Another way to enjoy your favorite vodka: a Nikoli for your party.
I love to host parties of all sizes. Sometimes it’s a small group of 6, and sometimes it feels like I sent out a mailing addressed to “current occupant”! Almost no weekend goes by that I’m not hosting some activity, somewhere.
A couple of weeks ago I hosted a “tasting” – a party where various dishes or types of food or beverage all focused around one theme are shared. This one was focused on caviar (I served four types) and vodka (two types) – two incredible flavors that are a classic pairing. I added a couple of types of smoked fish and, of course, champagne. It had a very Russian feel to it.
A close friend of mine (part of the group around the table) used to manage a vodka bar and shared a very special cocktail that her Russian clients would regularly order. She said that this drink has quite a few different names: Russian Cocaine, Russian Rocket, Nicolaski, but the one she remembered was most asked for, and the name I’ll use from now on is “Nikoli.” It’s really quite ingenious and very delicious.
This is a very simple drink and even if you don’t normally drink vodka – this may win you over! Use only a very smooth vodka. For me, it’s always a potato vodka and one of two labels (I drink both). When I’m out on the town with friends, my vodka of choice is always Chopin. If the restaurant has Luksusowa, a classic Polish vodka, I’ll order that for a change. I keep both in my freezer at home, so I’m ready at a moment’s notice. Both are distilled from potatoes and are very smooth and rich especially when stored in the freezer, so they stay chilled properly.
Just an aside, that’s the big secret to making vodka taste great – keep it cold enough. People have been dropping their bottles of vodka in the snow, letting the bottles stay out in subfreezing weather for a day or so for hundreds of years. We’ve got it a whole lot easier – just put the bottle in the freezer!
Remember that vodka will not freeze (of course, because it’s alcohol), but it will thicken up a little, and the taste will change quite a bit. At “near freezing” temperatures, the proper drinking temperature for good vodka, it releases fewer volatiles, the compound in the alcohol that quickly vaporizes. That’s why when a spirit like vodka is warm, the smell of pure alcohol can be overwhelming.
By sipping a vodka that’s properly chilled (near freezing), a balance is created between the natural volatiles and the taste of the things that you are eating with the vodka. Which brings me back to a “Nikoli.”
You need four things for a Nikoli – aforementioned near-freezing vodka, thinly sliced lemon (I use Meyer lemons – they’re sweeter), a small dish of regular white sugar, and another small dish of freshly ground coffee (the finer the ground, the darker the bean, the better).
- Prep the Meyer lemons by pressing one side of each slice into the little dish of sugar and the other side of the lemon slice into the dish of ground coffee.
- Then pour about one to two ounces of chilled vodka into either shot glasses or aperitif glasses.
- Pick up one lemon slice by the rind and fold it between your fingers (like a taco) with the coffee side inside and the sugar side on the outside.
- Bite the flesh of the lemon clean from the rind, take the shot and then chew the lemon and swallow it all together.
One more little recommendation: chill your glasses. Chill your shot glasses in the freezer with the vodka, but place aperitif glasses in the regular refrigerator. I like to use my antique aperitif glasses, they’re pretty, and they make the table look more festive, but I’d never put them in the freezer – they’re way too delicate.
Try a Nikoli – it’s a great way to get a party started!!