Hella Bitters... Lightning In A Bottle

Growing up in the Caribbean, bitters were a mainstay in my family’s cocktail bar, as well as in our kitchen pantry. For those who may not be familiar, bitters is essentially a flavor extract made be infusing a variety of botanicals, which are steeped in alcohol for 30 days or more. Some recipes which go back as far as the 18th century, can have upwards of 130 botanical ingredients. The result is a product that adds a unique depth and complexity of flavor to cocktail and culinary recipes.

Hella Bitters first showed up on my radar when I saw them featured as part of a campaign for American Express and I immediately became intrigued. Three guys from varied backgrounds, handcrafting this niche product in Brooklyn, NY. I had to know more! I proceeded to stock up some of their products, and quite frankly I’ve been finding reasons to use them ever since. The following are excerpts from my conversation with co-founder Jomaree Pinkard. Read on.

Let’s first start with the name. Who gets credit for Hella Bitters, and what was the onus behind it? What led three guys with such wildly different professional backgrounds, to decide to start making bitters for a living?

Hella Bitters, now Hella Co. grew out of our passion for making things at home. As friends, Tobin, Eddie and I would get together and make cocktails. Making bitters fit into that. We found the mass-produced stuff to be too sweet, and made with lower-quality ingredients that didn’t live up to the spirits we were drinking them with. We didn't love what was out there on the market, so we tried making our own. We were looking for more complex flavor, so we mixed four citrus fruits—orange, lemon, lime, and grapefruit. 

Tobin and Eddie got into making this stuff before the mixology trend really took off in New York, which was around 2009. Bitters, they discovered, were a good hangover remedy, and they shared that citrus recipe with buddies.Still before we thought of ourselves as a company, we did a little Kickstarter in 2011 that allowed us to build an inventory. The goal was $900, and we raised just over $2,000. Once we saw the demand, we started walking our bitters into stores and bars where we had relationships. Tobin had been working front-of-house in the hospitality industry in New York for a long time, so he was friends with restaurant managers who ended up being our first clients.

We were selling to a few restaurants and specialty kitchen supply stores, and there was enough proof to support starting a company. We realized early on that Hella Bitters was about accessibility. Let's make a premium alternative to the basic mass-produced stuff, we thought, but let's also include the novice: the at-home bartender, the casual hobbyist. Let's create a product that really speaks to them. We started with just two flavors—Citrus and Aromatic—the bitters equivalent of salt and pepper in a cook's repertoire. Over time, we evolved into making new flavors because people were asking us to expand our line on social media and in the bars and restaurants that stocked us.

Hella Bitters has come a long way since its’ inception in 2011. Is there a breakthrough moment that you can pinpoint which led to so much early success?

That moment in time was our first Fancy Food show. It was our first large trade event and we had no idea the type and scope of buyers we would soon meet. Shortly after the show, we secured some significant purchase orders and had to ramp-up production by a magnitude. To do that we had to purchase larger vessels for making bitters (550 gal steel tanks) and move into a production space with a larger footprint.

When it comes to your products it all starts first class ingredients. Can you talk a little about the what goes into your bitters and what makes them different than some of the other varieties out there in the market?

The exercise of making tinctures and extracts is ancient. It was during the first cocktail renaissance that small batch bitters were as prominent in pharmacies as they were in cocktails. After prohibition, only a few brands survived to modernity.

Hella is special because we focus on making flavors that are accessible to normal folks who love cocktails and food. It's important to us that our products are approachable and user-friendly. Versatility and user friendliness make them the perfect aromatic ingredient for cocktails and food. That's why we focus so much on core flavors. While people's taste in bitters varies with each unique palette and preference, we believe the best bitters are those made with real ingredients like whole spices and fresh fruit. Our process and ingredients are all natural. No fake stuff. Only real sugar and real alcohol. Our Hella Bitters are a premium alternative to mass-produced and low-grade bitters; our extracts are all natural and perfectly balanced. 

In addition to the bitters, Hella carries cocktail syrups too, which I love by the way. Talk a little about those?

When you order a coke at a restaurant, it usually comes out of a soda gun. The gun is connected to a hose and the hose to a bag. In that bag is a syrup concentrate and in the syrup is a bunch of junk. Our cocktail soda syrups are a premium alternative to regular carbonated tonic water and cola syrups. They are much less sweet – rather dry and bitter – but do not actually contain our bitters. Instead, we use cinchona bark (the organic source of quinine) as a bittering agent. The process for making them is also a maceration but instead of alcohol, we use filtered water and cane sugar brought to temperature. Our 72-hour infusion of bark, fruit peel, and whole spices result in not too sweet and perfectly bitter syrups that make an excellent dry soda or a light and refreshing mixed drink or cocktail.

