There was a time when muddling mint in our mojitos was the zenith of fresh cocktails. Then the farmer's market craze befell us, and our martinis started blushing magenta with the addition of beets, gimlets got an herbaceous boost from celery, and kale started making its way into margaritas. This summer, bartenders are latching on to another green ingredient: sugar snap peas. The sweet, crunchy stir-fry staple—iron-rich and packed with Vitamin C—adds texture and color to the season's leading libations.
Two years ago, Tom Macy had just been named head bartender at the Clover Club, in Brooklyn, when the inspiration for a cocktail called the Green Giant took hold. He had successfully woven carrots and red bell peppers into his drinks before, so when he came across sugar snap peas at the market he took a gamble. "I thought because they had a relatively high water content, like cucumbers, it would be easy to incorporate them into cocktails by muddling. Vegetables aren't as sweet as ripe summer fruits like strawberry, pineapple and watermelon, so more subtle flavors are able to come through. I happened to hit on a perfect pairing with Old Tom gin and tarragon on the first try—which never happened to me before and hasn't since," he recalls.
Since Macy's successful produce experiment, bartenders across the country have embraced the pod-encased vegetable. "I think the growing popularity is kind of like what happened with cucumber several years ago. That burst of evocative, crisp freshness was totally unexpected in a cocktail while still being familiar," he explains. "Similarly, sugar snap peas have a flavor that's new while still being recognizable, kind of how current popular songs often sound like older ones."
For the most part, the versatile sugar snap pea plays nice with others, but the results are best when it's paired with a bright white spirit. Below are seven adaptations currently on menus around the country:
1) At Saxon + Parole in Manhattan, Masa Urushido reimagines a traditional daiquiri by pairing rum and a lemon-thyme cordial with a surge of muddled peas.
2) The ubiquitous mojito finds a new groove at Continental Restaurant and Martini Bar in Philadelphia, where peas get muddled along with those signature mint leaves to elevate an everyday hybrid of Bacardi silver and lime juice.
3) The Aviary, in Chicago, is known for its dramatic cocktail presentations, and the Green Thumb is no exception. This carbonated concoction unites sugar snap peas with rum, gin, green Chartreuse, lime, and a pinch of salt. For a heightened sense of garden aesthetics, Charles Joly, who helms the bar, says that the Collins glass "is set in a bed of tall grass aromatized with the flavors of a backyard barbecue and garnished with pea shoots and tendrils." Gin, redolent with botanicals, mingles beautifully with the sugar snap pea.
4) Ben Chew, at Triumph Bar, in Seattle, created a drink called the Oh, Snap! First he blanches the peas, adds a little water to them and makes a puree before double straining the mixture and melding it with an egg white, honey, and fragrant orange blossom water, served on the rocks.
5) Muddled sugar snap peas, along with the addition of tangy verjus (the pressed juice of unripened grapes), pop against a backdrop of delicate fino sherry, aquavit and absinthe in Naren Young's Summer 2014 at Bacchanal, in Manhattan.
6) Sherry, in particular a more robust amontillado, is a terrific companion to peas in the Sugar Snap at Jose Garces' new restaurant, Volvér, in Philadelphia. It joins forces with a concentrated pea juice extract that adds depth to a blend of vodka, simple syrup, and citrus.
7) Low on the flavor quotient, vodka's blank canvas allows the vegetable to take center stage in chef Michael Citarella's Sweet Pea Suze at the Monarch Room, in Manhattan. His from-scratch pea gelato, combined with the French bitter aperitif, Suze, and demerara syrup seduces you into drinking your vegetables for dessert.