Spent Botanicals from Distilleries Find Their Way Into Dishes
For every batch of gin they produce, distilleries are left with 30 to 40 pounds of byproduct comprising juniper, orris root, lemon, coriander and other assorted ingredients—a highly alcoholic combination that looks like wet tea and is considered garbage. Peter Smith, chef-owner of PS 7’s in Washington, D.C., had a better idea. “I saw all these spent botanicals with their next step likely being the trash, compost or feed, and I felt they had something more to offer,” Smith says. “Maybe not the production of a spirit, but there had to be something I could use them for.”
Smith, who’s made a name for himself in the D.C. area for his unexpected dishes like his chicken and waffles—chicken liver mousse with black pepper waffles and plum jam—and chocolate potato cake with sour cream ganache, approached two gin distilleries, Blue Coat in Philadelphia and Catoctin Creek in West Virginia, and asked for their leftovers. “Both distilleries were intrigued by the idea, and a little bit like, ‘if you want it, okay,’” Smith says. “The wet botanicals are incredibly alcoholic and we use them in this state for curing and for making a gin oil. We let it stand… at room temperature and the alcohol just evaporates away. It’s a long steeping process where we use a ratio of two parts oil to one part botanical and let it stand for a month. Then we decant the oil and use it to cook with.”
Smith is currently using the gin oil to poach halibut, and the dish—gin oil-poached halibut with tonic foam and cucumbers—is a smart play on a gin and tonic. “The gin adds an interesting little punch of flavor which literally melts in your mouth,” Smith says. He also makes a gin rub, comprising “ground gin botanicals, salt and some secrets,” which he uses to cure pork belly and for his “ginola,” a play on beef bresaola. “Amazingly, enough of the flavor of the gin comes through in a pretty big but mellow way,” Smith says.
While he toys with the combinations of spent botanicals from both distilleries—“Catoctin Creek are more juniper, coriander and cinnamon where Blue Coat is more citrus-forward”—Smith continues to think of ways to work his mash. “I’ve been playing around with the idea to make a gin botanical tea to steam fish, and to use the botanicals to smoke meats and cure fish,” Smith says. “The applications are only limited to the imagination.”