Most primary cocktail ingredients just sound delicious. Lime and tonic water? Yes, please. Bitters and simple syrup? Sign me up. Egg whites and... wait... egg whites? In a cocktail?
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If you haven't ever had a cocktail with egg whites in it, you may be a little weirded out by the concept. I don't blame you; I'm not even remotely fazed by raw eggs, and yet it took me a long time to try one in a drink.
But it's worth it. Oh, is it worth it!
The primary purpose of egg whites in cocktails is to add a luscious froth atop your drink, very similar to the milk foam atop your cappuccino. We're all familiar with what happens when you whip egg whites into a meringue, and you're doing virtually the same thing when you add whites to your cocktail. The main protein in egg whites (which is, amusingly, called "ovalbumin") begins to unwind when the white is beaten or shaken. Air gets trapped in the protein, and as it unwinds it turns into soft foam.
When this occurs in your cocktail, it adds a creamy element that rests on the top of your drink. The egg white also makes the cocktail itself a little smoother and richer, since it acts as a binder that helps the ingredients blend, but it's mostly noticeable for the frothy top that takes your cocktail to a whole new level.
And don't worry: the whites impart no flavor into your drink.
If you go to a fancy bar, you may notice lots of egg whites in cocktails. They're a very common ingredient in sours (such as the Whiskey Sour or the Pisco Sour), and fizzes (such as the Gin Fizz or Americano Fizz), but are commonly omitted by bartenders who fear that their customers will be turned off by raw egg. But if you're not bothered by raw eggs, they're easy to use, and the results are well worth it.
Choose an egg white cocktail recipe, and add all of the ingredients to your shaker, but don't add ice! (More on that below.) If you don't have a recipe that calls for egg whites, just use a sour or fizz recipe, and add 3/4 of an ounce of egg white.
Unlike with most cocktails, an egg white cocktail calls for a "dry shake" (a bit of a misnomer), which is simply a shake without the ice. Add all your ingredients and shake vigorously for about a minute; the egg white should form a velvety foam in the shaker when they've been adequately whipped.
Now, proceed like a normal cocktail: add ice to your shaker (for dilution and temperature), and shake again (at this point your arm will probably be pretty tired!)
It's always a good idea to strain cocktails to keep ingredients or ice shards from getting in your glass. But it's especially important with an egg white cocktail; if you don't properly shake your cocktail, parts of the egg white won't whip, and you won't want to imbibe those. Straining the drink helps keep any rogue whites in the shaker.
Some people aren't comfortable eating raw eggs, and I understand; thankfully, sours and fizzes are still delicious without the egg whites. That said, the risk of salmonella is greatly exaggerated, and you can minimize risk by using fresh, responsibly raised eggs that have been stored in the fridge.
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