Cocktail Challenge: Stinging nettles | Cocktail Challenge | Chicago Reader

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Cocktail Challenge: Stinging nettles

GT Fish & Oyster's Johnny Costello Jr. goes all barista with the foraged perennial


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Challenged by Perennial Virant's Erin Hayes with stinging nettles, a wild perennial used as a medicinal herb as well as in pastas, soups, and other dishes, Johnny Costello Jr. of GT Fish & Oyster paid a visit to local forager Dave Odd. Eaten raw, Costello says, the plant has "kind of an earthy, spinachy flavor," but "it really does sting the inside of your mouth." His cocktail, which he judged "totally quaffable," employs it, defanged, in three forms: dried, blanched, and juiced.

Who's Next:

Costello's challenged Mike Page of Vie with okra.

(Recipe below slideshow.)

The Forager

stinging nettles, blanched and put through a juicer
1 egg white
¾ oz stinging nettle syrup*
1½ oz La Diablada Pisco
½ oz Agwa de Bolivia coca-leaf herbal liqueur
½ oz Chartreuse
¾ oz Meyer lemon juice

In the bottom of a coupe glass, pour about an eighth of an inch of the juiced stinging nettles. Combine the egg white, stinging nettle syrup, lemon juice, pisco, Agwa, and Chartreuse in a shaker. Cap and shake well, then add ice and shake some more. Strain into the coupe and, using a bar spoon, top the froth with a few more drops of the stinging nettle syrup, making a design with the spoon's pick end.

*Stinging nettle syrup

2 c water
2 c superfine sugar
¼c dried stinging nettle leaves
good handful of freshly blanched stinging nettle leaves
3 cracked cardamon pods
zest of half a Meyer lemon
pinch of kosher salt

In a saucepan bring the water to 160 degrees (I use a candy thermometer), add the sugar, and stir gently until the sugar fully dissolves. Add the dried leaves, cardamon, and lemon and steep for four to eight minutes, maintaining the temperature. Remove from heat and pack the pan with freshly blanched nettle leaves, just enough to allow the liquid to remain predominant. Once the liquid has cooled, double strain through tea strainers. Pour into an airtight jar and refrigerate. It should keep for about a week.

Variation: Instead of attempting to layer the cocktail over the juiced stinging nettles, omit the first step, strain the shaken mixture into a glass, and use a straw to garnish the froth with the nettle juice [see slide show].

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