Punch Week: Punch’s Secret Sauce
This week, we’re familiarizing ourselves with the cocktail’s predecessor, punch. We’re not talking about the jungle juice served from a trash can to a solo cup at your first college party, but a mellow blend of spirit, citrus, spice, and sugar that ruled the drinking world of the 18th century. In our tour of punches, David Wondrich and his aptly named book Punch are our guides. If you want to know more about punch in general, check out our introductory post. Today, we’re going to talk about the secret sauce in the finest of punch recipes. This secret sauce is called the Oleo-Saccharum.
Oleo-Saccharum sounds like a strange ritual in a secret society, or like the final room in a D&D maze, but it’s actually rather simple. It’s a testimony to the fact that a little extra time and attention can sometimes make a big difference. Oleo-Saccharum means, ‘oil-sugar,’ and it’s the result of sugar, citrus peel, muddling, and a little time. To create your oleo-saccharum, you peel the required citrus fruit in broad strips, doing as well as you can to take only the colored, outer part of the peel and leave the white pith. Muddle it thoroughly with the called-for sugar. Then, let it sit for at least 30 minutes, preferably an hour. During that hour, the sugar will have drawn all of the essential oil out of the peel, creating a rich, fragrant sugar paste, your oleo-saccharum. At this point you can discard the peels, or leave them in the paste as a garnish. The flavor of the oleo-saccharum is still sweet and sour like it would have been if you hadn’t waited an hour, but it’s a deeper, fuller sweet and sour with a wonderful aroma. This is what makes punch so magical.
We made our first oleo-saccharum for an otherwise simple brandy punch for a recent dinner party at a neighbor’s house. Everyone loved it, with one person declaring, ‘I didn’t know I could like brandy.’ That’s what the oleo-saccharum does.
Major Bird’s Brandy Punch Recipe
Makes about 20 servings
- 1 quart (that’s about 1 1/3 bottles) VS grade Cognac
- 2 quarts cool water
- 1 cup lemon juice
- the peels of 4 lemons–just the yellow part
- 1 cup fine-grained raw sugar, like Florida Crystals
- nutmeg, to grate on top
- Make your oleo-saccharum by muddling the lemon peels and sugar thoroughly and then letting them sit for an hour in a warm place. When it’s done, the sugar should have drawn out the oil from the peels.
- Discard the lemon peels, or leave them in as a garnish.
- Add the lemon juice to the oleo-saccharum and stir until the sugar is dissolved. There will be a lovely, enticing lemon aroma in the air.
- Add the Cognac.
- Add the water.
- If it will sit for a while, add a large block of ice to keep it cool without diluting too much. If it’s all being doled out immediately, add smaller cubes.
- Grate nutmeg on top.