Monday, November 26, 2007

Irrational Crush

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I’m not a gadget guy. I have a severe Luddite streak that makes me skeptical of many consumer goods that have a limited purpose or in some cases seem to be altogether unnecessary. It’s not that I’m anti-technology…there are many modern inventions (contact lenses, air conditioning, computers) that I consider to be indispensable parts of my daily life. What I’m talking about are those items that are designed not to fill a genuine need or solve a problem, but rather exist solely to separate a potential buyer from his or her money for dubious reasons. If you’ve ever flipped through a Brookstone or Sharper Image catalog, you know what I’m talking about.

However, I’m not totally immune to the “Gee whiz!” syndrome, and occasionally find myself yearning for a doodad that 98% of the world doesn’t need, but is considered vital for the other 2%.

Like a manual ice crusher.

When I began investigating how to make decent drinks, I noticed many recipes that called for crushed ice (Fellow tiki drink fans know what I’m talking about). I had readily available cubes, but crushed ice was a bit more elusive. After the usual poking around, I discovered at least 3 options:

1) Blender method: I own a blender that has a “crush ice” setting, and I thought this might be the answer…but it was pretty disappointing. My initial excitement quickly faded when I realized that on this setting the blades practically atomized the ice in the lower third of the blender while leaving the cubes at the top untouched. Bleh. On to option #2.

2) Wrap-in-cloth-and-whack-with-something method: This yielded better results than the blender, but was still far from ideal. I used several different cloths, and several different whackers, but things always turned out the same: The ice was irregularly crushed, and much of it remained stuck to the cloth. Also, the process is loud as hell, and scared the bejeezus out of my cats.

3) Manual ice crusher method: A revelation. If you don't have one, get one as soon as possible.

Here’s the deal. Fancy-schmancy kitchenware stores sell new ones for as much as fifty bucks. My advice is to hit up garage sales, thrift stores, flea markets or online auction sites for old ones. The one I have came courtesy of my father who found it at a flea market for five bucks. It’s at least 30 years old, built like a tank, and will easily fit in your liquor cabinet. And it was one of FIVE he spotted in a single afternoon, so they definitely can be found in the wild.

It’s also a great example of simplicity and elegance in design. Dump ice cubes in the top, turn the hand crank, and collect your crushed ice in the bottom. The whole process takes mere seconds. If you’re finicky about the texture, you can turn the handle one direction for coarse, and the other way for fine. And if you fill it entirely, it makes exactly enough ice to fill a double old-fashioned glass. My Mai Tais are now complete.

Did I mention the utterly gratifying tactile sensation of cranking the handle to grind your ice into a cocktail-ready consistency? This thing makes you EARN your drink, and no one who observes you operating it will doubt your commitment.

So yes, I do own a gadget. And its sole purpose is to make big pieces of ice into smaller pieces of ice. But us two-percenters are okay with that.


Colonel Tiki said...

Here's a great blender ice crushing trick taught to me by Jeff Berry:

All liquid first into blender, followed by ice.

Then, pulse at highest setting for a split second. Wait for the ice to settle, then pulse again, wait again. Do this about 5-6 times and you'll froth and crush the ice without over liquefying it and get a great crush for Donn the Beach drinks like the Cobra's Fang or 3 Dots-and-a-Dash or the QB Cooler. I prefer the manual crusher for Navy Grogs and for better looking drinks, but the the pulsing blender trick is great for laziness and/or parties with long lines at the bar.

erik.ellestad said...

Interesting! I've never had much luck with whacking the bejesus out of the ice in a towel or bag myself. Some people whose opinions I trust also swear by it so I was puzzled it didn't work for me.

I experience exactly the same problems with cats hiding under the bed and sticky ice chunks.

Anyway, yeah, I picked up a modern version of the manual ice crusher which works quite well: Tabletop Ice Crusher

The only problem I have with this ice crusher is that the ice chunks aren't quite fine enough for juleps, frappes, and other drinks that call for shaved ice. I guess I might have to get another gadget or tool for that!

Anonymous said...

Is that what you used for the tiki drinks when GGj was here a few weeks ago? Because that was very nice crushed ice indeed.

Dr. Bamboo said...

Craig- great idea! I'll definitely do this next time.

Erik- let me know if you get something that can make shaved ice. There's always room for one more bar tool, right?

Chasa- yep, that's the one. Only the finest quality crushed ice for my pals ;-)

Anonymous said...

Hey when you find a manual ice shaver, let me know so I can whip up a better mint julep. I used the ice in a towel whack method and this is what I came up with -
ugly isn't it?

Kaiser Penguin said...

Berry tells me the food processor can do shaved ice, though I have not tried it. Next summer will be the summer of ice garnishes!

Chip and Andy said...

I could not live without my ice-crusher. I actually have two, one a bit bigger than the other.

For those of you looking for a manual ice shaver search ebay or garage sales for an Ice Pet. Another thing you will wonder how you ever lived without.

Dr. Bamboo said...

Neato! I haven't yet attempted shaved ice, but we've got a Cuisinart I can fiddle with. Hopefully there won't be any arterial spray.

And the name "Ice Pet" alone is enough to make me want one!

Anonymous said...

I was embarassed by the problem of good crashed ice when I investigate "way of ideal mojito".
but article now only in russian)

The blender give as fine crash with some snow, which dilute cocktail so much and so fast. If I crash ice with mallet, it has irregular size... Only manual icecrusher give a good result.

Your article very usefull for novice, I think.

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