|Now this is methyl alcohol, or methanol [shows a ball-and-stick model]. Allright. One sip of this and you go blind or drop dead, depending.||
|Here, we have isopropyl, or rubbing alcohol, which is used as a drying agent and as a disinfectant used to torture children who have suffered a scrape or cut.||
|Here we have ethyl alcohol or ethanol. Toxic, too, but not as toxic as most of the others and relatively easy for the human machine to metabolize. Ethanol is a byproduct of fermentation. And by that we mean, of course, the consumption of sugars by yeast. Little unicellular critters that at this very moment are floating everywhere around us.||
YEAST PUPPETS: [pop into view just as AB turns around]
|If you're a fan of this program, you have certainly witnessed their rapacious routine time and time again. [AB turns around with a View Master on his eyes and didn't see the YP] They consume sugar, and give off gas, carbon dioxide, and ethanol, a trait that evolved specifically as a chemical weapon, to kill off other microbial marauders who might want their chow. As I said, it's toxic stuff, even to the yeast that create them.||
[the View Master cycles through some pictures from Pretzel Logic]
The toxic effects of ethanol work on humans too, by infiltrating cell membranes, and reeking mild to severe havoc with their normal functions.
ITCHY & TWITCHY: [the camera pulls back to show them drinking and clearly inebriated]
This havoc, of course, is manifested by a serious downgrade of social graces, table manners, and the ability to operate heavy machinery.
AB: [to I & T] Terrible.
Now if the yeast are allowed to consume the sugars in grapes or fruit juice, the
resulting liquid is usually called wine. If, on the other hand, grains provide the caloric intake, then the fermented
liquid would be called beer. [camera pans to a Agave plant] Yes, other plant matter can be used for
fermentation. But this particular one, I'm happy to say will have to wait for
its own show.
Now what's important about this discussion is that both wines and beers can be distilled to create higher alcohol beverages such as brandy, vodka, scotch, and the like. Now what exactly is "distilling?" Well it has to do with our old friend ethanol, which is a very volatile little critter. Meaning that he evaporates at a relatively low temperature, 78 degrees Celsius, in fact. It's about 176 Fahrenheit.
AB: [to the molecule floating above his head that floats off] Bye, bye.
And that means that we can isolate it. But of course, we have to have a still.
|[at the stovetop, where AB has a distillation apparatus] Check it out. Pretty sweet, huh? I made it myself. Of course I should probably point out that home distilling of spirits is highly illegal in the United States. Because for one thing, it cuts into tax revenues. And the second thing, it's extremely dangerous, okay? So do not try this at home. This is strictly educational, okay?||
So, some liquid containing ethanol, say wine, goes into the boiler. We then
bring the liquid to 176 degrees Fahrenheit. At that point, the ethanol
evaporates, leaving the water behind. Granted, trace amounts of other
extraordinarily nasty compounds evaporate along with the ethanol, which is why
real moonshiners usually dump the "first run" anyway. Alright, so if you
maintain proper heat, the ethyl alcohol will concentrate here and then move up
and into the condensation tube, where it will change back from a vapor into a
liquid form. Boom, hooch!
Now if you did drink this and did not actually die or go blind, you would earn yourself a hangover that would make you wish you were dead. So typically, this would be distilled again, maybe several times, and then filtered through charcoal to scrub out any impurities. Which is generally the plan with top drawer vodkas, which are, by definition, colorless and odorless.
If however, you were making say, Scotch whisky or bourbon, you would leave some impurities, called congeners, behind so they can mingle with the chemicals in the wooden barrels that you are no doubt going to be aging your beverage in. As for this, well right now it's just paint thinner, and I [helicopter noise outside] ...
REVENUERS: Alton Brown!
AB: What the blazes?
REV: All right Brown, we know you're in there. We know what you're doing.
AB: [opens the kitchen window and looks up, yelling] I'm conducting scientific experiments!
REV: Sure you are. [drops a bucket to the window] Now just put all the good stuff in the bucket and nobody gets hurt, moonshiner.
AB: I am not a moonshiner, and I respectfully decline to surrender my educational aids.
REV: All right. Keep it up, Brown. We'll see about that.
AB: Oh bother!
"Revenuers" were government agents responsible for collecting taxes and ridding the Mountain South of moonshine stills.
AB: [walks into his house at the front door, and looks back] Thanks for the ride, Officer.
