Saturday, March 17, 2012

::chicha night: pisco sours, peruvian surf music, and food::

On Thursday, Andrea and I went to a Somerville Arts Council event hosted by Brother Cleve at Machu Picchu in Union Square. Besides celebrating the food of Peru, Cleve highlighted the Pisco Sour and Peruvian surf music.

In terms of pisco, Cleve acknowledged that there were the Peruvian and Chilean styles; however, he mostly focused on the former. After the Spanish Conquistadors led by Francisco Pizarro arrived in 1532, they began to take over the Incan empire. As the Spanish began to colonize the region, they tried to bring an Iberian-style of agriculture with them including viticulture. While many of the grape varietals they tried had trouble taking root in the desert-like parts of Peru, eventually certain strains had success. Although the wine was not very notable, it was discovered that distillation could make a rather fine product; the first written evidence of this dates back to 1613.

In terms of modern pisco production in Peru, it is all distilled in copper Alembic stills to bottling proof, aged in inert containers like glass or stainless steel and not wood, and bottled without dilution. The spirit gained a lot of popularity in America especially on the West Coast during the mid 19th century. As people flocked to California during the Gold Rush, boats making the trip around South America stopped into port in Lima, Peru, and purchased pisco. Unfortunately, two events in the 1910s led to pisco's decline in popularity here. The first was the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 which made the trip around Cape Horn unnecessary; the other was Prohibition in 1919. Pisco only witnessed a resurgence in this country in the last decade or two.

While Cleve did speak about Duncan Nicol and his famous Pisco Punch as well as a few other drinks, he spent more time on the Pisco Sour. During Prohibition, there was a well-known diaspora of bartending talent to Europe and the Caribbean. However, some went to Peru including Victor Morris who is credited in modifying the classic Whiskey Sour into the first Pisco Sour in the early 1920s.

Cleve showed off his bartending prowess by talking us through making a Pisco Sour. In terms of ingredients, he spoke about the different types of piscos made from single varietals or combinations of the four aromatic and four nonaromatic grape varietals. I spoke about this in my notes on the Pisco Blending Seminar at Tales of the Cocktail last summer. Next, he pointed out that the limes found in Peru are unlike the Persian limes we are used to for our Gin and Tonics. The closest approximation of the proper limes that we can get here are Key Limes. With a hand squeezer, it took four or five of these small limes to provide an ounce of juice. Instead of simple syrup, Cleve recommended gomme syrup that is traditionally used for the gum arabic sap softens the taste of the alcohol on the tongue and makes the drink all too easy to quaff. Cleve recommended Vargas brand's gomme syrup that he finds rather inexpensively at Frío Rico in East Boston (360 Bennington St via the Wood Island T stop).
Pisco Sour
• 3 oz Pisco Quebranta (like Macchu Pisco)
• 1 oz Key Lime Juice
• 1 oz Gomme Syrup (like Vargas brand)
• 1 Egg White
Shake all but the pisco without ice; add the pisco and ice, and shake hard. Strain into a wine or rocks glass. Garnish the top with several drops of Amargo Chuncho Peruvian Bitters (sub Angostura).
Cleve claimed that the three ounce pour of spirit was traditional, and it falls within the 2-4 ounce range used in most recipes I have seen. Note that Cleve added the pisco after the dry shake. Although I could find no evidence of alcohol causing issues with egg white foaming, foaming decreases after the egg white is diluted to 40% of its original volume according to Harold McGee in On Food and Cooking (and mentioned in my notes about eggs). With egg sizes of today, that value means that 3 ounces or less of mix to one egg white often provides the best results. Cleve was not the only one making Pisco Sours that night, for the restaurant staff made us two rounds. What I noticed was that they were adding their sugar syrup to the wine glasses first and pouring from what I assume were blender-prepared pitchers of the pisco, lime juice, egg white, and ice mixtures. With a quick stir of a straw, the drink became fully sweetened. Sugar has both a positive and negative effect on foaming; early, it will delay foaming and reduce the foam's final volume and lightness by interfering with the protein molecules unraveling. Later, sugar works to stabilize foams by keeping air bubbles inside the protein lattice longer.

For further information, Brother Cleve recommended Gregory Dicum's The Pisco Book. Some supplemental information was added here from that book, and I have mentioned a drink recipe, the Firecracker Cocktail, that I found there.

The end of the evening showcased Brother Cleve's DJing skills. While in Peru, he added to his vast record collection by buying indigenous music including Chicha. Chicha, or Peruvian surf music, became popular in the 1960s as pentatonic scales of Andean music was fused with Columbian Cumbia and psychedelic American surf guitars and synthesizers. For samples of the music, check out the Barbès record label or this collection of videos.


Jordan said...

Interesting info about egg white foam. Thanks for posting this.

Dagreb said...

Thank you Fred for turning me on to Chicha. I'm enjoying Los Mirlos as I type this.

Rowen said...

Swell post—not least cuz I’m playing with both Chuncho and pisco at the moment.