Homemade Mandarin Liqueur [vegan]

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Show a thousand people a Rorschach inkblot-rendered image of me and not one of them will say “that’s a patient person”. While patience is a virtue I’ve always considered myself to lack, I am good at making time disappear and jump forwards either through procrastinating or simply zoning out aimlessly – and what is zoning out if not patience’s weird goth cousin? Conversely, what is patience if not zoning out persevering?

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Whichever side of the coin you fall on, you’re gonna need at least one of these qualities to your name to endure the waiting time for this homemade liqueur to steep and come into bloom, and frankly, I suspect I have the rare edge over traditional patience here. Forgetting you have a large jar of homemade liqueur in the cupboard, only to remember it’s there waiting for you and ready to be consumed in the middle of a newly-announced nationwide lockdown? Now that’s a virtue.

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This recipe is a mid-winter take on the passionfruit liqueur I made back in April, but it’s so delicious and so versatile that it deserves a stand-alone place on the blog. The method is also slightly improved, as I found that dissolving the sugar completely before mixing it with the vodka makes for a much smoother finished product.

Our mandarin tree has been on the clock since 1984, producing season after season of hostile, tight-skinned, pip-studded little mandarins that you don’t so much peel as dig into, inevitably spraying juice hither and yon. What they lack in accessibility and friendliness they make up for in sprightly, acerbic flavour, the sort of unhesitating zing that the loose-skinned, pipless, baby’s-first-mandarins at the supermarkets could only muster a mere straining echo of. This liqueur makes use of both the fruit and the potent oils lurking in the peel, and the resulting liqueur is both delicate yet beautifully citrussy.

Triple sec (or Cointreau, or orange liqueur in general) is one of the most widely-used ingredients in cocktails after the base spirits, and while this liqueur has a more mellow and floral vibe it’s still vibrantly orange enough to slot into any classic you favour – the Margarita, the Sidecar, the Corpse Reviver No.2, the Cosmopolitan – a bottle of this in your cupboard gives you a wealth of potential (presuming you also have other bottles of cocktail-friendly liquor in your cupboard.) If cocktails are too much hard work, a splash of this in a glass of champagne (by which I mean, Lindauer) is an instant delight. Even easier than that is a nip of the liqueur, straight from the fridge, poured into a small glass for chic sipping pre- or post-dinner.

And if you want in on the fun but don’t have access to (or use for) alcohol? Try this lemon cordial recipe instead, which you can adapt to any other citrus fruit and, better yet, enjoy on the day it’s made.

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Homemade Mandarin Liqueur

Put some stuff in a jar, forget about it for a while, come back and you have delicious homemade liqueur for sipping or shaking into cocktails. Of course, you can use any other citrus fruit here – tangerines would be excellent. Recipe by myself.

  • 750ml bottle vodka – look for at least 40% alcohol/80 proof, nothing lower than that
  • 15 – 20 mandarins (no fewer than this, but more is fine)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon citric acid
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1: Thoroughly wash a 1-litre glass jar in hot soapy water and dry with a clean tea towel. Using a vegetable peeler, strip off as much clean, unblemished mandarin peel as you can and use a paring knife to slice off any pith (the white stuff) from the underside of the peel. Now, the mandarins on our tree were quite firm-skinned – not the kind that you can easily peel without making a mess – but if you have the kind with loose skin which falls off almost as you touch it, just remove as much pith as possible and you’re good to go.

2: Next, remove any remaining peel from your mandarins and do your best to remove as much of the white pith as possible clinging to each segment. This whole prep section is quite fiddly and messy but it’s worth the effort for the delicious results.

3: Pour the sugar into a bowl (or better yet, a measuring jug so it’s easier to pour into the jar later) followed by the mandarin segments. Stir with a wooden spoon, crushing the mandarin pieces to release their juice, and keep stirring until the sugar has dissolved into the mandarin juice and is no longer gritty when you do a little taste test. Add the citric acid to the bowl and stir again.

4: Carefully tip all this into the clean jar (perhaps using a spoon to ferry the solid mandarin pieces into the jar first before pouring the liquid in) along with the slices of mandarin peel, and then pour in the entire bottle of vodka. Screw on the lid and store the jar in a cupboard – ideally, one out of sight where you won’t be constantly reminded of its progress – and leave it for a month, occasionally giving the jar a careful swirl (I say ‘careful’ because I’m still haunted by the memory of dropping a jar of quince-infused brandy onto the ground back in 2010). If your vodka is particularly high-proof you can probably get away with considerably less waiting time than a month; obviously, the only way to know this for sure is by doing regular taste tests.

5: Once the month is up, strain the contents of the jar through a sieve into a measuring jug, pressing down on any pieces of fruit with the back of a spoon to extract their last gasps of flavour. Then stir in the vanilla and funnel the liquid into clean bottles. It should keep just fine in the cupboard but will taste particularly excellent if stored in the fridge or freezer.

Makes – depending on your mandarin quantity and quality – just over a litre.

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music lately:

Fast As You Can by Fiona Apple. The way she just – does – that!!

Say Hey by Branford Marsalis Quartet and Terrence Blanchard, from the Mo’ Better Blues soundtrack. The kind of jazz that makes you feel like the main character.

Could I Leave You from the Sondheim musical Follies, performed here by Dee Hoty for My Favourite Broadway: The Leading Ladies in 1998, a highly comforting yet exhilarating concert that I revisit frequently. This is such a good song in anyone’s hands, but Hoty has precisely the steel and elegance and control that makes it really shine.

Supervixens, by A.R Kane, the thing about this song is that I just never stop listening to it!

PS: If you like my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than by stepping behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis. There’s no better time than right now – your support helps me to make all these blog posts!

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