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Lateral drinking: ratafia

Categories: Expert guidance

In a new series, food writer, demo chef and Cookbook Club host Angela Clutton shares her tips on making creative drinks with Market produce. This month: ratafia

Image: Orlando Gili

Recently I made it home from the Market with, among other things, a bag of lushly ripe figs, tiny pearl onions, saffron and lots of other spices, vinegar, bundles of herbs, and a couple of pomegranates. They were all set for being put to lots of use in the kitchen, but absolutely none were destined for any kind of meal. Instead, these ingredients are part of my arsenal of produce that I turn to for making lots of different kinds of drinks.

That includes the ratafias made by infusing spirits with fruits, which is such a great way of harnessing their seasonal glory. When perfectly ripe and packed with flavour, fruits have so much oomph to give to really any kind of alcoholic spirit.

The flavour point is crucial, of course. Insipid fruits that don’t taste of much will not have magical powers to transform themselves into giving anything very much at all when immersed in alcohol. But choose the produce well, and ratafias are the simplest way possible of creating a drink with a flavour profile bespoke to you.

Sweet liqueur
Whatever the soft fruit—and whether you go for infusing it into vodka, brandy, gin or whisky—the technique is the same: cut the fruit open if it has a skin, like with figs or apricots, cover it in the booze and then leave it alone. For a sweeter ratafia liqueur, add in sugar syrup made by heating sugar in water to dissolve it. Taste after at least two weeks and judge for yourself if the flavour intensity or sweetness is what you are after. When it is, strain and bottle the liquid.

Come the turn of the year, when I inevitably have Christmas clementines leftover, I’ll be turning those into a clementine vodka ratafia that should be ready just in time to cheer up a dreary February. As the fruit-year progresses, I’ll turn to peaches and apricots, then later the red fruits of raspberries or cherries for making ratafia kirs. Come autumn it’s those figs I mentioned earlier, which were sliced open and then immersed in bourbon. Only the occasional shake of the bottle made me feel I was doing very much at all.

Adding other flavour notes with spices and herbs barely complicates such straight-forwardness, but can add real depth. The main thing to remember (and this is something I am sure to repeat as this drinks series goes on) is to think of ingredient combinations just as you would when cooking.

Brooding intensity
Infusing brandy or gin with cherries? Try adding a gentle spice of cinnamon or clove. For blackberry infused gin, go for some saffron and orange zest. Apricots with rose, rosemary or thyme are fabulous combinations to think of for a ratafia. My figs and bourbon both shared a brooding intensity that I knew would benefit from star anise and a citrus lift.

I now have on hand a bottle of fig and bourbon ratafia whose light sweetness and muskiness I am loving served straight over ice, or into a champagne cocktail that I imagine that will make more than a few appearances over my upcoming festive season. Here’s to that.