Globally speaking, far more vodka than wine is consumed with food (think about Russia). Unlike bourbon or tequila, where assertive flavors in the spirit present challenges and limitations in food pairing, the very neutrality of vodka expands the range of possibilities significantly. Much depends on the quality of the other components in the cocktail, and the flavors of those ingredients can complement virtually any dish.
An interesting example of the art of pairing vodka with food occurred recently at New York Prime in Boca Raton, sponsored by Stolichnaya. Although the restaurant is a steak house, the menu was composed primarily of seafood, which allowed the mixologists to dwell on the lighter and more lyrical end of the scale. Best of all, the cocktails were composed of Stolichnaya’s Elit ($60), the ultra-premium vodka at the pinnacle of their production.
Stoli Elit is made in Tambov, Russia using grain produced on their own farms, which gives the company control of the raw materials from planting to bottling. Every premium spirit today seems to have a production method that makes it unique, and Elit’s is freeze filtration: The distillate is chilled down to zero, which allows the impurities to coagulate and settle to the bottom of the tank. According to Stoli, this is a technique that was used in Russia as far back as the 18th century, when vodka barrels were moved outside during the winter to achieve the same effect. Far-fetched? Perhaps, but the end result is uncommonly smooth.
We began with a cocktail flavored with grapefruit and lemon juice, smoothed out by the addition of St.-Germain elderflower liqueur, paired with baked shrimp. A cucumber martini, which accompanied a chopped Italian salad, was the most successful drink (and matchup) of the evening. The vodka was spiked with fresh lemonade and thickened with a puree of chopped cucumber and mint, so that the cocktail resembled a salad in itself. A raspberry Cosmo escorted the main course of sea bass, and an espresso shot rounded out the night along with berries and cream.
The recipe for the cucumber martini:
- 1.5 oz. Stoli Elit
- 1.5 oz. cucumber and mint puree (blend two thick cucumber slices with two mint leaves)
- 2 oz. fresh lemonade (Simply Lemonade brand works well)
Garnish with a mint leaf, and serve straight up.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History, published by Lyons Press (Globe Pequot); for more information, go to amazon.com