One of the great things about living in New York City is all the great produce and fruit shops. Just the other day, I was strolling through Grand Central Market, a collection of shops that sell charcuterie, gourmet meats, cheeses, fine produce, exotic spices, fresh fish and seafood, rare and exquisite coffees, and more. The products are all of the highest quality, and the breadth of the selection is expansive. You can find anything from a rare type of saffron, to an obscure fish from Hawaii, to a fruit from Vietnam that only started getting exported to the U.S. a mere few weeks ago.
I have a habit of picking up odd produce and fruits that I don't recognize, taking in their aromas through my olfactory senses, enjoying their vivid colors, feeling their unique textures, and thinking about how they might enhance my home kitchen or bar.
So when I first discovered Rambutan, I knew I had to buy some and play with it at home. Rambutan is native to Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and southeast Asia in general. It's similar to the lychee in appearance and taste. The outer shell is red and "hairy" with lots of fibrous strands that extend from the covering. The fleshy fruit inside is sweet, sour, and lychee-like in texture -- soft and rubbery.
Rambutan is in season in late fall/early winter usually, but it also has a short season in late spring/early summer. According to the owner of the greenmarket where I purchased the rambutan, the long season lasts about six weeks.
I have used lychee in martinis in the past, but I decided to use tequila and try my hand at a margarita with rambutan flavor. After muddling the rambutan (peeled and de-seeded of course), I added 2 oz tequila, 1 oz Cointreau, and 1 oz fresh lime juice.
Two points here -- first, always, always use 100% blue agave tequila (make sure it's bottled in Mexico), and second, always squeeze your lime juice fresh.
Why, you may ask? The type of tequila you use is extremely important in your drinks. Many people say they dislike tequila simply because they have never had real Mexican tequila. Brands that are bottled outside of Mexico are called "mixtos," which contain less than 51% agave, using sugars and other alcohols to make up for the remainder. The result is a loss of pure agave flavor, a potential for a nasty hangover, and the lack of the deep and rich flavor of real 100% agave tequila. Personally, I always purchase 100% agave tequila, as the difference in cost is nominal and the quality that comes with the extra few bucks is tremendous.
As for the second point, an important tenet of bartending is that fresh fruit juices can make or break your bar. Please don't use the pre-squeezed brands available from the supermarket -- they are either too sweet, sour, sugary, watery, or simply not fresh-tasting. It's so easy to juice your own fruit for cocktails. As a rule of thumb, one lime will yield approximately one ounce of fresh lime juice if you use a citrus reamer.
Anyway, I shook all the ingredients in a Boston shaker filled with cold ice, and strained it into a margarita glass. Delicious.
An alternative is to use 1 oz grapefruit juice or 1/2 oz lime juice and 1/2 oz grapefruit juice in lieu of the lime juice.
Recipe: Rambutan-Grapefruit Margarita
2 oz tequila
1 oz Cointreau
1/2 oz fresh lime juice
1/2 oz grapefruit juice
3 de-seeded and skinned Rambutan
6 mint leaves
1. Muddle the Rambutan in the bottom of a cocktail shaker. Slap the mint leaves to release their oils and aromas and place in the shaker.
2. Add the tequila, Cointreau, lime juice, and grapefruit juice.
3. Fill the shaker with cold ice and shake thoroughly.
4. Strain into a margarita glass and garnish with a lime wedge. Serve immediately.