Reader, you may not know what kaffir lime leaves are, but, if you’ve ever eaten traditional Indonesian, Malaysian, Burmese, or Thai cuisine—especially red, massaman, and panang curries—you’d likely recognize the leaf’s distinct flavor. It’s one of those flavors that I realized in my adult life I really really loved, but it’s not one I ever thought to employ in cocktails or other libations.
Then came Pok Pok NY, the hot new Thai street food spot a short walk from our apartment where one of the delectable drinks they feature is the Pok Pok Gin + Tonic, “house-infused kaffir lime gin served tall with tonic.” At first taste, I knew I had fallen head-over-heel in love with this drink. Even Katie, who usually isn’t a huge gin fan, loves the drink. The kaffir taste both compliments the bittersweet taste of the tonic and builds off of the piney, juniper berry flavor of the gin to create an altogether new, refreshing, exotic taste.
Infusing may sound like an overly daunting task not worth the time, but it’s actually quite the opposite. Essentially, you put a thing in a bottle of liquor and let it sit for a while; longer for more solid, less porous things, not long at all for less solid, more porous things. We’ve been doing it for a while now—our habenero-infused tequila has been a painfully raucous party mainstay for years now—and have to say, kaffir lime leaf infused gin is definitely one of our favorite liquor infusions.
Again, all you need to do is get a clean, sealable bottle (like the swing-top above), add your washed, whole kaffir lime leaves, and then fill with gin. We recommend using a separate bottle at first so you’re not committing to a giant bottle of infused gin, but if you’re feeling bold, go ahead and just throw them in the original bottle. We do like using clear bottles though so you can monitor the liquor color and watch the leaves—if they’re not fresh enough, there’s a chance that they’l start to brown if kept in for too long and not used. As to how many to use, it all depends on how flavorful you’d like the end product to be, but we use a large handful—probably about 20 leaves—for a 750ml bottle. Then we just let it sit in a cool, dark place for a week or so, until the gin becomes fragrant and tinged with green.
Honestly, the hardest part might be actually tracking down these elusive leaves. If you’re lucky enough to have a Thai specialty store in your town, they’re a great bet—they might have them fresh but, more likely, they’ll be frozen. But, even in Chinatown’s large asian markets, the leaves can be hard to find, if they’re available at all. We get ours at a small Thai specialty store on Mulberry where the leaves are sold in tiny resealable bags from stand-up freezer.
But, whether it’s an easy find for you or not, if you’re fond of the tastes of southeastern asia, fancy green-tinged drinks, and gin, we assure you—it’s well worth the challenge.
And remember, as they say in Thailand, เล่นกับหมา หมาเลียปาก.
Lovely photo taken by Keith De-Lin last week at out Thanksgiving dinner party.