Cuba is like Bali Hai to me. That special island. I hear it calling, but I just can’t get there. It doesn’t help that I have a few intrepid friends who have gotten there, and they’ve come back with stories of the music, the people, the cigar rooms (with readers! Dios mio, tell me that part again!), and the food. The mystery keeps getting bigger, the pull to go keeps getting stronger. And listening to The Buena Vista Social Club over and over only gets me so far.
It’s not likely my luck is going to change anytime soon, and I’ll suddenly find myself on a flight to Havana. I have to work with what I have here. Which is that I know how to cook up a mean pot of frijoles negros, but until now that’s been about it for my Cuban repertoire. Oh, except I do know what a good mojito tastes like, and it’s every bit as alluring as its storied past.
“The cocktail’s origin can be traced back to the sixteenth-century el Draque,” explains author Ana Sofia Pelaex. “A crude blend of lime, sugar and aguardiente, invented by pirates on expedition with Sir Francis Drake. Eventually, the aguardiente was replaced with smooth, light-bodied rums elaborated in the late 1800s and the Mojito—an African word roughly translated as ‘little spell’—was cast.”
Spellbinding is a fair description. Is it a coincidence that “muddling” is part of the recipe? That ripe scent of mint, a fat squeeze of lime, and the rum-loving pirate in me comes out. I immediately want to pillage all the mint in my garden and keep the pitchers flowing. Hemingway would agree. It was his drink of choice at Havana’s La Boguedito del Medio, although he also had his own version which called for champagne in place of club soda.
I’ll stick with el auténtico. It packs plenty of mojo and plenty of mystery. That special drink.
This recipe comes from the author’s uncle Guillermo Tremols who learned it from Deus, a bartender at Havana’s Miramar Yacht Club.
St. Martin’s Press
- 12 fresh spearmint leaves with stems
- 1 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1½ tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
- 2½ ounces white rum
- 2 to 3 ounces club soda, to top off
- 1 to 2 dashes Angostura bitters (optional)
- Muddle the mint, lime juice, and sugar in an 8-ounce glass until the mint is gently bruised.
- Stir in the rum and add ice. Top off with club soda. Add Angostura bitters, if using, to taste. Garnish with a sprig of mint.