I sip whiskey for a living. While you might think that makes it easy to decide what to fill my rocks glass with, between the private tastings and public events that make up my daily schedule, I’m often craving something other than a whiskey neat when it’s time to pour a drink for myself. I’ll stare at my home bar’s long, tall wall of booze, mentally breaking down every bottle’s flavor profile before rejecting each as not quite what I want.
No bar is complete without mixers, which can of course help with such dilemmas. But for various reasons, the pandemic made it harder to keep mine reliably stocked. My brain would often get to thinking about cocktails I could make, only for me to discover that I was out of grenadine or the ingredients I’d normally have to whip up a whiskey punch. This forced me to think more creatively about drinks I could make in a pinch, which brought to mind another whiskey punch a friend handed me on Bourbon Street as we were walking to a cocktail seminar a decade ago. Floating on top was a dehydrated orange. As I do with most garnishes, I pulled it out and nibbled on it. “Holy hell, this is amazing,” I blurted out loud. Ever since, I made a point to order cocktails with dehydrated citrus whenever I could — and when the pandemic prevented me from ordering those cocktails, I realized I might be able to make them myself.
When you Google “dehydrating oranges,” you will find a flurry of recipes and techniques. But few have whiskey-drinking in mind; most are for preparing dehydrated oranges as decorations or bland garnishes. The ones I’ve learned to make are for laying down the citrus in whiskey. Any orange you can get your hands on will do, but I like to use plump navel oranges whenever I can because they’re seedless. No matter which orange I choose, I always use my Cosori dehydrator to make them. There are cheaper dehydrators, but I’ve seen how acids tear up plastic over time, and I kept thinking about how microplastics might contaminate my oranges if I didn’t get a dehydrator with stainless-steel racks. The appliance’s very good reviews on Amazon made me even more comfortable investing in one.
Dehydrating an orange is as easy as slicing it up and laying it on one of the Cosori’s included racks. I like to make quarter-inch-thick slices that, after removing any seeds, I sprinkle with cinnamon and nutmeg. At 130 degrees, I let them dry out for around four and a half hours. Veteran dehydrators may scoff at this, as most recipes call for at least six hours of dehydrating. But I’ve found that shaving 90 minutes off results in stiff-yet-flexible slices that have just enough moisture to explode with flavor as I pour whiskey on them over an ice cube. The rich caramel flavors of whiskey perfectly meld with the zest, releasing a glorious array of sweet and citrus smells. And the taste of whatever spirit is poured, be it a $10 bourbon or $100 Scotch, is made better by just one dehydrated orange slice. As the citrus marinates in the drink, its flavor will change with every sip.
You might be thinking it’s extravagant to spend this much on an appliance for a single purpose. But when you drink for a living (or like to entertain a lot), everything you need to stock your bar adds up, so finding ways to make some stuff yourself can save money in the long run. While I bought the Cosori to dehydrate oranges for the cocktails I enjoy at day’s end, it has since become an equally important element in my morning routine: My favorite thing to make after oranges are dehydrated cured egg yolks. (And there are a number of things, including jerky and dog food, I want to try my hand at next.) With toast and coffee, the yolks are just sublime.
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