How to make the perfect caipirinha
With the World Cup in full swing it's essential to know how to make the Brazilian national drink, caipirinha. Top chef Alex Atala reveals all you need to know . . .
A treatise on caipirinha
Caipirinha is one of the drinks that are most representative of Brazil. It became famous some time ago, and variations on it have been created both at home and around the world.
Instead of using cachaça, people started substituting vodka and saké. I have nothing against variations on themes, but they should not be given the same name as the original. The true caipirinha is made with cachaça, lime, ice and cane sugar. At D.O.M.’s bar, we have developed an impeccable ritual which I shall share with you here. We also prepare caipirinha derivatives. And I especially like the one that uses limão-cravo, limão-rosa, passion fruit, mint, priprioca and, of course, the essential cachaça.
The ideal lime for caipirinha is thin-skinned and soft. Lemon skins are too thick for caipirinha, even though their capacity for oxidation and their incredible aroma are great to add a final twist.
The skin of the lime is important for flavouring the drink. At D.O.M. we cut the tips off the lime, then cut it in half and delicately slit the outer part of the skin. D.O.M.’s caipirinha looks like a lime sashimi. It is not true that the inside of the lime makes the drink bitter; but neither does it contribute to the drink’s looks. A good drink must look good as well as taste good. Avoid crushing the lime too much. Three or four turns with the reamer are enough, after you make the slits on the skin.
One of the characteristics of cane sugar is that it is made of crystals, which rarely dissolve completely in the cachaça. We solved this problem by making a sugar syrup. We use 700 grams of regular refined sugar, or caster sugar, per half a litre of water. We boil the water, then turn off the heat. We add the sugar, stir vigorously and produce a temperature shock by adding ice cubes. We use about 50 ml of this syrup in each caipirinha.
At D.O.M., we use Old Fashioned glasses to serve caipirinha.
We use seven ice cubes per glass. They must be crystal-clear, which means they must have the lowest possible oxygen content.
We have a huge range of cachaças in Brazil. Good caipirinha is made with good cachaça. The caboclos from Minas Gerais – the state which produces Anísio Santiago, the most esteemed cachaça in the country, which is left to age for twelve years – say that good cachaça is one that produces ‘pearl necklaces’. How so? Shake the cachaça bottle. It must form a ring of bubbles where the drink ends, below the cork. If it is a good cachaça, the bubbles will be small. Big bubbles are a sign of inferior quality. There are some cachaça counterfeiters who use lye to cause the same effect.
So take note of some of the places where good cachaça is made. Minas Gerais produces good cachaça, especially in the towns of Salinas, Januária, Ponte Nova e a Paracatu. In Rio de Janeiro, the ones from Paraty are the best. Pernambuco, Ceará and São Paulo also produce good liquor. Oh, and caipirinhas made with good cachaça do not cause hangovers!
Extracted from D.O.M. Rediscovering Brazilian Ingredients by Alex Atala, £35.00, Phaidon. Photography © Sergio Coimbra
Getting hold of quality caipirinha is not so easy in the UK but Marks & Spencer is stocking an interesting organic one called Abelha for £22.99 in 127 branches. It's quite sweet so you may find you need slightly less sugar syrup.
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