A couple nights ago, I happened across two Trinidadian women (spokespersons for the Angostura Bitters Company) on a cable network news show talking about bitters, more particularly the fact that it had been off the market for a major part of last year. What?! No more bitters? Can that even happen? Apparently, there was an issue on the part of the bottle supplier which led to a shortage in the Angostura's characteristic dark colored bottles. Instead of changing their bottling style, the company preferred to halt production until the issue was resolved. Issue resolved, bitters back on the market.
While Angostura Bitters is popular the world over as the pivotal accent, if you will, of cocktails, there are three things that many people don't know about the product. First, and of which I am most pleased, it is manufactured solely in Trinidad. Second, it has been around for over two hundred years. And third, it is used for more than cocktails.
More than cocktails you say? While it might sound bizarre to many cocktail afficionados, we trinis use the "bottled gold" in conjunction with seasonings for meats (both creole stews and curries), as the finishing touch to soups, in hot chocolate, in lemonade, and it is my all time favorite topping for ice cream. Remember the Windex-wielding father from the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding whose cure for every ailment was a spritz of windex? In the kitchen, trinis can be like that with a bottle of bitters. A dash here, a dash there somehow makes every dish, every drink so much more. No one knows for sure the exact list of ingredients (except five people at the top of the company) but it is a concentrated, alcoholic mixture of gentian root, herbs and spices. As for the measurement per recipe, it's all a matter of judgement and is measured in dashes. In other words, we "guesstimate." One dash per scoop of ice cream, a couple dashes per serving of soup, six to eight in stews, a dash in hot chocolate. So concentrated is the flavor that is takes only one dash to create a distinct difference in taste.
Guinness Punch is a popular Trinidadian drink that features bitters. Traditionally made with Guiness Stout (hence the name,) sweetened condensed milk, and spices, it of course can be made with any brand of stout. My version utilizes evaporated milk and a small amount of honey in place of the condensed milk. And I would recommend chilling the stout and milk before blending as opposed to using ice in the mixture which just dilutes a naturally silky and creamy drink.
Guinness Stout Punch
Makes 20 ounces
1 bottle dark stout (brand of your choice)
1/4 cup evaporated milk
1 tablespoon honey/agave nectar
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
2 to 3 dashes Angostura Aromatic Bitters
Blend all ingredients together. Pour into glasses and finish with one last dash of bitters.