In preparing the list of recipes that would be included in her new book Pantry Cocktails, Katherine Cobbs actually attempted to make a cocktail utilizing Kewpie mayonnaise, the condiment loved by Chef Roy Choi and called “the best mayonnaise in the world” by Momofuku founder Chef David Chang.
“I approached the book as if nothing was off-limits,” Cobbs said. “I put out a call for ideas using Kewpie to the many bartenders who contributed to my previous books, and I got some pretty interesting ideas about ways to incorporate it—but none of them proved very tasty when put to the test, in my opinion.”
The goal of Pantry Cocktails is to help home bartenders use what they have on hand to make delicious drinks. The idea came up last year when everyone was stuck at home with favorite haunts closed due to COVID. Cobbs, who grew up in OKC and now lives in Birmingham, Alabama, was working on a three-book deal with Simon & Schuster that included Cookies & Cocktails and Tequila & Tacos.
“People don’t really tinker with cocktails like they do with food,” Cobbs said. “There’s a level of fear there, based partly on the cost of alcohol and partly on unfamiliarity. The latter can be overcome by playing around like we do with food recipes. It requires trial and error, and we all know what we like based on a lifetime of eating and drinking. We should trust our instincts.”
The beautifully illustrated book contains more than 50 cocktail recipes cooked up by Cobbs, as well as hacks on making “cheater” ingredients for things you don’t have on hand, and some basic food recipes for delicious accompaniments and pairings. It’s a gorgeous guide with helpful tips, and more than anything, it encourages the kind of fun you can only have by concocting your own recipes—and tasting along the way.
As for where to get started—who reads “cookbooks” front to back?—Cobbs recommends doing what you love first.
“I’d say pick a recipe based on what you love from a flavor standpoint, look at the ingredients you have on hand and go from there, or simply use a recipe as a jumping-off point and improvise,” she suggested. “I’m a big believer that a recipe is like a roadmap, and there are multiple ways to get to where you want to be.”
The “nothing off limits” approach to the book means you’ll find some surprises along the way, including dijon mustard. Yes, dijon mustard. In a cocktail.
“I first tasted mustard in a mezcal cocktail while researching my previous book, Tequila & Tacos, and it was surprisingly delicious,” Cobbs said, “so I asked my bartender pals about this unlikely ingredient. While hardly common- place, it has been showing up in cocktails lately. So I knew I wanted to play around with it in this book to see how its flavor and texture could complement other cocktail ingredients.”
The genius of the book lies in Cobbs’ approach to using common items to mimic ingredients you’d find in good bars everywhere. No créme de cassis around? A bar spoon of jam will impart the same flavor component. No créme de violette? A handful of blueberries will add color with minimal berry flavor. Also helpful are the brief recipes up front for syr- ups, cordials, oleo-saccharum and grenadine. Don’t worry about not knowing terminology; Cobbs is a phenomenal communicator, and never assumes the knowledge level of her audience. Everything is explained, and the organization allows more experienced bartenders to just skip to the recipe.