Summer foods: Horchata

A few weekends ago, after seven years living in Houston, for the first time I finally had a truly Southern dish:  chicken and waffles.  We got up early because there is often a line and had breakfast at a famous Houston breakfast joint, the Breakfast Klub.  I was shocked by how awesome it was!  I’m not a fan of fried chicken, particularly wings, but these were tasty.  Spiced perfectly and somehow they stayed hot for our whole breakfast.  This was truly masterful frying in action.

Horchata
Finished horchata

It wasn’t really ideal summer food, but other project for the weekend was:  homemade horchata.

If you’re not familiar with it, horchata is a sweet rice/nut milk sort of drink that is a part of many cuisines, but in Houston it typically is associated with Mexico.  I had never had it until recently when a friend gave me a taste of an alcoholic version and then I wanted to try the real thing.

It has a milky texture, is very sweet, and is spiced, usually with cinnamon.  It’s super delicious and perfect for hot summer weather.  Once I had real horchata for the first time I immediately thought — I wonder how this is made?

Fortunately for me, the internet exists to find out!

Skinning almonds
Skinning almonds

If you look for horchata recipes online you will find approximately fifty billion and none are the same.  Which do I possibly choose, I wondered, lost and confused.  Finally I came upon this blog post on NoshOn.it (I am in admiration of their clever url).  They tried four different variations of recipes and then compared the results.  As a big fan of experiment-style cooking, I was sold.

I made their recipe and it was quite good, although it did taste more almond-y.  Basically a really delicious almond milk.

Soaking horchata
Rice and almonds soaking, looking like an alien science lab

The basic process of all this is that you grind up rice and then toss it, almonds, and a cinnamon stick into water and let it sit overnight.  Then you grind that up into a slurry, which you dilute with more water.  You then strain that slurry of the rice/almond bits to leave only a milky liquid.

(One important note here, grinding rice is not easy.  My food processor wasn’t up to it.  I used my blender on a high setting.  I also used short grain rice instead of long grain.  I don’t know if it matters, but it’s what I had.)

Straining horchata
Straining action shot

The straining part took the most trial and error for me.  Initially I tried layers of cheesecloth over a wire strainer, but it got clogged up very quickly and couldn’t hold very much at once.  Clearly it wasn’t working and i had to try something else.

Straining horchata
Hankie to the rescue!

I keep a handkerchief in my kitchen (used for cooking only!) that I normally use when straining dashi (Japanese sea broth).  It allows water to pass through, but is tightly woven enough to keep liquids very clear.  It was hankie time!

Instead of getting too fancy with it, I just held the hankie over a pitcher, poured the slurry in, and voila.  I let much of the liquid drip out and then squeezed the shit out of it to get the rest.

The whole process took a long time and did not net a lot of liquid.  Next time I would likely double the recipe.  Since my experience is more limited, I had a friend who is familiar with horchata taste test it and she said it was spot on.  Victory!

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