We live in an age when most fruits and vegetables are available all year long. While having a wide range of produce can be exciting for the palette and convenient for the modern shopper, there's a few downsides to buying fruit out of season. One that most everyone will agree on is taste. If you buy strawberries in December or sweet corn in April you will compromise on flavour. The same goes for citrus fruits, but the best time to indulge in Mandarins and Satsumas is in winter from December to mid-March.
If you've done much cooking then you'll have come across references to using lemon or lime 'zest' in everything from cakes to couscous. It's in the peel of citrus that gorgeous flavour and colour in concentrated and frugal cooks will dry or freeze it to use in future meals. I don't tend to do this myself but was trying to think of a tasty way to use the peels of all the mandarins I've been buying recently. The answer - Mandarin Vodka.
There are a few online tutorials on how you could do it and all of them are simple - much like the method I chose to use. The tricky part of the project is controlling yourself from trying to finish it too early. As is the case with making tinctures or any other infused alcohol, the key is allowing the botanical material to infuse in the vodka (or other liquor) for as long as possible. For this project I chose to let the ingredients infuse for just two weeks but others recommend as long as two months.
Mandarin Vodka Recipe
You will need...
A pint of high quality Vodka
3 Mandarins (or other citrus fruit)
A glass jar with lid (I used a pint sized preserving jar)
The instructions are so easy that I'm not even going to bother with bullet points. Using a potato peeler, peel the coloured bit of the mandarin peels off trying to avoid as much of the bitter white pith as possible. Combine the peels with the vodka in the jar and place it in a dark cupboard for at least a couple of weeks but longer if possible. A couple of months might be best. Shaking the jar once a day will help disperse the goodness from the peel into the liquor.
The clear vodka will eventually take on a golden orange hue and will act like a carrier for the Mandarin oils that were once in the peel. Taste the vodka from time to time to judge the flavour but remember that there's no sugar in it so it won't taste like the flavoured vodkas at the shop yet.
Strain the vodka through linen, a coffee filter, or even a bit of kitchen paper and into a clean glass bottle. Add another strip of mandarin peel for decoration and enjoy at your leisure. It's so pretty that I'd even consider making this and giving it away as presents.
This mandarin vodka can be kept on its own and used in mixed drinks or as a homemade citrus extract for desserts and recipes. Mix it up with equal portions of simple sugar syrup and you have a mandarin version of Limoncello. Would that be called Mandacello?
2 cups mandarin infused Vodka
1 cup white Sugar
1 cup hot Water
1. Using the infusion method detailed above, make your mandarin infused vodka and measure.
2. Make the simple sugar syrup: Combine the hot water and sugar and stir until the sugar has completely dissolved. Allow to cool to room temperature.
3. Add the vodka to the cooled sugar syrup and pour the mixture into a clean bottle. Allow the flavours to meld together for a week before serving. It's best to refrigerate (or freeze) your mandacello but stored in a cool, dark place it will keep a long time due to the alcohol content. I've found other recipes that say that it will last for up to a year but doubt any would be left in my house long enough to test the theory!