I don’t cook. The extent of my culinary prowess is a double-decker quesadilla made with a Target-bought comal. But I do make cocktails. When I took on the job of writing about beer, wine and spirits at the end of last year, I wanted to attempt just about everything, from making simple syrup to twisting orange peels into (rather dubious-looking) garnishes.
There was one ingredient I’ve shied away from, however, maybe because it blurs the line between cooking and making cocktails more than any other ingredient. And how you incorporate it into the flips, sours and fizzes that it helps define is baffling.
I’m talking about eggs.
Once you figure out whether you want the egg white or the yolk, how do you get them separated? And at which stage of the cocktail-making process do you add one in? What’s the purpose of the egg, anyway?
Freedmen’s Bar and Smokehouse in the University of Texas area makes sure to have at least one cocktail with egg whites on every seasonal menu. Plus, the rustic-yet-refined barbecue spot doesn’t substitute egg whites for sour mix, a common practice nowadays when making, say, a whiskey sour. So Freedmen’s bar manager Harrison Arth seemed like a pretty good source to help me get over my fear.
He nodded right away when I said I was hesitant about using eggs — but he thought my uneasiness was for a different reason. “The idea of drinking raw egg always makes people a little squeamish,” he said. “But they’re very safe. There’s little threat of salmonella.” (People with compromised immune systems are particularly at risk of infections, and anytime you consume raw eggs, you are at risk of contracting salmonella. This is true whether you’re eating a runny egg at breakfast or sneaking a bite of unbaked cookie dough.)
Foods like mayonnaise, hollandaise sauce and meringue all ask for uncooked eggs, so why is it that we’ve become so against using them in drinks? Either we find a way to switch them out for another ingredient, like the sour mix in whiskey sours, or we forego that sort of cocktail altogether. Many types of classic sours, fizzes and flips are slowly making a comeback after falling out of fashion, victims of modern health standards urging us to stay away from certain raw foods.
“Egg use has been lost over time, but it’s coming back,” Arth said. “Someone a couple days ago was so tickled when we made them a whiskey sour with egg whites. That was something they hadn’t had in awhile.”
Egg whites were used in the first place, in sours and fizzes, because they add texture, he said, a soft frothy foam atop the cocktail — think cappuccinos or nitro beers. Those have that same creamy head, and their mouthfeel is part of their appeal.
Freedmen’s current seasonal egg white cocktail is the Deviled Advocate, a “deconstructed deviled egg” with Hendrick’s gin, lemon, dill syrup, celery bitters, paprika and, of course, an egg white. The pearly foam teased my lips with minuscule bubbles, and a savory sip went down in one smooth wave.
To get just the right consistency and “not a glob of chunkiness,” Arth offered a few tips to keep in mind when preparing my own drink with egg whites, whether it’s as easy as a whiskey sour or a little more complex like the Deviled Advocate.
- Always add the egg white last when mixing ingredients together, because the alcohol and the acidity of citrus will cook the egg white and give an unwanted texture to the drink.
- To separate the egg white from the yolk, he recommends using an egg strainer, which you can find at most kitchen supply stores. Place the strainer over a cocktail shaker; then, discard the remaining yolk.
- Another must is to dry shake first (without ice). “It’s the same concept as beating the yolk before cooking,” Arth said. Shake again with ice — and keep shaking. That will help get you the frothy head you want and keep the ingredients from separating too much.
- The bigger the ice cubes, the better the froth.
And if the idea of using raw eggs still makes you nervous, you can always substitute them with pasteurized or powdered egg whites. After one taste of the Deviled Advocate, however, you won’t want to — a freshly cracked egg adds something special to the chemistry of the cocktail.
Freedmen’s Whiskey Sour
2 oz. bourbon or rye
.5 oz. lemon juice
.5 oz. simple syrup
1 egg white
Combine all ingredients, egg white last. To separate the egg white from the yolk, place an egg strainer over a cocktail shaker.
Shake and strain over rocks or up.
Garnish with cherry.
This story is part of an occasional series in which people conquer challenges big and small in the kitchen. If you have a food or technique you’ve always wanted to try to make but have always been intimidated to attempt, let us know by emailing Addie Broyles at firstname.lastname@example.org.