About a year ago we had the distinct pleasure of seeing a staged reading of Philip Kan Gotanda‘s new play, I Dream of Chang and Eng, at the ACT. Just before that we also had the good fortune of serving Philip (and many others) a few rounds of the ever popular Corpse Reviver #2. Feeling effusive, Phillip hatched the idea that we should build a couple of cocktails in honor of I Dream of Chang and Eng. An honor and a worthy challenge.
The play features Chang and Eng, the very famous Siamese twins. They were very interesting characters and, among other things, settled in North Carolina where they married sisters (not twins) and had 21 children between them. But you should see the play to learn more about them.
The creative process started with some obvious givens. First there would be two cocktails, one for each brother. We briefly considered a pousse-café but these are both hard to make for a crowd and, more importantly, usually not very good. The play itself mentions both cognac and absinthe (in a scene of temptation featuring the wife of the French attaché). And of course, being from Siam, a variety of Thai scents and flavors make an appearance, most notably Kaffir Lime. So we started making a list of relevant ingredients, which looked something like this:
Cognac, absinthe, kaffir lime, lemongrass, coconut, bourbon (because they settled in the south), lime, start fruit, ginger, cardamom, chili, Thai basil, tamarind, mango
We turned to a couple of cocktail recipe books and looked for recipes that might give me a base for experimentation. The first came surprisingly quickly. The Sazerac is typically made with Rye whiskey and a whisper of absinthe, but there was a reference to a version that used both brandy and cognac. Simple syrup is the ideal sweetener and has the benefit of being an ideal way to infuse a subtle flavor into the drink. Tamarind was the clear choice to stand up to this strong drink. And for both a dramatic and delicate touch we took the absinthe out of the glass and put it into a foam (from a whipped cream dispenser). And so was born The Chang. This is how it appeared on the evening’s menu:
Based on the Sazerac, a classic New Orleans favorite–but with a twist inspired by the seductive Elizabeth Munroe.
- Tamarind simple syrup
- Absinthe foam with swirled Peychaud’s Bitters
The Eng was a bit more difficult. The Chang was very “spirit forward” and we wanted to create something lighter and refreshing. We were also was intrigued by coconut milk and recalled Scott Beattie’s Thai Boxer and Thai Monkey from his Artisanal Cocktails. Neither of those worked for this event, really, but they provided enough inspiration to play around with the ingredients until we found a winning combination. That was hard work, of course, but it ultimately resulted in a very successful concoction. And so, The Eng:
An unlikely and harmonious combination grounded in the flavors of Thailand. And those of I Dream of Chang and Eng.
- Coconut milk
- Lime juice
- Green chartreuse
- Kaffir Lime and Lemongrass simple syrups
- Star fruit garnish
The play debuted at UC Berkeley last weekend and we hosted a reception where approximately 35 guests sampled the cocktails. The Chang was the clear favorite but it was a chilly night in Northern California and we know we’ll be shaking up the Eng when the weather turns warm.
Of course for you to enjoy these winning cocktails you’ll need the recipes. Those will come soon in subsequent posts.