What can we expect from Hella Bitters in the future?

As things progress and the company grows, we will stay true to our roots and continue to make authentic products that are valuable to a broad audience of cocktail lovers and foodies. Today, we're excited to be working on a premium line of cocktail mixers set to launch this summer. We’ll be launching a premium spicy and regular version of Bloody Mary and Margarita Mix as well as a Moscow Mule ginger lime mix. As with all of our other lines, our goal is to stay true to amazing flavor and real ingredients you can actually pronounce!

Check out Hella Co. at www.hellacompany.com

Hella Bulgogi Beef

I love the spicy, sweet flavors of classic bulgogi beef. For this version I incorporated some Aromatic Hella Bitters to infuse more depth of flavor.

Ingredients

Servings: 4 - 6

  • 1/2 Bosc pear, grated
  • 2 garlic clove, grated
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 4 dashes of Aromatic Hella Bitters
  • 1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon grated peeled ginger
  • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 pound flat iron steak
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
  • Kosher salt
  • Sliced green onions (for garnish)

The How To

Slice meat into very thin strips. Combine pear, garlic, soy sauce, bitters, sherry vinegar, red pepper flakes, ginger, sugar, and sesame oil in a large resealable plastic bag.

Add to marinade, seal bag, and massage everything around until the meat is coated. Let sit at room temp for 45 minutes, or chill overnight. 


Heat 1 tbsp. of canola oil in a large skillet over medium-high until oil is shimmering. Remove half of meat from marinade, season lightly with salt and cook in a single layer without moving until lightly browned, about 1 minute. Toss meat and continue to cook, tossing occasionally, until cooked through and crisp at edges, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Repeat with remaining 1 tbsp. canola oil, remaining meat, and more salt. 


Serve topped with sliced green onions.

Pepper Crusted Rib Eye + Charred Leeks

Thumbing through the latest edition of Food & Wine, I came across this recipe by Alex Guarnaschelli, Iron Chef winner and co-owner of Butter Restaurant in Midtown Manhattan. Her version of the recipe called for skirt steak, but I already had a dry-aged rib eye sitting in my fridge that was begging me to use it so I figured why not. This honestly turned out to be one of my favorite steak preparations I’ve ever done, so high five to chef Alex for sharing. 

INGREDIENTS

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 teaspoons coarsely cracked coriander seeds or 1 1/4 teaspoons ground coriander

2 teaspoons coarsely cracked black peppercorns

2 teaspoons coarsely cracked white peppercorns

3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1 tablespoon packed dark brown sugar

Kosher salt

Fresh ground black pepper

1.5 pound ribeye, thick cut

4 medium leeks (2 1/2 pounds), white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise and cleaned

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

3 tablespoons canola oil

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

THE HOW TO

In a small skillet, melt the butter. Add the coriander, all the peppercorns and the crushed red pepper and cook over moderately low heat for 1 minute. Scrape into a medium bowl and stir in the brown sugar and 1 1/2 tablespoons of salt. Rub the mixture all over the steak and transfer to a baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 3 hours

In a large saucepan of salted boiling water, blanch the leeks until just tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Using tongs, transfer them cut side down to a paper towel–lined baking sheet to drain.

In a small bowl, whisk the mustard with the vinegar.

Preheat oven, low broil. In a large cast-iron skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over high heat until smoking. Add the steak and cook over high heat, turning a few times, until lightly charred on the outside and rare within, 4 to 5 minutes total. Move steak to oven on a lined baking pan, on the low rack for another 5 minutes until medium rare. Transfer to a carving board, spread with the Dijon vinegar and let rest for 10 minutes.

Wipe out the skillet and heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in it. Add the leeks cut side down and cook over high heat until lightly charred on the bottom, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a platter and drizzle with the lemon juice, and lightly season with salt and pepper. Slice the steak against the grain and serve with the leeks.

Guinness Braised Short Ribs + Mashed Spuds + Irish Brown Butter Gravy

The perfect St. Patrick's Day spread!

The perfect St. Patrick's Day spread!

What sums up a good Irish meal? In my mind it’s meat and potatoes, accompanied by an ice cold pint, plain and simple. In honor of St. Patrick Day I whipped up this dish, which I think even the most hardcore Irishman would approve of. 

