From Humble Salt To Fancy Freezing: How To Up Your Cocktail Game : The Salt You don't need to have liquid nitrogen at your next cocktail party — but it's certainly a sure-fire way to impress your guests. Expert mixologist Dave Arnold walks you through it.
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From Humble Salt To Fancy Freezing: How To Up Your Cocktail Game

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From Humble Salt To Fancy Freezing: How To Up Your Cocktail Game

From Humble Salt To Fancy Freezing: How To Up Your Cocktail Game

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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The holiday season means cocktail parties, and we're about to give you some advanced tricks to step up your game.


SHAPIRO: The man with the cocktail shaker is Dave Arnold. He runs the bar Booker and Dax in Manhattan. He takes a very scientific approach to his craft. He took a train down to D.C. to meet us, carrying a three-foot sword - more on that in a minute. Here at our headquarters, he fired up the blender.


SHAPIRO: He tempted us before lunch. Well, I think for the purposes of journalism I need to taste this daiquiri. He even shared a secret about ice.

DAVE ARNOLD: (Whispering) People love watching you cut the ice.

SHAPIRO: Then he took things to the varsity level. Woah. The liquid that was in the glass has just hit the table and turned into a puff of smoke and disappeared. As it sort of cascades in these foggy rolls off the table onto the floor.


SHAPIRO: Liquid nitrogen - it is not for the faint of heart. It is extremely cold.

ARNOLD: This is minus 196 Celsius.

SHAPIRO: Read the warning labels first and then, if you're brave, use it to chill your cocktail glasses. Oh yeah. It is ice cold. This is like a glass that has been in the freezer, but it just had liquid nitrogen in it for 10 seconds.

ARNOLD: Right.

SHAPIRO: This ingredient is the key to one of Arnold's signature drinks - a twist on the traditional daiquiri.

ARNOLD: I have Thai basil here, which is a fantastic herb for drinks because it's got kind of an anise note to it. So in nutritional muddling, what you do is grind it like this, and you're releasing the flavors and the oils from the herb. Problem is, it starts turning black almost immediately. This is caused by enzymes called polyphenol oxidase enzymes. Now, when you freeze with liquid nitrogen, it's so cold, and the stuff becomes so brittle that I can powder it.

SHAPIRO: So you're dropping the Thai basil into a metal shaker and you're about to pour in the liquid nitrogen, swirling it around in the shaker.

ARNOLD: Now, I'm going to muddle it.

SHAPIRO: Wait, is it already frozen? Just by shaking it? Oh my God. Wait. These leaves are like - hold on a second. These leaves are completely brittle and frozen from just five seconds in the liquid nitrogen.

ARNOLD: Right. Now, watch this.


SHAPIRO: It sounds like potato chips in there. But it's basil leaves.

ARNOLD: Look how finely that's powdered. So now, if I would let this thaw right now, the oxygen would get right to these things and they would turn black. Luckily for us, these enzymes are also deactivated by high-proof ethanol.

SHAPIRO: High-proof ethanol meaning booze.

ARNOLD: Booze. So I'm pouring two ounces of rum and I'm going to pour it in. And depending on how cold it is we'll get a little floof.


SHAPIRO: That was a beautiful floof. That was a plume of smoke coming up out of the shaker.

ARNOLD: Yeah it's - oh, I didn't make lime juice. Hold on a second. Hold on one second. OK, so...

SHAPIRO: So you're adding the lime juice to the muddled basil leaves and the rum.

ARNOLD: Correct. OK. And I'm going to add some simple syrup, pinch of salt, which is the secret ingredient. You know, that's what I tell everyone. Next time you make cocktails, make a drink, don't add any salt, taste it. Then just put a pinch in afterwards, stir it and taste the difference.

SHAPIRO: That is simultaneously totally surprising, because I've never put salt in a cocktail, and, also, seems like it should be obvious because everybody who cooks knows that salt makes everything taste better.

ARNOLD: Right. And it totally is the secret ingredient.

SHAPIRO: OK. So if people take nothing else away from this conversation - low-tech trick - add a pinch of salt.

ARNOLD: Exactly.

SHAPIRO: Back to the Thai basil daiquiri.

ARNOLD: Ready to shake?

SHAPIRO: Ready to shake.

ARNOLD: Hit, seal, shake.

SHAPIRO: Wow. That is the most beautiful "Wizard Of Oz" Emerald City green I have ever seen. Let me give this a taste. That is so good. The taste of the basil comes just, like, singing through.

ARNOLD: Yeah. It's good, right?

SHAPIRO: Dave Arnold's new book, "Liquid Intelligence," is full of recipes and tricks like this one. Some of his tips involve centrifuges, refractometers and carbonator rigs. He also showed us a pretty spectacular party trick that uses a much older technology.

What have you got in your hands here, Dave?

ARNOLD: Well, we have three bottles of champagne, which is always a good thing to bring to a party, and also a legitimate saber.

SHAPIRO: Literally like my-name-is-Inigo-Montoya-you-killed-my-father-prepare-to-die sword.

ARNOLD: Exactly. Exactly like that.

SHAPIRO: I can only imagine what you have in store, and I think we're going to do this outdoors. OK, we're outside of NPR headquarters in the beautiful NoMa neighborhood of Washington D.C. with a few bottles of champagne and a saber.

ARNOLD: Exactly. Exactly. So what we're going to do is the old-school trick of sabering champagne. People get this wrong. They think that somehow you're using a sword or a knife to remove the cork. This is not true. You're actually shattering the neck of the bottle in a very accurate way.

SHAPIRO: In a way that won't end up with people drinking shards of glass.

ARNOLD: Exactly. I've done high-speed photography of it and the glass shards always travel away from the beverage.

SHAPIRO: All right. Show us how it's done.

ARNOLD: All right. Now, there are a couple of things. Now, you want to make sure that your champagne isn't too agitated and that it's cold.

SHAPIRO: OK. And, first, nobody should be standing in the path of the sword.

ARNOLD: Absolutely not.

SHAPIRO: Nobody should be standing in the path of the flying cork.

ARNOLD: Absolutely not.

SHAPIRO: And do you recommend doing this outside generally?

ARNOLD: That depends on your house. I mean, I have broken a window in my bathroom. I recommend...

SHAPIRO: OK, so do it outside.

ARNOLD: Or, you know, in a place that you're not worried, you know?

SHAPIRO: So you're going to start at the fattest part of the bottle


SHAPIRO: And really quickly run it up the neck to collide with that little ring right under the cork.

ARNOLD: Sure. Five, four, three, two, one.


SHAPIRO: L'chaim.

ARNOLD: You want some champagne?

SHAPIRO: I'd be delighted. Happy holidays.

Dave Arnold runs the bar Booker and Dax in Manhattan. His new book is "Liquid Intelligence: The Art And Science Of The Perfect Cocktail." I'm going to tweet out a photo of my inaugural attempt at sabering. You can find it on Twitter at @arishapiro. The show is also on Facebook and Twitter at @npratc.

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