I’ve never been a fan of things floating throughout my cocktail. Not seeds, pulp, flowers or leaves. For me it’s a texture thing. That is not to say I don’t appreciate a beautiful garnish in my cocktail in so long as it serves a purpose and doesn’t impede my enjoyment of the drink. However, some cocktails actually call for leaves and pulp in the drink… Enter the Mojito.
The Mojito is the number three ordered drink in North America (following the Margarita and Cosmopolitan). Consumers love it and bartenders complain about making it. Like any cocktail, when properly balanced with fresh ingredients, it truly is a wonderful libation. The original Mojito was made with fresh lime juice, light rum, sugar, club soda and mint leaves in the drink. As the former barman of Per Se restaurant I always took care to remove the leaves from mine. And here is why…
1) DON’T GET TEA’D OFF- Just like Mint tea if you leave freshly muddled (or steeped) leaves in your drink too long, it gets bitter. The idea is to thoroughly muddle the leaves so that they turned a dark green and release their oils. Then shake your drink and double strain over fresh ice. You retain all of the aromatics and flavor but none of the bitter finish.
2) THE FUZZ WILL BRING YOU DOWN- Mint leaves, while they smell awesome and taste even better, have a fuzzy almost furry surface. If you’ve ever chewed on a fresh mint leaf, it is not only bitter, but it tends to give you the heebie-jeebies as your body shivers from the texture.
3) MINT DOESN’T SUCK- Have you ever been sipping on a lovely Mojito only to get a big piece of mint stuck in the straw? It’s a little bit like trying to suck a bowling ball through a garden hose. Despite your best efforts, there is no graceful or subtle way to clear your straw without drawing attention. Usually, we end up plucking the straw out and just sipping on our drink, which means were back to chewing on mint leaves.
4) GET THE GIRL- Picture yourself at a bar, a tall, cool glass of sunshine steps up to the bar. Thinking quickly, you decide to make your move. You raise your Mojito and give her your best toothy smile, only to have her look at you in disgust and walk out of your life forever… If only you knew about the big green leaf stuck between your teeth. Sigh!
5) I LOVE A GOOD SPANKING- One argument for leaving the leaves in your drink is because they smell so good. However, if you simply slap (or spank) a fresh sprig of mint between your hands and garnish the drink with it, you will smell intense mint without the aforementioned issues.
Now, the purists will insist that it’s not a true Mojito unless there are leaves in the drink. And perhaps they are right. Personally, I would rather have a great tasting, properly made drink than stick to a recipe simply for the namesake. Plus, there is no reason you can’t take a beautiful, fresh sprig of un-muddled mint and perch it on your glass at two o’clock. I will look amazing, smells amazing and if properly balanced, be the best tasting Mojito you’ve ever tried. Make one and let me know…
In the words of my mentor and former employer Chef Thomas Keller: “When in doubt, strain it out!”