A red affair

Jim Meehan, recent James Beard Award recipient of PDT, pouring
Negronis at Che'f Night Out.

A few weekends ago I spent an amazing weekend in Mexico for my friends’ wedding. While sitting beachside, my friends happily drank down frozen Piña Coladas, Daiquiris and Margaritas with ease while I slowly sipped a red, bubbly concoction. When asked about my cocktail, I responded, “oh, it’s a Campari Soda.” And after letting the inquiring minds sample the beverage, I watched in slight amusement as their faces reacted to the realization that my drink was not of the sugary variety.

I find it extremely ironic that as a kid, all I ever consumed were sweet foods and drinks. Halloween was the Mecca of all holidays and only on my birthday was I allowed to have a box of confectionary cereal in the house (being slightly hyper-active as a child, my parents attempted to limit my sweets intake). I say this because nowadays, all my palate yearns for is bitter. Broccoli rabe or endive salad? Yes please. Plain black tea or coffe? I’ll have another! This recent obsession comes at no surprise because bitter is a learned and acquired penchant that develops as an individual expands their culinary awareness. Humans are not born with the innate ability to enjoy bitter tastes and in fact, detecting bitterness has often been a previous defense mechanism against eating poisonous or deadly foods. And today, many chefs and bartenders are playing with the profile of bitter for their drinks and dishes because of the unique flavor angle is brings to the restaurant scene.

There is a space in my heart for almost all bitter liqueurs on the market including amaros such as Averna and Fernet, Aperol and Suze.  However, Campari has found a way to sneak into my life and become one of mine and many other drinkers “go to” bitter liqueur.  Perhaps it’s the vibrant red color or lower alcohol content (24%) that makes this spirit so wonderful to sip throughout an evening. Hailing from Italy, Campari was first invented back in 1860 by Gaspare Campari and by 1904, the first production facility was established to bring this spirit to the mass market. It is best known as an aperitif and imbibed during afternoons or before meals in order to stimulate ones appetite.  Because it is lower in alcoholic content, it is a perfect spirit to drink midday, or as some say in Europe “Apertivo” which is similar to the American Happy Hour. The flavor of Campari is extremely herbal with some light fruit tones. On first taste, the bitterness may be overwhelming. However, if you take a moment to sip the spirit, let it rest on your tongue and really search for the different notes, you will discover a unique, multi dimensional spirit.

Recently, Campari has been making a huge comeback in the American market. With the resurgence of the Negroni on many bar menus, this classic cocktail has singlehandedly been bringing drinkers back to the red spirit. As well, Campari has been on the scene at events such as Chef’s Night Out last week at Chelsea Market and at upcoming cocktail events such as the Manhattan Cocktail Classic here in NYC and Tale of the Cocktail in New Orleans this July.

Interested in trying out a recipe or two at home? Grab a bottle (roughly $25, so it won’t break your bank) and try some of these classics:

Negroni

• 1oz Campari
• 1oz London Dry Gin
• 1oz Sweet Vermouth

Combine ingredients over ice and stir for 10-15 seconds. Strain into glass (lowball if over ice, martini or coup if served up) and garnish with an orange twist.

Americano

• 1oz Campari
• 1oz Sweet Vermouth
• Soda Water/Club Soda

Combine Campari and Sweet Vermouth into a collins glass. Add ice and fill with soda water. Garnish with an orange wedge.

At the recent Campari competition in NYC, my recipe won third place. It is a delicious and easy cocktail to make at home and is a perfect replacement for the usual mimosa on Sunday mornings.

Rolana

(In honor of my friends who recently got married in Mexico, because all I drank down there was Campari).

Photo by Hanna Lee

• 1oz Campari
• .5oz Cointreau
• .5oz Lemon juice
• 1-2 quartered strawberries (depending on size)
• 1tsp powdered sugar
• Sparkling Rose

Muddle lemon, sugar and strawberries together in a shaker. Add Campari, Cointreau and ice and shake vigorously for 10-15 seconds. Strain (even double strain) up into a champagne flute and top with sparkling rose. Garnish with a strawberry.


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