Halloween – Give Your Friends the Evil Eye
There’s a time and a place for a serious drink. That time and place isn’t Halloween — this is the time of year for a bit of fun, especially if you’re throwing a party. In the past, we’ve turned a piña colada into slime, and this year we thought the perennial jelly shot could use a ghoulish makeover — as eyeballs.
Google “gelatin eyeballs” or “eyeball jelly shots” and you’ll find enough recipes to start a blog dedicated to the subject. For us, 99% didn’t cut it. Be they too fake, too cutesy, or just not particularly delicious sounding. Only one — from Mega Yummo! — sounded promising. Mega Yummo’s recipe used agar, one of our favorite gelatin agents (found online or in Asian markets), and built the eyeballs in a relatively realistic manner. Agar, if you’re not familiar, is a seaweed-based gelatin and is flexible enough to produce textures from semi-solid puree to very firm. It’s also dead simple to use and, once activated through hydration and heat, sets quickly at room temperature. Above all else, once set, it’s extremely stable up to high temperatures — meaning you can produce jelies which can be handled and will last days without weeping.
The first part of our goal was to produce something which physically resembled an actual eye. The size, color, texture all had to be as close as possible as a home kitchen could easily whip up. Key to achieving this was the right mold, which we found in the Kotobuki small ice mold, as recommended by Japan Style, the site Mega Yummo cites as its influence. Not only is the Kotobuki spot-on, size-wise, it’s a cheap tool which works flawlessly. We then made a couple of tweaks to the original process — namely, forming the irises and pupils into a single piece prior to adding to the mold (this produces a “deeper” looking effect and eliminates potential air pockets between the iris and pupil, which can give the eyes a glaucoma effect) and eliminating the raspberry placed inside to simulate the “meat” of the eyeball. We really like the idea of the raspberry (or a brandied cherry) inside the eye — it adds great visual and textural elements — but we consistently had issues with the insides leaking red into the irises within hours and discoloring them. It’s not a deal-breaker — we suggest you try it — but it negated an eye which could be made hours or a day early. The raspberry also presented flavor issues, throwing off the balance of the “drink” aspect of the eyes.
The second important quality, as you might expect, was the taste of the eyes. Whenever we do “solid” cocktails, we typically turn to tropical flavors. It was no different here. After playing around with a few variations, we settled on a simple rum-coconut-pineapple concoction. Part of this was visual, producing a color and glassiness similar to a real eye (ours are more brownish-yellow, so feel free to experiment). Another part was taste-testing with friends. Most people responded to versions which were slightly “confection-like” — prompting us to use coconut and pineapple syrups in place of straight milk and juice, respectively, — and in which they could taste the booze. Agar sets at a high temperature, and if the rum is added prior to cooking the gelatin, it burns off. Instead, we cook all of the “eyeball” ingredients with the agar an add the rum right at the end. This produces the right balance of cocktail flavors and a distinct moreish quality.
Flexibility is front and center with this recipe, so feel free to tweak as you desire. We added aromatic bitters to our “pupils”, which didn’t produce enough distinctness to call out in the recipe, but it’s the kind of thing you can try. Instead of pineapple juice, try apple or another. The eyeball base mixture and inside are open to endless interpretation — make zombie or snake eyes. Above all else, gross out your friends and remember than Halloween can be fun even for us adults.
Note that the images in the recipe below are from various batches, so colors may change from picture to picture.[ultimate-recipe id=”8267″ template=”default”]
Here’s the original Japan Style video to help you along: