When asked what they’re cooking for dinner tonight, most folks say something like “just chicken” or “just pasta.” For experienced chefs and mixologists, the word “just” never enters the picture because they always pull off something that tastes distinctly perfect for the time and place. Right now, that means summer flavors are at the forefront of every cocktail, starter, and entrée you taste.
In order to figure out how home cooks and novice bartenders can craft things just as delicious and perfect for the scorching season, we asked chef Carlos Rivas and mixologist Gianluca Cannarsa of Haven Rooftop at Manhattan’s Sanctuary Hotel for some of their best pointers. Good news everyone — it’s easier than you think. With their tips, your creations will showcase summer flavors and wow everyone who manages to snag a taste.
1. Keep things light
For most of us, summer means super hot weather. While you could certainly quench your thirst with a stout, lighter offerings are usually much more satisfying. This often means saving stiff drinks for another time. “You don’t want heavy, liquor-forward drinks,” Cannarsa said. “You want more refreshing things that people can sip when it’s hot.” His choices? Cocktails made with vodka, gin, or tequila.
On the food side of the equation, this usually translates to less meat and less cooking. Rivas said he likes to use a lot of seafood during the summer for this reason. One of the signature dishes on the menu is an appetizer that features a light crab salad crowned with a creamy guacamole. “For summer, it’s very clean,” he explained.
Raw preparations are also a mainstay for showcasing summer flavors. “You want more salad and food that’s refreshing,” Rivas said.
2. Use fresh, seasonal ingredients
There’s a time for all things pumpkin and cranberry, but that time is not now. We’re somewhat spoiled in that it’s possible to find just about every type of produce imaginable every month of the year, but that doesn’t mean we should. Often these fruits and veggies have to travel a long way to reach our plates, and the taste suffers. “In the summer, we have tomatoes, but you can’t get good tomatoes in winter,” Rivera said. Despite pleas from customers to put the Caprese salad on the menu during chillier months, he said the fruits just don’t taste good enough.
Making drinks is no different. When it’s hot outside, Cannarsa said he has a lot of fun experimenting. “There are so many things you can do with mint, basil, and cucumber,” he explained. As for picking the ingredients, it mostly comes down to preference. Though tons of people use watermelon in every possible application, Cannarsa said he often finds the fruit can lead to a watered-down cocktail. But if watermelon is your summer must-have, you should definitely feel free to use it in beverages.
Perhaps one of the best ways to showcase summer’s bounty of fruit is by making a batch of sangria. The mixologists at Haven often have to come up with creative ways to infuse fruit flavor into this classic cocktail because they have to churn out massive amounts, but Cannarsa said people doing it at home can easily make this happen by letting time work its magic. “Usually, you want to let the fruit sit in it for a while: overnight,” he recommended.
3. Go for simplicity
The best tip of all for summer cooking and cocktailing is to keep things simple, even if you’re entertaining. Cannarsa said you can easily make a refreshing drink with just a bit of mint, lime juice, sugar, and your choice of liquor. “Then you top it off with soda and you have a nice, refreshing drink,” he said. “And it’s easy to make for when you don’t want to be shaking and doing complicated things.” Because this drink is so easy, you can pull it off for multiple people. Better yet, teach your pals how to make their own drinks, so you can relax instead of worrying about playing bartender.
For Rivas, summer food means laid-back food. “Even with basic ingredients, you can do something good,” he said. When he cooks at home during the warmer months, Rivas goes minimal. “I’ll cook some steak with a salad; something easy,” he said. Of course, some of this goes back to choosing the right ingredients. A minimal peach dish will clearly taste far better if you get the sweetest, juiciest fruit you can find. If you shop smart, the cooking basically takes care of itself.
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