Well now that the matter of my bailsman's settled, we can get back to our
Now one of the fascinating, delicious and potentially deadly, or rather damaging attributes of ethanol, is that it is flammable, a fact that has long been capitalized on in a class of dishes referred to fussily as flambés. And I want to say right up front that these dishes have rules. Here they are:
|One, clear your airspace. Meaning there can't be anything flammable up over the pan, like your eyebrows. Number two, make sure that the heat source is turned off before the hooch goes in, okay? We don't want any surprise detonations or anything. Finally, have a tight fitting lid standing by at all times. That's to douse the flames, just in case there's trouble. There won't be. Let's cook.||
1) CLEAR YOUR AIRSPACE
2) NEVER ADD FUEL ON HEAT
3) HAVE A TIGHT FITTING LID STANDING BY
|[at the stovetop] Shrimp and grits are on the menu, so a four-quart saucepan goes onto the burner. Two cups each water and whole milk go in along with one and a half teaspoons of kosher salt. This will be brought to a boil, lidded over high heat. Then, whisk in one cup of grits.||
2 Cups Each Water &
1½ tsp. Kosher Salt
1 Cup Grits
Now down here in the south, grits means white hominy corn. But you could do this
with, of course, yellow cornmeal anywhere else in the country. But then of
course, that would be polenta now, wouldn't it?
Now, drop the heat to low, add the cover, and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, or until creamy.
"Grits are recognized as the official prepared food of the State of Georgia."
Ga code 50-3-78
|Well it took 18 ½ minutes, but the grits look nice and creamy. So the heat goes off, and we melt in four tablespoons of unsalted butter. And you might as well grind on some pepper too, about half a teaspoon. There, nice. Now just stir until the butter is completely incorporated.||
4 Tbs. Unsalted Butter
½ tsp. Freshly Ground Black
Remember corn, even dried corn, is an agricultural product, and every batch is going to be a little different than the one before. So cooking times, inevitably, will vary.
|Now although it's not strictly required, I like cheese in my grits, at least when shrimp is concerned. So, four ounces of the sharp stuff goes in, the lid goes on, and now we turn our attention to the shrimp.||
4 Ounces Sharp Cheddar
|High heat, a 10-inch nonstick pan. When it's been on the heat for about 45 seconds, water will do that [shows Leidenfrost beading of water in a very hot pan], and you'll know that you're ready to bring one pound of shrimp to the party. Shells off, but leave the tails on. You'll need those later. About a heavy pinch of salt and just toss until they are just turning opaque. There.||
1 Pound Tail-On Shrimp,
Peeled & Deveined
Heavy Pinch Kosher Salt
|Now turn the heat off and pour in two ounces of Bourbon whiskey. Ignite. And return the heat to medium.||2 Ounces Bourbon|
Now, let's talk about what's actually going on here, okay? Rest assured, the shrimp themselves are not on fire, okay? And technically speaking, the booze is not on fire either. What is burning, however, are the alcohol fumes, and creating alcohol fumes is a factor, well, of heat, and also of proof.
[the workshop bench has 3 bricks on which rest 3 small round receptacles, the begins by placing small amounts of black powder into each, there is a unitasker standing by]
|The concept of proof as it relates to alcohol comes from the ancient practice of "proofing" an alcohol by mixing it with black powder—gun powder—and then lighting it. Now any liquid that is at least 40 percent A.B.V.—that's Alcohol By Volume—will indeed light. But you can learn a lot about that liquid by how it burns, the color of the flame, the length of the burn, and whatnot.||
So here we have a liquid that is 95 percent alcohol. We will put that on sample
number one. [he puts a few drops of the alcohol on the gun powder] The next one is 75.9 percent alcohol by volume. That'll go right
here. And then just for kicks, sample number three will get a measly 16 percent
alcohol by volume. So we know that one is not going to burn. This, however, good
So we will don our safety gear and I guess I should say, don't do this at home. We are professionals.
[he begins lighting each one] So sample number one lights, and first we see the alcohol burn. And the alcohol burns on two—darker blue flame. And number three, well gosh darn it, it doesn't do anything at all, which doesn't surprise.
Now looking at these two [samples one and two], we can tell that this [first one] alcohol is, well, liquor is more alcohol by volume because it is burning higher, brighter, and it's already starting to burn down into the gun powder, which is definitely going to go. There goes the gun powder on sample one. Sure enough. A lot of alcohol in there.
This [second] one's taking it's time. The longer it takes to actually light the gun powder, the lower the alcohol by volume. Now do you actually need to do this at home? Well of course you don't. All you need to know is that alcohol by volume when doubled becomes proof. So a liquor that says that it is "100 proof," is 50 percent alcohol by volume.
