If there’s one drinking trend that I’ve noticed take hold over the last few years, it’s the proliferation of spicy peppers being used to liven up cocktail standards like the margarita and the bloody mary. And, with the recent news report that eating hot peppers might have a positive impact on your health, why not consider shaking a few into your favorite cocktail? Capsaicin – the chemical compound found in chili peppers which have been shown to decrease inflammation – is now being lauded for its potential cardiovascular disease preventive benefits.
One of the benefits of using peppers for cocktails is the relative ease with which you can incorporate them. A few small slices of jalapeno shaken into a cocktail can give so much flavor and heat, leaving you with plenty for another drink or the ability to use the rest for dinner that night.
There are a few ways to make your peppers last longer, as the weather becomes colder and fresh peppers at the market become scarce. One is to make a hot pepper tincture. You can start by cutting peppers in half and drying them in an oven at 200 degrees for 1-2 hours before adding them to a mason jar of 100 proof vodka. One easy ratio would be one part dried peppers to two parts vodka – but make it stronger if you have a high tolerance for heat. Keep the jar in a cool, shady cabinet and shake the mixture every day for a few weeks. Once the tincture tastes strong enough for your liking, strain the mixture through cheesecloth, squeezing the solids to extract as much flavor as you can, bottle the tincture, and use it within six months.
Another way you can stretch out the flavor of peppers and use them in cocktails is by infusing them into light agave syrup. Simply pour a bottle of agave syrup into a saucepan and add either fresh or dried peppers and simmer slowly over low heat for 20 minutes. Remove the pan from heat and let it cool with a top on. Transfer the syrup to a container with a tight-fitting lid and infuse overnight in the refrigerator, or longer for a more intense flavor. Strain the mixture into a clean bottle, store it in the refrigerator, and use within a month. To make your syrup last longer in the refrigerator, add 1 ounce of vodka or tequila as a preservative.
Though these methods can allow you to stretch out your ingredients and limit waste, there’s no easier way to add a little kick to your cocktail than by throwing in a few slices of hot pepper directly into the shaker.
Here’s a tip: use a separate knife and cutting board for your spicy peppers, so you don’t accidentally leave a few screaming hot pepper seeds sitting on the counter or permeating your everyday cutting board. And if you’re using cayenne or jalapeno’s, you may want to use gloves and remember to thoroughly wash your hands afterwards.
Now to our cocktail: I love Mezcal, tequila’s stronger, smokier cousin. So for this recipe, during the fall months, I use Mezcal – it gives an extra warm feeling when mixed with bold peppers. The Aleppo-salt rim adds to the complexity and blends well with the vibrancy of a spicy cocktail.
SPICY MEZCAL MARGARITA
Prep Time: 10 min
Makes: 2 servings
- 2 OZ. MEZCAL (BANHEZ, MALA IDEA, OR ALIPUS ARE FINE CHOICES)
- 1 OZ. FRESH LIME JUICE
- .5 OZ. FRESH ORANGE JUICE
- .75 OZ. LIGHT AGAVE SYRUP
- TINY PINCH OF SALT
- 3 SMALL SLICES OF JALAPENO, OR OTHER SPICY PEPPER
- A LIGHT DASH OF PAPRIKA
- OPTIONAL SALT RIM: 3 PARTS SALT TO 1 PART ALEPPO, MIXED TOGETHER