By Naren Young
Peas in a cocktail? Believe it, people.
No ingredient is considered too weird or esoteric for today’s bartenders. And compared to squid ink or bacon, the humble sugar snap pea seems downright mainstream.
The first drink I ever tried with snap peas was made by the sure hands of Tom Macy at Brooklyn’s award-winning Clover Club. It was late April a few years ago, the farmers’ markets were awash with peas and fava beans, and Macy’s drink was a revelation. The temperature was creeping up into the 70s, and when his Green Giant—made with old Tom gin, dry vermouth and muddled snap peas and tarragon—was presented to me on a mountain of crushed ice, I was embraced with a wave of perfect spring refreshment.
That drink inspired my own new cocktail, which I’ve called Spring 2014. It will soon be on the launch menu at New York’s Bacchanal, due to open this month. The cocktail combines many spring flavors, including lemon thyme, verjus (the tart non-alcoholic juice of unripe grapes) and of course snap peas, with seasonally appropriate liquors including aquavit, absinthe and, my all-time favorite, dry manzanilla sherry.
Because peas have such a delicate flavor, it’s best to choose spirits similar to dry sherry, things that are light and clean like vodka, gin, genever, pisco, blanco tequila, aquavit or white rum—as well as other light-colored fortified wines.
Sugar snaps are part of a group of pea varieties whose entire pod is edible (a term the French call mangetout, meaning “eat all”), much like the closely related snow peas. Removed from the pod, these peas can be blended to make a versatile puree that’s great when shaken in cocktails like the Green Margarita or the Greenhouse. As with many of my creations, the Greenhouse was inspired by various food pairings I’ve encountered over a 20-year infatuation with culinary cocktails.
I’ll never stop eating—or making—the classic salad of peas, fava beans, fresh mint and ricotta cheese. While that last ingredient won’t make its way into my cocktail shaker anytime soon, you get the idea.
Naren Young is the beverage director at New York’s Empellón Cocina and Empellón Taqueria.
(Illustrations by Ariel Dunitz-Johnson)