INGREDIENTS

2 tbsp canola oil

6 boneless short ribs

Kosher salt

Freshly ground pepper

1 white onion, diced

2 large carrots, chopped

4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

2 clergy stalks, trimmed and chopped

2 leeks, sliced (pale green and white part only)

1 fennel bulb, sliced

1/2 tsp fennel

1/4 tsp cardamom 

4 thyme sprigs

4 sage leaves

2 fresh bay leaves

2 rosemary sprigs

3 cups beef stock

2 bottles of Guinness Stout 

2 lb. potatoes, mixture of Idaho, Russet, and Yukon Gold 

4 tbsp Kerrygold Irish butter

2 tbsp heavy cream

Fresh chives, thinly sliced

THE HOW TO

Short Ribs

In a large stew pot, heat the oil until shimmering. Season the short ribs with salt, pepper, a dash of Worcestershire sauce,  and add half of them to the pot. Cook over medium high heat, turning, until well browned all over, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate and repeat with the remaining ribs.

Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat from the pot. Add onion, carrots, celery, leeks, and fennel bulb, and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened, about 8 minutes. Add the beef stock, beer, garlic, and remaining herbs and spices and bring to a boil. Transfer ribs and pot contents to a pressure cooker and set for 60 minutes on high.

Transfer the ribs to a platter. Strain the sauce (discard vegetables) into a medium saucepan and skim off the fat with a piece of bread (Gordon Ramsay trick), and boil until reduced to 2 cups, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Pour some of the gravy pack onto meat and let rest. Preheat the oven, and set to high broil. When ready to serve, spoon gravy over the ribs and broil the meat so it develops a nice caramelized crust, about 4 minutes on each side. Serve the ribs with the mashed potatoes, drizzle with gravy, and garnish with chives.

Mashed Potatoes

Peel, halve, and boil potatoes till tender. Drain potatoes, add to mixing bowl along with butter and cream, and proceed to mash. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Curried Sweet Potato Soup + Coconut Milk + Crispy Leeks

(serves 2-3)

I started my Whole 30 challenge today, so I’m going to be posting some of my recipes in the hopes that it inspires others to embrace the challenge as well. The recipes adhere to Whole 30 guidelines, and are very simple, and delicious. 

Ingredients

2 lbs sweet potato (washed, peeled, cut into medium sized pieces)

½ white onion (peeled, chopped)

1 leek (only pale green and white part, julienned) 

1 tbsp curry powder

1tsp fresh grated ginger

3 garlic cloves (minced)

1 bag of Bare Bones Pasture-Raised Chicken Broth

½ cup coconut milk (unsweetened)

½ cup of water

Kosher salt

Fresh ground black pepper

The How To

  1. Add all ingredients to a large pot.
  2. Bring to a boil then reduce to low heat, and simmer for 30-45 minutes or until sweet potatoes are fork tender. 
  3. Puree everything until smooth using a blender or an immersion blender.
  4. Season everything to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and serve warm.

Saute the leeks in a little bit of ghee and olive oil over medium meat until golden brown and crispy. 

Christmas Ham / Leek / Shiitake / Chanterelle / Gruyere / Frittata

The best part about the holidays is the leftovers. Here’s a little something I whipped up with what I had languishing in my fridge.  Frittatas can be made in a countless variety of ways, so I grab whatever leftovers you have and get cracking with your own version.

Ingredients

SERVINGS: 6

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

2 medium leeks, whites and pale green parts only, chopped

8 ounces of a mix of Shiitake and chanterelle mushrooms, thinly sliced

1 cup Christmas breakfast ham, chopped

12 large eggs

½ cup heavy whipping cream

¾ cup shredded Gruyere cheese, divided

Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper

The How To

Place a rack in upper third of oven; preheat to 325°. Heat oil and butter in cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add leeks and ham; cook, stirring often, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and ham; cook, stirring often, until mushrooms are softened and all liquid has evaporated, 8-10 minutes. Ham should also be nice and browned by this time as well.

Meanwhile, whisk eggs, whipping cream, in a large bowl; mix in ½ cup cheese. Season with salt and pepper.

Increase the heat to medium-high and add a drizzle of oil to the skillet. Pour in the egg mixture over the contents, shaking the pan to evenly distribute mixture. Cook the frittata, without stirring, until its edges begin to set, about 5 minutes.

Transfer skillet to oven. Bake frittata until golden brown and center is set, about 20 minutes I’d say but keep an eye on it. At this point, crank the oven up to high broil and sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top. Leave in for another 2-5 minutes to melt and brown the cheese.

