We’re getting experimental this week and reaching for rice…to put in a Negroni. Is this trend we’re trying the magic touch Negronis have been missing all along? Alex investigates.
At this point, I’ve grown pretty apathetic towards anything that claims to be the secret hack I never knew existed. I’ve tried and failed miserably to extract perfectly peeled garlic cloves with a butter knife and separate yolks with a bottle, but every now and then, something comes along that I’m going to have to try.
Word on the cocktail-making street, and a recent article in Punch, is that rice is the secret ingredient the Negroni has been missing. It’s a risky game; for all its simplicity, the Negroni has been the subject of much experimentation, and after a summer of Sbagliatos, the call to appreciate the Negroni in its perfect, unaltered state is a strong one.
Nevertheless, the curious scientist in me wasn’t going to let this one go. I had a lot of questions starting out: what type of rice? Should it be cooked or raw? Are we going for texture here, or is it more about flavour?
The general consensus seemed to be that a tablespoon or two of uncooked sushi rice was the way to go, stirred in at the same time as the other ingredients and that this contributes to a more rounded mouthfeel, with some of the harshness of the alcohol toned down.
After some rice research, I was sceptical. The two main rice varieties are indica and japonica, with indicas including your long grains like basmati and jasmine, and japonica your short grains, like sushi rice or risotto rice. A key difference between these varieties is the starch composition, made up of different levels of amylose and amylopectin.
Long grain rice you can fluff up, and this is down to high levels of amylose and low levels of amylopectin. Short-grain japonica rice lends itself to more sticky, creamy foods, however, which is due to much higher levels of amylopectin vs amylose. This made me sceptical because amylopectin is insoluble in cold water, so would I end up with a load of sediment?
Making Negronis. For science.
In the name of good research practice, I started out with a ‘control’ Negroni, made from 30ml each of gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth. I gave this a quick stir over ice to dilute, poured into an ice-filled tumbler, and garnished with a twist of orange. Key scientific observations were that it was delicious, and I could have happily stopped there. But the rice was calling.
For the ricey ‘test’ Negroni, I added 30ml of uncooked sushi rice and forgot to stir this into the spirits before adding ice, which made things awkward as the rice had settled at the bottom. A bit of bar spoon perseverance and this was all mixed in. It got the same treatment: ice-filled tumbler and an orange twist.
On appearance, the Negroni with rice was a hazy, ruby-coloured cocktail in comparison to the crystal clear control. Something I’m neither for nor against. It’s all about the flavour for me.
Texture trumps flavour
There was a noticeably thicker texture to the rice Negroni, more so than I was expecting given the time it spent in the mix, and the word ‘silky’ was thrown around once or twice. I realised extra viscosity is not something I’m particularly looking for in a Negroni, which is quite syrupy already. I was quite impressed with how well the starch stayed suspended in the liquid though, with only minimal sediment even after leaving it for a while.
Flavour-wise, I didn’t think rice added much. I’d heard sushi rice in cocktails can help round the flavours, while adding a subtle fragrance, but I wonder if jasmine or basmati rice (higher in aroma compound 2-acetyl-1-pyrroline – the same thing in pandan) would be better suited.
The rice Negroni was maybe a tad more rounded, although I go into rabbit holes on how subjective and vague that term is. After digging a little deeper, I found an article from researchers at Nottingham University1 suggesting that flavour and sweetness perception decreases with increasing viscosity. Maybe with something like a Negroni, which is a pretty in-your-face cocktail, more viscosity from rice starch helps with toning down its harsher elements and makes it more approachable.
The Rice-a-roni? How to make a Sushi Rice Negroni
All in all, it’s a fun one to try. I don’t think I’m going to make it a go-to technique, largely because, for me, there’s something about using rice for a quick wash that doesn’t pay off. I now find myself wondering if I’m the first ever person to make a very small amount of Negroni-washed sushi, but I couldn’t bring myself to bin it. Maybe freezing ice cubes of starchy rice water to use in cocktails when making a full-sized portion of sushi would be a better way to go? Or, even less faff, adding straight-up rice starch.
Future experiments are on the horizon, although for now, I’m in no rush. In the meantime, here’s the recipe for a Sushi Rice Negroni:
30ml Sweet Vermouth
30ml Sushi rice (two tablespoons)
Add the ingredients to a mixing glass and give them a quick stir. Add ice and stir to dilute. Strain into an ice-filled tumbler and garnish with an orange twist.