Chill Out with Watermelon Granitas Posted by: Aaron Stearns | 0 Comments
Having grown up in Arkansas, I’m quite familiar with the oftentimes brutal heat that summers here can offer. Most of the beverage writing I do during the summer will be about how to combat this weather. It’s the season of light beer, gin and tonic, watered down whiskey, and refreshing cocktails. As a child, these weren’t exactly options to beat the heat. I did, however, have access to some of the best watermelons in the world.
I will always remember awkwardly navigating around seeds through huge chunks of melon at family picnics and church gatherings, and the memory of the watermelon truck showing up as a reward from our coaches for surviving two-a-day football practices was always a summer highlight. Watermelon-seed spitting contests would ensue, quickly followed by watermelon fights that would leave each of us looking like we’d been sitting front row at a Gallagher show.
Watermelons play a significant role in Arkansas culture not just in that they are fun and refreshing to eat, but also that something about the terroir provides for their ability to grow very, very large. In the summer of 2005, Loyd Bright of Hope in Hempstead County managed to grow a world record 268.8 lbs melon.
While enjoying a good melon is as simple as cracking it open and going to town, I think it’s also important to explore its versatility. Chef Alexis Jones of Natchez Restaurant in Little Rock suggests grilling slabs of watermelon, coating cubes in raw sugar and brûlée-ing with a blowtorch. She also recommends watermelon soup, to which a plethora of recipes are available with a quick search. Have fun trying them out. Another favorite of Pastry Chef of Natchez and the soon to open South on Main, Matt Lowman, is the watermelon granita. His recipe is as follows:
Granita, sometimes known as Italian ice, originated in Sicily but has since migrated across to the south, but here we are more likely to call it a snow cone. But no matter what the name is, it’s one of a pastry chef’s go-to desserts in the summer, and for good reason! It does not need any special equipment that was handmade across the ocean, or such exotic ingredients that you will break the bank to have them imported. While recipes vary from person to person, this granita only needs five ingredients, a few tools and a little time. Once it’s made, you will have a great dessert for the kids, or a base for a fantastic summer cocktail.
2 cups watermelon juice (directions below)
1 cup sugar (can be adjusted depending on how sweet your watermelon is)
1 cup water
2 cups club soda
2 Tbsps lemon juice
To make the watermelon juice, remove the watermelon rind, then use a food processor to puree it, and pass the juice through a strainer to take out the seeds and pulp. Combine the watermelon juice with the rest of the ingredients and stir until the sugar dissolves. Taste this mixture now and add more sugar if you feel it is not sweet enough. Pour the mix into a cake pan or a casserole dish and place in an easily accessible flat spot in your freezer. You will have to come and check on this about every 45 minutes, and each time take a fork and give it a good stir, making sure to get the corners and edges. After a couple of hours the Granita will start to take on a shaved ice consistency, and once all of the mix is frozen you are ready to enjoy your homemade granita.
Most importantly (to me), is that watermelon is extremely delicious in beverage form. Making this happen is as simple as pureeing the melon and straining out the sediment to make delicious watermelon juice. To this I like to add slices of cucumber, mint, strawberries, and a little bit of lime, and top with a little water and ice to make a delicious watermelon agua fresca.
Another successful watermelon cocktail I created once using a citrus/mint simple syrup recipe created by Bill Smith of Crooks Corner in North Carolina. This is recipe as featured in “Carol’s Viking Life.”
Bill Smith’s Mint Syrup
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 cup fresh mint leaves (picked and packed down)
1 lemon, zested and juiced
Bring water and sugar to boil in a non-reactive pan. Stir until dissolved.
Remove from heat. Add mint leaves and lemon zest, making sure that the leaves are submerged. Let them steep for about 15 minutes.
Once the liquid is cooled at room temperature, add lemon juice and strain.
For one cocktail:
1 oz. white rum
1/2 oz. Lillet Blanc
1/2 oz. Bill Smith’s Mint Syrup
2-3 oz. fresh watermelon juice to taste
1/2 oz. fresh lime juice
Serve over cubes or crushed ice, to taste.
Garnish the cocktail with a cube of watermelon OR for the adventurous make this incredible infused watermelon garnish that requires the use of a vacuum sealer.
Cube the interior meaty part of seedless watermelon into nice, even 1 1/4-inche cubes. Very gently (sparingly) sprinkle Maldon sea salt on the cubes (3 flakes is adequate) and squeeze a little lime juice over the cubes as well. Then space them about an inch apart in a vacuum seal bag remove about 99 percent of the oxygen in the bag. This will infuse the watermelon cubes with the salt and lime, while turning them “fresh tuna red.”
Take a fresh sprig of mint and gently roll it in the palm of your hand, releasing the essential oils…lay on top next to the cube. Enjoy.
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