A Twist of Peel

Photo courtesy of Darwin Bell, some rights reserved.

A number of the recipes included on this site so far, and, I’ll wager, a good few more still to come, have called for a twist of peel.  Be it orange or lemon, this is a vital ingredient in the vast majority of the drinks I make.  As well as adding an extra visual ingredient, to help prepare the first-time drinker with the anticipation of a citrus taste, the twist also provides a chance to add a rare drop of citrus oil and to show off some barmanship skills.

The citrus oil is the main reason for including a twist of peel in a drink.  This should sit on top of the cocktail and provide a welcoming citrus scent to the nose of the imbiber.  This also explains why the twist is important in the creation of a Sazerac, even though the purists say it should be discarded and not left to garnish the drink.

The secret to a good twist of peel is to ensure you start with a fresh, unwaxed fruit.  To obtain your twist:

  1. Using a vegetable peeler or a sharp paring knife, cut slowly towards you making sure not to cut too deeply and include too much pith.  Don’t be misguided by the photo above, you are just aiming for a piece of peel large enough for you to hold and twist – no more.  The size of a ten pence coin is about right.
  2. Once you have your piece of peel, twist it above the finished drink, peel side down, so that the oil is expressed into the drink.
  3. After adding a drop or two, run the peel around the rim of the glass and drop it into the drink.

Once you have mastered this, you can introduce the flame effect.  To do this:

  1. Cut a piece of peel about an inch in diameter.  Make this piece a little thicker so it is easier to hold.
  2. Light a match and hold it an inch or two above the drink.
  3. Hold the peel about an inch above the flame, and move it back and forth for a few seconds to warm and soften it.
  4. Twist and squeeze the peel, coloured side outwards and downwards, over the drink.
  5. As the oil passes through the flame, it will flare and then imbue the drink with a caramelised citrus flavour.  With practice you can do this with a swift click of your fingers for added effect.
  6. Finally, run the peel around the rim of the glass and drop it into the drink (or discard if you have a Sazerac in front of you).

Don’t burn your fingers!