[at the stovetop] Now in a flambé situation, I generally reach for an alcohol
that is, 80 proof, okay? That's 40 percent alcohol. Anything higher than that,
it's really difficult and even dangerous to control the flame. Anything lower
won't really flambé nicely.
Now the other factor besides proof is, of course, the level of heat, okay? If the liquid boils too quickly, you get this huge fireball that's over very, very quickly, and that doesn't do anything for the food. What you want to do is just maintain a boil, which is why I've got the heat back on medium, so I can maintain this flame for as long as possible, a minute if I possibly can, in order to do that.
Why bother? Well the flames are very, very hot, and they're actually searing the outside of the food and caramelizing some of the sugars inside of the bourbon. On top of that, I do want to cook out as much of the alcohol as possible, while reducing that bourbon flavor, which goes very nicely with grits and shrimp, thank you.
[at the table] Although this fabulous amalgam was once served strictly as breakfast fare in coastal South Carolina, as far as I'm concerned, shrimp and grits is perfect for breakfast brings in some coffee], lunch [removes coffee and brings in iced tea], dinner [removes tea and brings in a beer], or even a midnight snack [removes beer and brings in milk]. All you have to do is trade out the beverage. Hah hah hah.
GUEST: John Woodhouse
[AB descends the stairs to the cellar] Although they both contain ethanol, the
differences between wine and spirits way outweigh the similarities, which is why
wine and beer will have their own show. The exceptions are fortified wines such
as port, sherry, and Madeira.
Now when the yeast fermenting these wines aren't quite done converting sugar from the grapes, the processor kills them off by adding a big dose of distilled spirits, which ups the alcohol level to the point that the yeast cannot survive. Now the resulting beverage is quite strong, usually about 20 percent alcohol, and usually on the sweet side due to the residual sugars. Now I am a fan of most fortified wines. But when it comes to cooking, I do have one particular favorite, which was invented in 1770 by an English wine merchant, name of John Woodhouse, working on a very un-English island of Sicily in a town called Marsala.
JOHN WOODHOUSE: [when AB rolls the map up, Woodhouse is behind him pouring wine into a barrell]
Woodhouse discovered that by spiking a wine made with the local Grillo grapes with distilled grape spirits, he could create a strong yet sweet tipple, that could survive long trips at sea down in the steamy holds of ships where most wine would go bad. Ethanol, after all, is a powerful preservative.
|JW: [places a sticker on the barrel]||
Property of Keith Richards
Fortified wines by country:
Sherry - Spain
Madiera - Portugal
|Marsala comes in three colors: oro - gold, ambra - amber, and rubino - ruby. And at three levels of sweetness: secco - which is dry, semisecco, and sweet. A lot like champagne.||
Now due to its balanced flavor, golden glow, complex aroma, balanced acid, and alcohol, the sweet Ambra, or amber Marsala, is especially well suited to desserts, including my favorite on-the-fly dessert of all time, zabaglione. Which is, as far as I'm concerned, reason enough to keep Marsala close at hand.
GUEST: Thomas Jefferson
[at the spice pantry] No one is really sure where the boozy egg foam that Italians call zabaglione, and the French call sabayon, came from. But most food historians point to the Medici court of Florence. Which, of course, is where all Italians point when they don't know something about where their food came from. Kind of the way Americans point to Thomas Jefferson.
THOMAS JEFFERSON: [steps into view]
Who I feel certain, did not invent zabaglione, or
French fries, for that matter.
[at the refrigerator] What we do know is that it's based on ancient egg-thickened drinks called "caudles", which were originally meant to comfort the sick and infirm. It's where we get the word "coddle," as in, "don't coddle that boy." The parts list is deceptively simple. Six egg yolks, half a cup sugar, half a cup of the aforementioned Marsala, and a wee little pinch of kosher salt.
First step, one inch of water goes into a four-quart saucepan. Put that over high heat, bring to a boil.
Now speaking of boiling, we're going to need a double boiler. And typically I would reach for a metal bowl, but a little insulation wouldn't hurt here. So I'm going to go with a very, very large, heatproof glass mixing bowl.
|The sugar goes in. The egg yolks go in. And we need to whisk them. I like to use a power mixer for this. It certainly will make the job a whole lot faster.||
½ Cup Sugar
6 Egg Yolks
|We're going to basically cream that until you reach a ribbon stage, then sprinkle in the salt. See that little pattern [shows trailing of the mixture]? That's perfect.||Pinch Kosher Salt|
|Now the Marsala comes. Very slowly, or it'll splatter all over the place. Once that is fully emulsified in, and looks like a nice, thick salad dressing, you can go to the heat. But you've got to remember to turn that down to low. You want to maintain a bare simmer, and continue to beat that mixture without ceasing until it reaches between 145 and 150 degrees Fahrenheit. That's going to take about 15 minutes. When you hit that temperature, you're going to want to get off the heat as soon as possible.||½ Cup Marsala|
[at the table] Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to present zabaglione. Mounded up
nice and warm in a wine goblet, over some berries, it is perhaps the most
aromatic dessert on earth. Thanks to the ethanol. Which, being highly volatile,
especially at warm temperatures, goes straight up the old smokestack, where
oddly enough, we do most of our serious tasting. It is elegant. It is delicious.
