Not a huge fan of the mojito, but my wife loves 'em. A good julep is another matter... But mine have a bad tendency to end up with lots of little mint pieces that get stuck in my teeth. So what's the proper way to prepare the mint in these drinks without ending up with a green leafy mess?
It's best to use a wooden pestle, but the back end of a wooden utensil can get the job done. Muddle the lime and sugar in the bottom of the glass first. The goal is to get a good syrup. Put a bit of mint (2 leaves) in last and lightly muddle so as not to break them up into bits. Add your ice to the top of the glass. Add your Rum, and then add your Club Soda then mix by moving your utensil up and down through the ice. Add a couple of mint leaves during this process. The ice will help bruise the mint during the mix. Finally, take about 12 mint leaves in your hands. Clap your hands together to bruise the leaves helping to induce the mint juice/flavor out. (I'll bet that rolling pin method would work well here). Jam the leaves down the ice with your utensil.
The classic mistake when making a Mojito or a Julep is to over muddle the mint. Pounding away at the mint will release so much flavour from it, that you won't taste any of the other ingredients. A perfect Mojito should comprise a balance of flavours. The other main constituents do not have a particularly strong flavour, so its very easy to swamp them with mint and end up with a glass of alcoholic toothpaste. Mojito = Rum, Mint and Lime. Julep's are a little more tolerant, due to the richer flavours of the other ingredients, but the same basic principles still apply.
Don't overdo the amount of mint you add. Leaves from one decent sprig of mint will do. Muddle the mint gently for about ten seconds. You want to bruise the leaves and release a little bit of flavour, but not grind them into a pulp.
Finishing off a Mojito properly is also essential. You only need a splash of soda. Adding more than a shot will just dilute the ingredients and destroy the subtle flavours. Most importantly, don't forget to taste the drink after you've made it, even if its for someone else! This is the best way to learn and improve your mixing and muddling techniques. It is also sometimes possible to rescue an imperfect drink (eg. by adding a touch of extra lime juice if its too sweet) if really necessary.
I haven't had to muddle mint but I found this forum that tells you how. It says to bruise the mint but not to break it up. They recommend using a muddler, a pestle or the end of a rolling pin or the back of a spoon.
This site makes a case for not muddling the mint at all; muddled mint can give "really muddy, dirty flavors," according to their expert, Leo Robitschek of The NoMad and Eleven Madison Park in Manhattan. If you're looking to avoid bits of mint in your teeth, they have two suggestions:
- Make a mint simple syrup by "steeping mint leaves in hot water for about 5 minutes, and then mixing the strained liquid with equal parts of sugar for a simple syrup" or, alternately, cold-steeping mint in simple syrup for a few days
- Make mint burbon in an iSi whipped cream canister using what they call the Dave Arnold method:
We use 35 grams of mint leaves in 1 L bottle of bourbon. Charge the canister twice with nitrous oxide and allow it to sit for 5 minutes. This ensures that the nitrous travels through the canister into the mint leaves. The infusion actually happens when you vent (release the nitrous gas) the canister. The nitrous rushes out into the bourbon, bringing all of the sweet aromatic compounds in the mint, and infusing it into the bourbon. The great thing is that using this technique eliminates any bitter, muddy, or tannic flavors that you may get from muddling or over extracting mint."
Actually the right way to make a mojito is bruising the mint. A lot of bartenders just use a couple of stalks of mint and slap it. Mint (as some other herbs) have microscopic hair, which releases the aromas as soon as they are bruised. Muddling as correctly said will release rather woody flavors (I probably would not call it dirty flavors, but well...). The stirring with sugar - will further draw more aroma out of the leaves (the sugar cristals act like "sandpaper"). It is important to understand, that a Mojito should not be an insanely minty drink, but just supposed to have some fresh (slightly minty) facets. I also would not make a syrup out of mint, as warm water (or long steeping) completely changes the flavor of mint as well - then it would taste like mint tisane (and a mojito shouldn't taste like peppermint tea)!
For a mint julep, mint leaves can be very carefully muddled (as you don't usually take the full sprigs but the leaves, you cannot really slap the mint in your hands). Again - no "mint juice" should be created, just the microscopic hair should be bruised. I also made a contemporary mint julep, by freezing the mint leaves in liquid nitrogen, then infuse them in bourbon - then fine strain everything into crushed ice (which you could also "powder" with LN2). You have got a more intense, but still fresh minty flavor without woodiness (as the enzyme which creates the off-flavor is first "fixed" with the deep temperature, and then deactivated with the high proof alcohol.