Salt-cured pork = delicious bacon. Salt-cured salmon = beloved lox. Salt-cured fruit? It’s a genius new cocktail ingredient featured at DC’s recently opened Doi Moi. Inspired by chanh muoi (Vietnamese soda made with salted lemons), bartender Adam Bernbach preserves fruits like Key limes and apples to use in interesting sodas and alcoholic drinks. The method extends the life of the produce, and the salt enhances the flavors of cocktails in the same way that it’s essential to cooking. Salt curing also provides what Bernbach refers to as an “underlying funkiness,” in a good way.
Doi Moi features a salt-cured Key lime soda with gin year-round that takes about three months to make—but the process is easy. Bernbach quarters limes, packs them in kosher salt, vacuum packs them in plastic bags (though any Tupperware or sealed jar will work) and leaves them in a cool spot. Months later, he cuts open the bags to reveal limes with skins that have turned a dark green. He then brushes off the excess salt, steeps the citrus pieces in hot water for an hour, adds sugar and star anise and lets that sit for another three hours. After it’s strained and chilled, the Key lime syrup is ready to be brightened with fresh lime juice, diluted with water and carbonated in an iSi siphon.
For the cocktail, Bernbach simply pours the soda and Fords gin over ice. “It has a similarity to the classic gin rickey that’s popular in Washington, DC,” he says. He describes the soda’s flavor as seashore-y. At-home bartenders can re-create the drink without the syrup step by muddling salt-cured limes with sugar before adding ice, sparkling water and gin.
Salting isn’t just for citrus fruits, and the more porous the fruit, the less time it will take to preserve. Bernbach is currently working on apples for fall. “I’ve not found a fruit that salting fails on yet,” he says.