The two main families of vodka, the traditional and the modern, are consumed in two different ways: straight, sometimes with a meal, or mixed in a wide variety of cocktails. The first method is practiced primarily in Central and Northern Europe, where vodka originated, while the second is more common in North America and the rest of the world.
In Central and Northern Europe, vodka is traditionally drunk straight, usually served very cold or even iced. Ideally, the bottle should be kept in the freezer, as is done in Russian restaurants, where it is brought to the table enveloped in a block of ice. Glasses can be kept in the refrigerator to keep the vodka cold longer.
Vodka is the only type of alcohol that is commonly refrigerated. When it is cold, the taste of the alcohol is diminished in the mouth, and the dominant aroma is brought out, especially when the vodka is made of rye.
This practice is not advised for all vodkas, however, especially flavoured ones from Poland or Russia. These are served at room temperature so their aromatic qualities can be appreciated.
Some, like Polish krupnik, are even served warm to bring out the flavours of the spices and honey they contain.
The traditional image, which has become something of a cliché, shows the consumer drinking his shot of vodka in one gulp and even, in the case of the Russians, tossing the empty glass over his shoulder before taking another. This practice is most commonly used on ceremonial occasions, punctuated by the toast “to your health”.
Vodka is often sipped, however, so that its special qualities can be better appreciated. Small, narrow glasses that contain no more than five centilitres are used in both these cases.
In another traditional practice, the drinker bites into a slice of lemon covered with powdered sugar after downing the vodka. In the mouth, and especially on the gums, the sweet-sour combination contrasts with the strength of the alcohol and increases its effects.
This convivial drinking method is usually practised before a meal. Vodka can also be served as an after-dinner drink, especially the highly flavoured ones.
VODKA AND FOOD
Vodka goes extremely well with traditional Russian, Polish, and Scandinavian dishes, not just because the products come from the same region, but also because they harmonize so well. Vodka quickly quenches the thirst after the consumption of the salty, peppery, and highly flavoured traditional cuisines of these countries. The fiery taste of vodka also provides a good counterbalance to the fat of smoked fish or charcuterie. Vodka also aids in the digestion of these often copious and sometimes heavy dishes.
Some foods are even made of the same ingredients that go into vodka; rye bread goes well with Zytnia vodka, for example, or blinis with wheat-based vodka.
Russian zakuski (zakaski in Polish) are made of a variety of traditional dishes that are good accompaniments to vodka. These cold and hot snacks are served before a meal. Their original purpose was to keep guests occupied while the main meal was being prepared in the kitchen, and they were laid out on a special table from which the guests served themselves.
Zakuski are made up primarily of caviar and smoked fish eggs, served on bite-sized pieces of buttered black bread; scooped-out loaves of rye bread filled with sauerkraut and slices of smoked goose; piroski, small pastries with various fillings; marinated or smoked fish (salmon, eel, and sturgeon); meatballs; herring pâté; deviled eggs; salads made with fish, poultry, beets, potatoes, and fine herbs; sweet and sour pickles; and beets, plums, and mushrooms marinated in vinegar. A choice of breads, mostly rye, sometimes flavoured with cumin, onion, or poppy seeds, is served as well.
It might seem shocking to those who are weary of alcoholism that vodka is also drunk along with the main meal in Central or Northern Europe. Obviously, moderation is possible, but it must also be kept in mind that a small glass of vodka (five centilitres) is equal to a normal glass of wine (eighteen centilitres). In addition, the great diversity of the flavours of vodka, from the driest to the sweetest, with added nuances of pepper, lemon, and spices, offers a vast choice of gastronomic combinations.
Caviar and other fish eggs are also perfect accompaniments to vodka; these two summits of Russian gastronomy suit each other to a tee. The best Muscovite vodkas enhance the creaminess of beluga caviar, with its hint of hazelnut flavour, or the sweetness of osetra caviar, with its less fishy flavour. The saltier sevruga is mellowed by a quality vodka.
Smoked or marinated salmon, a Scandinavian delicacy, is the perfect partner of a good Swedish or Polish vodka. Zubrowka is the first choice, but aquavit is another good option.