Chinese Five Spice Spare Ribs

One of my favorite guilty pleasures in this world are the Northern Style spare ribs from P.F. Chang’s. Lately I’ve been in the mood for some, but not enough to drive 30 minutes to pick some up. Well then I got to thinking, why not make my own? I managed to score a wonderfully fragrant Five Spice blend from Hadaya Spice (profile piece coming soon), who is the spice merchant at my local Green Market. From there, I began scouring the web for recipes that I could use as inspiration. I found a great recipe published by Food & Wine for what they called Dark & Stormy Ribs, which I knew would work well once I added my own spin. The result was beyond what I expected, dare I say even better than the original. Don’t take my word for it, try them  for yourself and you be the judge.

Ingredients

1 rack of spare ribs; about 4 to 4 ½ pounds

1 ½ ounces of kosher salt; a little less than ¼ cup

2 teaspoons of freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons crushed red pepper

1 ½ tablespoons Chinese Five Spice

1 tablespoon of granulated sugar

½ cup lightly packed dark brown sugar

2 cups Bundaberg ginger beer

1 cup dark rum

2 ½ of tablespoons soy sauce

¼ cup of green onions; chopped

1 tablespoon of fresh ginger; grated

2 garlic cloves; peeled and thinly sliced

The How To…

First make the spice rub. In a small mixing bowl, add salt, black pepper, crushed red pepper, granulated sugar, and Five Spice. Drizzle rib rack on both sides with olive oil, cover it with a generous amount of the spice mixture, and proceed to rub it into the meat. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. Let ribs marinate for at least 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 300°. In a medium pot over medium heat, add the ginger beer, rum, brown sugar, soy sauce, grated ginger, green onions, and sliced garlic. Bring to a boil then add ribs and braising liquid to a roasting pan. Cover the pan tightly with foil. Braise the ribs in the oven for 2 hours, or until tender; turn the ribs halfway through cooking.

At this point, the ribs should be fork tender. Remove ribs from the pan and set aside. Strain braising liquid and add to a pot over high heat and reduce by half. This will be your sauce for the ribs.

Crank oven up to high broil. Transfer the ribs to a cutting board; cut the rack into smaller portions to make them easier to handle. Finish the ribs in the oven turning them a few times, until lightly charred on all sides, about 3 minutes. Plate up, drizzle the sauce over the ribs, and serve!

Crispy Chicken Thighs + Meyer Lemon + Herbs

I’m a recent convert here to espouse the gloriousness of chicken thighs. Cooked properly, they make an absolutely succulent dish. The meat is flavorful, has great texture, and not to mention that damn skin! Chicken breasts got nothing on these babies. I’ve tinkered with this recipe a few times, and I’ve finally achieved a result that I’m completely stoked about. It’s quite easy to put together, and pairs nicely with a light salad… or maybe a hunk of garlic bread.

Ingredients

2 ½ pounds of organic chicken thighs; de-boned and skin-on (about 6 - 8 thighs)

Olive oil

Canola oil

Kosher salt

2 tbsp. unsalted butter

Fresh ground black pepper

1 Meyer lemon; ½ sliced thin, ½ juiced

5 fresh thyme sprigs

4 fresh sage leaves

2 rosemary sprigs

4 garlic cloves; peeled and smashed

Chicken stock; ½ cup

Dry white wine (Sauvignon Blanc); ¼ cup

The How To…

Preheat oven to 425° F. Drizzle chicken thighs with olive oil and season them amply with salt and pepper. Let stand for 30 minutes.

Move the thighs to a cold cast iron skillet, skin-side down over medium heat. Add about a  tbsp. of canola oil and cook for 14 to 15 minutes, no turning! As the fat renders off, spoon out the excess and discard, leaving only a little to prevent the thighs from sticking to the pan.

When most of the fat has rendered out and the skin is crispy and brown, flip the thighs. Cook on the meat side for a few minutes until a nice caramelized color develops, then move chicken to a baking pan.

Rinse out skillet and return to the heat. Once pan is reheated, add stock, wine, butter, herbs, lemon juice, and garlic. Mix and bring to a boil. Add chicken (skin side up), and lemon slices back to the skillet, and move to the oven.

Cook in the oven for about 10 - 15 minutes. Baste thighs with the pan mixture a couple times. Increase oven temperature to high broil, and cook for about 5 - 7 minutes more. Monitor the thighs closely, to make sure the skin doesn’t burn. Once the right color is achieved and the skin is adequately crispy, remove from the oven and serve immediately.

