Yes, yes, New Orleans is an overflowing gumbo, an amalgam of varied ingredients that somehow blend together in equal parts splendid and unexpected. It’s a hoary cliché. But now that the city is nearing the end of its tricentennial, perhaps a new metaphor is in order.
How about: New Orleans is a bowl of punch. Assuming you’re on board with this, the first stop should be with Abigail Gullo, head bartender at Compère Lapin, the much-lauded restaurant with one foot in New Orleans and the other in the West Indies (chef and co-owner Nina Compton is a St. Lucia native).
In compounding a punch, Gullo chose to celebrate the abundance of citrus along the Gulf, starting with a favorite, the satsuma, a cousin of the tangerine. (If you can’t get satsuma juice, use tangerine juice.) Satsumas have a reach-for-the-sky flavor and a sly tart-sweetness, with peels that practically fall off. Note: Don’t throw away that peel. “I always start with an oleo-saccharum when making a punch,” Gullo says. In this case, she takes the satsuma peel, including the white interior pith, which adds a bit of pleasing bitterness. She mixes this with rye—a staple of any historic American port city—and Hiver Amer, Italian-style bitters from Bittermens (formerly based in New Orleans) that are heavy on the cinnamon, suggesting the bounty of the islands. “And I like using strong tea in my punches,” Gullo says. “It adds a dry note and cuts some of the sweetness.” For her satsuma punch, she suggests using Assam tea—“grown at or below sea level, like New Orleans itself”—to lengthen and balance the drink. And then a dash of absinthe, which has long been a popular tipple here. “It’s very New Orleans,” Gullo says.
The result? A cheerful, celebratory, and ruddy-red punch that’s both bright and refreshing, with rosewater and nutmeg notes to keep it grounded in time and place. Just add friends.