Your corner Asian grocery store is good for more than DIY sushi supplies and stocking up on frozen dumplings ahead of the apocalypse. It’s also cocktail ingredient heaven. Here are a few ways you can drink your way through your local Asian market.
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Packed with salty-savory flavors, miso paste (made from fermented soybeans) is an amazing shortcut to flavor-bomb Bloody Marys. Start by stirring a teaspoon into your usual mix and add more to taste. For advanced umami-lovers, try rimming glasses with miso before rimming them again in furikake (below). A savory cocktail lover’s ultimate fantasy.
A confetti-like seasoning made with dried fish, sesame seeds, nori, salt and a host of other mix-ins depending on which bottle you buy, furikake is a perfect garnish for a classic or Asian-inspired tomatillo Bloody Mary. Go easy to start, though. Any cocktail you add this to gets a salty-fishy punch in the mouth.
Nori is used to wrap sushi and is often found floating in miso soup, but the dried seaweed lends a terrific lilt when infused into, of all things, scotch. We prefer it with Islays, which already have a salty, sea air quality. Simply place a few sheets of nori or kombu (which is technically kelp) in a jar or bottle and fill with scotch. Seal and leave overnight, shaking occasionally, then strain and serve.
Herbaceous and a touch minty, shiso leaves are wonderfully aromatic and very cocktail friendly. Use the leaves to make this infused simple syrup, then mix it into cocktails like the Shiso Bourbon, or add a half-ounce into a gin and soda.
Funky pickled Japanese plums, umeboshi are cured in salt, and have a love-it-or-hate-it flavor. We are firmly on the side of love, especially when they’re dropped into the bottom of a Martini in place of olives. Umeboshi juice is also delicious in a Manhattan (start with a half-ounce), or it can help make a tart take on a Bellini.
Somewhere between a Meyer lemon and a grapefruit, yuzu is an East Asian citrus fruit. You probably won’t see fresh yuzu fruits available too often, but the bottled juice is easy to find in Asian markets. Try it in place of lemon juice in a Tom Collins or a French 75. Or swap it in for lime juice in a Gimlet.
Add a little wasabi paste to your next Bloody Mary and you’ll clear your nasal passages right up. The spicy, bright green paste can also be a pungent addition to a Dirty Martini—just make sure you start slow. This stuff will bulldoze your sinuses if you get loose with your measurements.
CALPICO & ALOE DRINKS
A fermented milk drink with a tangy lactic aftertaste, Calpico drinks come in flavors like strawberry, lychee and mango, as well as plain. Perhaps you’ve seen them on the shelves and were nervous about trying something so opaque—don’t be. A half-ounce enhances the bite of a Gin Fizz as well as its mouthfeel. Start with the classic, then experiment with the other flavors.
Next to an actual fish market, Japanese markets are one of the best places to get sushi-grade fish. That said, don’t muddle raw salmon into a Mojito. Instead, use it to garnish dry cocktails, like our gin-and-sake Martini.