Challenged by Sean Still of Double A with coriander, North Pond bartender Justin Fox really had to get down to basics: he'd never tried it before. So he bought a jar of the spice in seed form and "just kept eating it," using its taste as a guide.
This led him straight to gin—coriander seed, along with juniper berries and citrus peel, is one of the botanicals used in most varieties of the spirit. In keeping with North Pond's philosophy (chef Bruce Sherman was one of the first in town to focus on seasonal, regionally sourced ingredients), Fox settled on Death's Door gin, from Wisconsin.
From there, he came to think of the drink as a "piece of art" showcasing gin and his assigned ingredient. His aim, he said, was to provide "a complete coriander experience, even down to the ice."
He began by making a granita, first toasting and grinding the coriander seeds, then adding the spice (he used about three-quarters of a cup) to a mixture of one cup sugar and four cups water. This he froze, then mashed with a fork until it had the texture of a slushie.
Cilantro, the stems and leaves of the coriander plant, is a polarizing, love-it-or-hate-it herb—as a matter of fact, food scientist Harold McGee reported a few years back that there's a genetic basis for the "primal revulsion" its taste inspires in some. Fox happens to love it, and besides, how could you have a "complete coriander experience" without it? So he decided to use the herb in its fresh form both at the start and the finish, muddling it along with a few slices of fresh cucumber and topping the drink off with a sprig or two.
Another philosophy at North Pond is to keep things focused on the ingredients, and that goes for the cocktail list as well as the chef's menus. Hence the name of Fox's drink, simplicity itself.
1 1/2 oz Death's Door gin
1/2 oz lime juice
1/4 oz simple syrup
Ground coriander, for garnish
In the bottom of a mixing glass, muddle two or three slices of cucumber and a sprig of cilantro. Add gin, lime, and simple syrup, then add ice and shake well to break up with cucumber and dilute the alcohol. Double strain into a rocks glass and fill to the top with the coriander granita. Stir a little to mix the two, then garnish with a few cucumber slices, a sprig of cilantro, and a sprinkling of ground coriander.