(Swedish herb-infused vodka)
Aquavit, or akvavit, is a Scandinavian spirit that is popular at large celebrations like weddings, Christmas and mid-summer festivals, where it is served ice-cold in small shot glasses.
Aquavit's herbal flavorings lend it particularly well to pairing with food, including as an accompaniment to gravlax, open-faced sandwiches, or with spreads like the famous Swedish smörgåsbord.
Excellent aquavit is made by a number of reputable makers, and some of the best is stored in wooden casks before bottling to develop added flavor and color. Making your own aquavit, however, is extremely simple, and decorative bottles make an excellent and easy DIY gift for the holidays or other occasions.
The most common flavorings for aquavit are caraway and dill, and this recipe adds a sweet touch with fennel seed. But all kinds of both proprietary and family recipes exist. Feel free to experiment with the suggested variations to get just the right flavor to fit your palate.
Makes 1 (750-ml) bottle)
- Caraway seeds -- 1 tablespoon
- Fennel seed -- 1 teaspoon
- Fresh dill -- 1 large sprig
- Good-quality vodka, or other neutral spirit -- 1 (750-ml) bottle
- Heat an ungreased skillet over medium heat on the stovetop. Add the caraway and fennel seeds to the skillet and toast, stirring occasionally, until they start to give off their aroma, 1 or 2 minutes. Remove from heat and pour the seeds into a small bowl to cool.
- Add the dill sprig to a 1-quart glass Mason-style jar, along with the cooled caraway and fennel seeds. Pour the vodka into the jar and seal well. Let the vodka steep in a cool, dark place for 2 to 3 days.
- Strain the aquavit through a coffee filter-lined funnel into a decorative bottle, and seal with a cork or other stopper. Store in the freezer.
- To serve: Pour ice-cold aquavit into small shot glasses, give a toast, and bottoms up. For goodness' sake, don't sip! Throw back the shot all at once.
- Citrus-Scented Aquavit: Add a long piece of orange or lemon rind to the bottom. Remove as much of the bitter white pith as you can.Lemon verbena leaves or a crushed stalk of lemongrass will work nicely too. You can also add 2 teaspoons of sugar to impart a light sweetness to your aquavit.
- Other Spice Possibilities: 1 whole star anise; 1 or 2 cardamom pods; 2 or 3 whole allspice berries; 4 or 5 juniper berries.
- Blush Aquavit: Add 1/2 stalk of rhubarb, chopped into chunks, to the jar. It will impart a subtle flavor and a beautify reddish-pink hue. Or add a slice of red beet for a ruby color and an earthy note.