Herring, the king of the Baltic, goes perfectly with vodkas made on its banks. The culinary traditions of the different Baltic countries have found many ways to treat herring: salted, smoked, marinated in vinegar, fried, in a pâté, etc. Herring is traditionally accompanied by potatoes (in a salad in Poland), which of course is the raw material of many vodkas.
Sweet or sour cream is often served with these fish and offers an especially interesting counterpoint to vodka, softening its bite while bringing out its flavours.
The use of the same raw materials (rye, wheat, or barley) in vodka and bread (or, in Russia, the blini) can make for interesting combinations.
Finally, cabbage, one of the basic foodstuffs of Central Europe, goes very well with vodka, whether it is served raw, in a salad, or marinated as sauerkraut. Its strong flavours correspond to the strength of the vodka.
Vodka can also be used in the preparation of certain dishes. Salmon marinated in Zubrowka, for example, takes on new flavours. Another classic use of vodka, as with other spirits, is in flambéed dishes. flavoured vodkas (especially with pepper, blackcurrant, or lemon) add their specific aromas to sauces. Fried meat, for example, can be de-glazed with a little pepper vodka. Or a small amount of lemon vodka can be added to baked fish. Even those who don’t drink alcohol can enjoy these dishes because the alcohol evaporates entirely during cooking.
flavoured vodkas can also be used to make desserts, especially ice cream or sorbets, or to bring out the flavour of a fruit sauce, especially ones made with red fruits, using a blackcurrant vodka, for example.
TWO TRADITIONAL POLISH VODKA RECIPES
These two recipes for homemade flavoured vodkas are from the hook Savoureuse Pologne (Editions Noir our Blanc) by Vivian Bourdon. They serer as a reminder that to Poland, vodka is a integral clement of everyday life.
HONEY VODKA (KRUPNIK)
Krupnik can be drunk hot and is especially appropriate in winter for its warming qualities. Since it is difficult to filter, it is preferable to macerate the spices separately. It is normally prepared with an alcohol of ninety degrees, then diluted to half that with water, but a forty-five degree alcohol can also be used.
INGREDIENTS: 1 litre (1 quart) of 45% alcohol, 200 Grams (7 ounces) of honey, 1 cinnamon stick, 5 small Jamaican. Red peppers, ½ tsp powdered ginger, 1 mace, 1 vanilla pod.
Cover spices with alcohol and store in an airtight jar. Let steep for two weeks. Shake frequently. When ready, melt the honey over low heat in a large sauce pan. Gradually raise the heat until the honey foams. Maintain the temperature, skimming if necessary, until the honey clarifies. Remove from heat. Pour the alcohol into the hot honey. Mix well while adding the spice mixture. Store in airtight bottles in a cool place. After at least six months of aging, the krupnik will be flavourful and clear. Strain before serving.
Cherry Vodka (Wisniowka) Cherry vodka strongly resembles a liqueur and can he served after dinner, although this practice is becoming rare in Poland. The macerated fresh bulls dilute the alcohol, so it is important to use a ninety degree alcohol. Anything weaker will result in a creamy liquor that is lacking in punch
INGREDIENTS: 1 kilogram (2.2lbs) black cherries, 1 litre (1quart) 90% Alcohol, 600 grams (3 cups) sugar, 7 grams (¼ ounce) mace. Cups) sugar, 7 grams (¼ ounce) mace.
Wash the cherries, but do not pit them. Add the mace, cover with alcohol and seal in an airtight glass container. Let steep for one week, stirring daily. Strain the liquid into another jar, cover, and store in a cool place.
Add the sugar to the cherries in their original container. Seal and place in the sun or in a warm place. Stir every two or three days. After a few weeks, the fruit will have digested the sugar. Strain and pour the syrup into the macerated alcohol. Wash the cherries in 13 centilitres (5 fluid ounces) of boiling water and add this liquid to the vodka to reduce its alcohol content.
Repeat the process. Let the resulting mixture rest for one month, then strain into serving bottles.