Photo Courtesy of Canlis
Seattle's famous Canlis restaurant turns 60 next year, but it's still learning new tricks, in the bar as much as the kitchen. There, bartender James MacWilliams has taken control of his ingredients to a new level by making his flavored liquors in house--and sous vide.
The idea came about by chance. Nine months ago, soon after MacWilliams started behind the bar at Canlis, the restaurant hired a new chef, who brought along his own cryovac and thermal circulator, the required tools for making high-grade sous vide cuisine (sous vide is French for "under vacuum"; sous vide cooking essentially involves vacuum sealing ingredients in plastic bags, then cooking them in hot--but not boiling--water).
MacWilliams was frustrated with the syrupy sweetness and limited variety of off-the-shelf liquors and mixers, and he had been trying to make his own in house. "I first started by making a syrup of almond oils and sugar, and heating them to extract more," he told me. "But there are a lot of variables, including evaporation." Then he saw the sous vide equipment. Click. "I realized I could use it to make liquors, too, and not have to worry about evaporation."
Chefs have been using sous vide techniques since the 1970s, and for good reason. It not only removes one often tricky variable--moisture content--from the process, but it helps retain many of the flavors that often disappear in conventional cooking. MacWilliams wanted to do the same with liquor. "I wanted to make a Manhattan with green walnut wine, which used to be a more common ingredient," he says. "I tasted an array of the commercially available products, and nothing had the range of flavors I wanted." So he made his own, a perfect blend of tart apples and savory nuts.