Pulled Chicken Salad

I love chicken salad! Whether it’s on a bed of greens, in between two slices of bread, or completely by itself it makes no difference to me. I decided to make a batch with this recipe I’ve been tinkering with and it came out plush. And for all you health conscious folks, I swapped out mayonnaise with Veganaise and it didn’t compromise on flavor one bit.

Ingredients

2 pounds of chicken breast; skin on, bones intact, fat trimmed

1 pound of whole chicken wings; tips removed

2 celery stalks; one chopped, one medium diced

3 scallions; thinly sliced

1 knob of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced

2 fresh rosemary sprigs

4 fresh sage leaves

2 sprigs fresh thyme

2 bay leaves

1 small white onion; halved and sliced

2 carrots; peeled and halved

½ cup of Shiitake mushrooms; cleaned, roots removed, sliced

1 ½ tsp. fresh dill

1 cup Veganaise

2 tsp. fresh lemon juice

1 tsp. Dijon mustard

4 cups of chicken stock

1 tsp. kosher salt

Fresh ground black pepper

Fresh Hungarian paprika

The How To…

First step is to make the wet mixture. In a small bowl, whisk together the Veganaise, lemon juice, mustard, salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Add stock, chicken, rosemary, thyme, mushrooms, sage, carrots, ginger, chopped celery stalk, onion, and bay leaves to a medium pot. Cover pot, and bring to a boil. Once at a boil, reduce to low heat. Let the chicken poach for 20 minutes or so. Once cooked through, remove pot from heat, uncover, and let the chicken cool in poaching liquid for another half an hour.

Move the chicken to a cutting board and save the liquid. Don’t you dare throw it away! It will give you a reason to make a nice soup with the “leveled-up” stock you just made. Strain the liquid and store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or freeze for later use. Remove any fat from the surface of the broth before using.

Once the chicken has cooled enough to be handled, remove and discard the bones and skin, and shred the chicken.

Add Veganaise mixture, along with diced celery, scallions, and dill to the chicken and mix gently. I add a little of the Veganaise at a time to make sure I don’t overdo it. Add salt, and pepper to taste. Finish with Hungarian paprika.

Turkey Banh Mi Nachos

Looking for a great starter the next time you have company over, look no further. My friends’ wife Claudia (@thebeautifulbeastkitchen) whipped these up at one of our recent get-togethers and it was a smash. It takes the traditional concept of nachos, and completely flips it on it’s head. This version has much more bold, complex flavors. I took a stab at making it, and I must say I was pleasantly surprised by my attempt. I’ve included the recipe, and I urge you to try it for yourself. You won’t be disappointed. 

Ingredients

2 red onions (thinly sliced)

1 cup shredded carrots

½ cup apple cider vinegar

Kosher salt

Granulated sugar

1 lb. ground turkey

4 garlic cloves (finely chopped)

1 knob of ginger (finely chopped)

Sesame oil

Fish sauce

Oyster sauce

Soy sauce

Chinese five spice

Sriracha mayo

1 lemon

1 bag tortilla chips

1 bag Mexican cheese mix (sharp cheddar & Monterey Jack)

Cotija cheese

Cilantro (coarsely chopped)

2 sprigs of mint (thinly chopped)

¼ cup green onion (thinly sliced)

1 jalapeno pepper (thinly sliced, seeds removed)

The How To…

Pickled Onion & Carrot Mixture

Add onions, carrots, apple cider vinegar, 1 tbsp of salt, and ¼ cup of sugar to a pot over medium heat. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and let simmer until sugar is dissolved and the mixture is cooked down, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.


Ground Turkey Mixture

Add ground turkey, garlic, and ginger to a medium sauté pan with a drizzle of sesame oil. As the meat begins to cook add a dash of each; fish sauce, oyster sauce, soy sauce, and Chinese five spice. Adjust seasonings to suit your taste. Once cooked, removed from heat and set aside.


Sriracha Mayo

Mix ½ cup of mayo, 3 tbsp of Sriracha, and a little bit of lemon juice.


Preheat oven to 350. Spread the tortilla chips evenly over a baking pan, and sprinkle  Mexican cheese and meat mixture. Bake for 5 minutes and up the oven to broil for another 3 minutes give or take, until cheese melts and starts to brown slightly.  


Remove chips from the oven and top with cilantro, mint, green onion, jalapeño, Sriracha mayo, and cotija cheese. Serve it up!