It is fast. It is easy. And therefore qualifies as good eats.
[about to sample the zabaglione] Oh, did you think this was for you? No.
"Sabayon" - French for zabaglione, can be transformed into a savory
sauce by eliminating the sugar and adding herbs.
[at the liquor cabinet] It is perhaps logical that if ethanol is going to have a very low boiling point, it might also have a very low freezing point, and it does. As a matter of fact, 114 below zero centigrade. That's 172.3 Fahrenheit, which is why it can be used like culinary antifreeze. For instance, if you were to stir just one cup of cream into our entire batch of zabaglione, chill in the refrigerator for a couple of hours, and then turn in your favorite ice cream machine, you'd have something like this.
THING: [hands AB a cone with frozen dessert]
Ah, a delicious soft serve cone with a kick.
Why? Because alcohol not only lowers the overall freezing temperature of the mixture, it impedes the growth of big nasty, crunchy ice crystals. Which is why we almost always add a small amount, even just a tablespoon of, say, vodka, to a quart of sorbet or ice cream mix, just to keep it soft. But wait, there's even more magic up ethanol's sleeve. Brrrr.
[at the kitchen table] Remember our oh-so-volatile ethanol molecule? Well if you could catch and closely examine it, you'd see that part of its atomic arrangement bonds very easily with water. One end, however, is different structurally, and binds quite efficiently with fatty acids, like this one we have before us. Now that means that ethanol is a solvent, capable of extracting flavor compounds that H2O alone simply cannot touch. Which is why it's used to make things like vanilla extract. We can also use it to extract the oils from, say, the microscopic glands at the surface of a very popular citrus fruit. Let's conduct an experiment, shall we?
Cherries Jubilee, Steak Diane and Bananas Foster are all classic flambé dishes.
All right, step one in our extraction experiment, remove the zest only from two
pounds—that's eight to ten standard lemons—like these Eurekas.
Now I just want the zest, not the pith, so I'm going to use a micrograter, and
always be sure that you check underneath the grater for some zest. Move that
into a large clean glass jar. And of course you need to repeat with the rest of
the lemons. I won't make you watch that.
Then pour on one full 750 milliliter bottle of vodka, 100 proof. Lid it up, shake it up, and, oh, about those lemons, you should juice those, make lemonade or something.
Zest From 2 Pounds Lemons
750ml 100 Proof Vodka
As for the infusion, that will go into a quiet cool place for seven days. I
happen to have one already ready.
Once that seven days is up, the zest will have given up all of its possible goodness. So it's time to strain it out. And I just go right back into the vodka bottle with a funnel and just a little hand sieve to help out. Just put that right there, and pour on the goodness.
|Once that is done, it will be time to build yourself a syrup. So a small saucepan goes over high heat, and two-thirds of a cup of both water and sugar will be dissolved. There you go. Just whisk until it is thoroughly dissolved. [some sugar is undissolved] That's not quite right. [later] That is. That's exactly what you want to see.||2/3 Cup Each Water & Sugar|
Once that cools, put that into a jar, and then pour your infused vodka on top of
that. There you go.
You can now lid up your junior limoncello and move that into a freezer to age for at least four hours before serving ice, ice, ice cold. I don't like to ever run out of limoncello, and it will keep here for up to a year, if it lasts that long.
Those of you who have spent time around Sorrento, Italy, will no doubt recognize
this as limoncello, the absolute essence of lemon in beverage form. And a fine
testament to the solvent powers of alcohol.
Now the luxurious body of this drink does come in part from sugar, but also keep
in mind that when alcohol and water come together, some of their molecules hook
up forming a more viscous beverage than either could form on their own. Just
thought you should know.
Well I hope that we've inspired you to make a culinary buddy of alcohol, a.k.a. ethanol. When used responsibly, it is capable of unique feats, from flashes in the pan, to aromatic foams, to heavenly extracts, and beyond. Of course, "beyond" will have to wait for another episode of Good Eats. See you next time.
Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger
Last Edited on 12/05/2011