June 27, 2013
One of the great joys of summer in Paris is to sit in a cafe on one of the grandes avenues, watching beautiful people parading past with their even more beautiful dogs. In the evening you might want a Kir Royale or a glass of vin rose, but in the early afternoon what you want is a citron presse. Served with great ceremony, it arrives on a silver tray: a carafe of water, a small pitcher of fresh lemon juice, another of simple syrup and a bucket of ice. It makes the sweet lemonade you are too often served in America seem extremely dull.
Now that we’ve become a cocktail culture, I keep waiting for the return of great lemonade. With its lovely pale color and fresh, tangy aroma, it's the most refreshing drink on earth. It is also extremely good for you: in addition to containing lots of infection-fighting vitamin C, lemon juice is an antioxident and very effective in times of gastric distress. I can’t think of a better drink on this hot summer day.
- The first important thing to know about lemons is that the best flavor is in the peel, which contains all that wonderful lemon oil. If you're going to take advantage of this, buy organic lemons or scrub your lemons well before using them.
- But here’s the problem: just below the bright yellow zest is the evil pith, the spongey white part of the lemon which is bitter. That’s the part you want to avoid; if you crush it into your lemonade within a few hours you will end up with an unpleasant drink.
- Simple syrup is one of the secrets to great lemonade. It's nothing more than sugar dissolved in water, but it means that the sugar will sweeten the lemon juice rather than fluttering down to the bottom of the glass. If you infuse the lemon zest into the syrup, you get all the complexity of the zest with none of the bitterness of the white.
- You’ll need a lot of lemon juice, so you want to get as much juice out of each lemon as you can. If you’re lucky, you’ll get about a quarter of a cup of juice out of each lemon; if you’re stuck with unfortunate lemons you might need as many as six for a cup of juice. Increase your chances by rolling the lemon around on the counter beneath your palm to break down the cells inside the fruit; it will give you more juice.
- If the lemons seem hard and unforgiving, microwave them for 20 seconds. This will shock them into relaxing, just a little.
- Garnish lemonade with a sprig of mint. It looks lovely – and it adds a very pleasant flavor note.
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
4-6 lemons juice, enough to make a cup of lemon juice
2 cups water
With a sharp knife or a vegetable peeler, remove the zest from the lemons, being careful not to get any of the white pith.
Mix the sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat, throw in the lemon zest and allow to cool.
Juice the lemons until you have a cup of fresh juice.
Strain the sugar syrup; it should be a lovely yellow. Add half to the lemon juice, along with the water, and keep more until it is sweetened to your taste. (I prefer mine quite tart. The strained syrup will keep almost indefinitely in the refrigerator.)
Pour over ice cubes and serve, garnished with a sprig of mint or a slice of lemon.
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