncovered for long because alcohol DOES evaporate so quickly, so move fast when you use it. For best results on flavour retention, replace the lid immediately after pouring.
- Speaking of storage options… if you want this to taste like fresh strawberries forever and ever amen, follow the instructions for straining and store your strained, tightly lidded, infused vodka in the freezer. Bonus: it’ll be good and chilled for cocktails and fruit salads!
- Fresh strawberries, washed, air dried, and hulled
- fresh basil leaves, washed and air dried
- fair quality vodka
- One clean canning jar with a new, two-piece lid
- Cut strawberries into pieces and load into the jar, layering in the basil leaves among the strawberries. You shouldn't squish the strawberries into the jar, but you should fill it full and to within ½-inch of the rim of the jar.
- Important Note about the Basil: For a quart jar, add 2 large or 4 small basil leaves. For a pint, add 1 large or 2 small basil leaves.
- Fix the lid tightly in place on the jar and shake vigorously 4 or 5 times. Let the vodka infuse in a cool, dark place for 3 days. Open the jar and sniff... Does it smell strongly of strawberries? You're ready! You can strain it into a clean jar and store in a cool dark place for up to a year as long as the temperature doesn't fluctuate. For optimal flavour retention, strain out the fruit and basil and store, tightly lidded, in the freezer.
This post was originally published June 9, 2014.