It was through experimentation that Dave Arnold, an industry thought leader, culinary innovator, cocktail savant came to discover the exciting potential of rapid infusion – extracting the flavor of a solid into a liquid or infusing a solid with the flavor of a liquid, or both – using an affordable, handheld device.
The discovery of this application opened the doors for flavor in ways that was not possible before for those without access to expensive vacuum machines and the know-how to properly execute the technique. In subsequent years, Arnold has demonstrated how to use the iSi Gourmet Whip for rapid infusion to some of the most respected chefs and mixologists in the industry and in front of packed houses at various high-profile events and conferences around the world. But with the launch of his new book, Liquid Intelligence: The Art and Science of the Perfect Cocktail, the technique is now accessible for everyone.
In the book, Arnold breaks down just about every element of the cocktail and how to improve on taste, texture, appearance, etc. – from traditional drinks to adaptations using modern techniques. He devotes an entire chapter to “Rapid Infusion, Shifting Pressure” where he explains the basic process of rapid nitrous infusion and the potential benefits of using a whipper and nitrous oxide (N2O) – a water/ethanol/fat-soluble, colorless, slightly sweet-tasting gas – versus more traditional long-term infusion methods.
Rapid infusions made using an iSi whipper with N2O tend to extract less bitter, spicy, and tannic notes as compared to traditional extraction methods that rely on heat, time, or a combination of both. For cocktails, rapid infusion allows for more of the pleasant notes to shine. Imagine a jalapeno infused vodka with all the bright flavor and aroma of fresh jalapenos with less spiciness or an aromatic coffee liquor made from coffee beans with less bitterness and less tannic notes than one that steeped over an extended period of time.
In addition to being an entertaining and educational read, the book contains several recipes for infusions, bitters, tinctures, and finished cocktails using these rapidly-infused ingredients.
While the approach may be seen as thoroughly modern, the end goal for using the technique is simply to make a better tasting, better looking cocktail. By reading through Arnold’s recipe for turmeric infused gin you’ll get a sense of the basic method. He explains why turmeric is a good choice because “it’s porous, aromatic, colorful, and flavorful, the four characteristics you should look for in your solid infusion ingredient.” Gin provides a clear base that will complement the flavor and absorb the color and flavor of the brightly hued turmeric well.
Find the recipe here!
Rapid Infusion Tips from Dave Arnold
- Solids for rapid infusion must be porous. Most plant products meet this criterion. Flavorful options include fresh herbs, citrus zest, ginger, lemongrass, peppers/chilies, cocoa nibs, coffee beans, etc.
- With the exception of fresh herbs which can bruise easily, finely cut up or grate solids to maximize surface area and expose pores to the liquid.
- Pay attention to the solid-to-liquid ratio and infusion times. Rapid infusions typically take more solids than traditional infusion methods and happen so fast that even 15 seconds can make a difference in flavor.
- Unless you’re making a bitter where bitterness is a desired, use room temperature liquids and solids. Infusions using cold ingredients produce less vibrant results.
- Consistency is key. Always measure out your ingredients, set a timer, use the right sized whipper, and the right number of chargers for the recipe for consistent results.
- The process of venting is what generates flavor-extracting bubbles. The faster you vent the gas, the stronger the bubbling action. The more bubbling action, the more active your extraction.
- Unless the recipe instructs you to do so, don’t strain the mixture right away after venting. Allow bubbles to subside. Remember, active bubbles mean that flavor extraction is still happening.