Hold the Foam: This Is the Chilled Ingredient I’m Adding to Espresso This Summer

This popular iced espresso drink is refreshing and fizzy thanks to the addition of tonic water. It’s easy to make and easily adaptable to a number of different flavorings.

A clear glass filled with a layered drink of espresso on the top and tonic water on the bottom, with a stip of lemon peel in the glass and some ice.
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

I once spent a summer in Norway as a teenager, so I know firsthand the experience of unending daylight. Looking back, I can imagine how those sunlit nights might inspire a person living there full time to drink a lot of coffee. Then again, I could also imagine the interminable darkness of winter driving an equally heavy need to caffeine. Actually, I don't need to imagine it, I can confirm it—Nordic countries consistently dominate lists of worldwide coffee consumption.

When you drink that much coffee, it's inevitable that boredom with the same old cup of Josef, as they'd maybe (probably don't) say in Scandinavian tongues, would lead to innovation. That kind of coffee inventiveness is how espresso tonic came to be. Today the iced drink has worldwide fame and is a popular item on coffee shop menus everywhere, and it all supposedly started in 2007 after a couple of coffee pros from Koppi Roasters in Sweden got to playing with some leftover tonic.

My own relationship with home-pulled espresso started several months ago, after I received a Gaggia Classic espresso machine through work for longterm testing. I was lucky enough to get a one-on-one espresso brewing lesson from none other than Jesse Raub, my former Serious Eats colleague and coffee pro extraordinaire. As much as I love the straight shots of espresso I can now pull whenever I remember to preheat my machine, I too have been seeking more ways to drink them. While steamed milk for cappuccinos and cortados is always a pleasure, when the warm weather sets in, iced drinks beckon, and espresso tonics are one great option for that.

On the surface, an espresso tonic couldn't be simpler—all you're really doing is combining espresso and tonic on ice—but as with simple things, the devil lies in the details. I called up Jesse to get some tips on making a better espresso tonic. "One thing with espresso tonic is that the good versions are almost always slightly churched up," he told me, suggesting I think about it like constructing a cocktail. This could mean, for example, blending the base ingredients into a pleasant ratio and then adding an aromatic ingredient and/or sweetener for balance and interest.

The combination of espresso and tonic on their own is a particularly compelling one. The tonic offers its carbonated fizz, of course, which, when chilled, makes for a very refreshing drink. Tonic is also a very well balanced soda, with a sweetness that isn't cloying matched with a light quinine bitterness. All in all, it integrates beautifully with the bitter edge of coffee.

Still, there are some things to consider for a better espresso tonic. These tips and serving ideas come via Jesse as well as things I've thought up during testing or come across as I've tasted espresso tonic variants at coffee shops whenever I've seen them.

Answers to the Most Pressing Questions About Espresso Tonics

  • What's the best coffee for espresso tonic? "An espresso tonic is probably not going to taste great with a traditional dark roasted espresso blend," says Jesse. "Those are chocolatey and roasty, but for this drink you want a coffee that's more fruit forward and floral. Ethiopian coffees work really well." If in doubt, check the flavor and roasting notes on the coffee bag; they should indicate whether the beans are more in that darkly roasted territory you'd want to avoid or not. A fruity, slightly more acidic coffee will generally pair better with the sweet-bitter notes of tonic.
  • Does the tonic matter? As one of your only two main ingredients, the tonic does indeed matter. I'm a big fan of the Fever Tree brand tonic waters and often drink them in place of sweeter sodas at home, though feel free to use whatever your preferred brand is. Just make sure to chill your tonic before building the drink. If you pour room-temp tonic on ice, it'll just melt more of the ice faster, diluting the drink prematurely.
  • What are the best ratios of tonic to espresso? This is largely a question of personal preference and will also depend on the flavors of the tonic and espresso you're using, though in my testing I've found that I prefer a more generous pour of the tonic water relative to the espresso. My recipe below calls for four times as much tonic to espresso by volume, though this should be considered a rough starting point, not a hard rule.
  • Can I use another kind of coffee instead of espresso? Yes, you can experiment with other strongly brewed coffees, such as cold brew or Aeropress coffee, though ratios may shift depending on what you use.
  • To float or not? One popular way to serve this drink is with the espresso "floated" on top of the tonic, so that there's separation visible through the glass. This has an effect on the experience of tasting the drink as well, since the initial sips will be espresso-heavy and then it will transition to more tonic as you get deeper into it. You can alternatively blend the two so that the drink is more balanced and consistent from beginning to end. There's no right answer here; the float looks cool and may be appealing to some drinkers, whereas the blended version may appeal to others. The photos in this article show it as a float because it looks nice, but I personally lean more towards blending the drink for that consistent balance of flavors. If you do want to make the float, add the tonic to the glass first, then gently pour the shot on top; you can use a spoon to help break the fall of the espresso as it goes into the glass, reducing the degree to which it mixes into the tonic, though I've also noticed that the tonic's carbonation helps prevent mixing all on its own, the bubbles pushing up against the espresso as it enters the glass.

Flavoring Variations for Espresso Tonic

The basic combination of espresso and tonic is really a blank slate, but, as Jesse said to me, "there are ways to make a much more compelling recipe than just espresso and tonic on their own." That doesn't mean the recipe has to be complicated, it's possible you're already sitting on ingredients that would lend themselves to a more spruced-up version of the drink.

One thing you will likely want to add is a touch more sweetness to your glass on top of whatever the tonic itself is delivering. The best way to do this is with a splash of simple syrup—equal parts by volume of sugar dissolved in water. Syrups, though, lend themselves to flavorings. Here are some flavoring ideas to consider, whether in syrup, garnish, or extract form:

  • Oleo-Saccharum: This syrup made by macerating lemon rinds in sugar is often an excellent match for espresso and tonic (just think of all those lemon peels served alongside espresso in Italy).
  • Floral Syrups: You can infuse food-grade flowers like lavender, jasmine, and lilac into simple syrup (see our lavender simple syrup recipe for the basic technique), and then add those floral notes the the drink. You can also take a shortcut by adding a drop or two of orange flower water or rose water to simple syrup.
  • Fruity Syrups: The fruity notes of coffee make a fruit-flavored syrup a good idea. We have recipes for cherry pit syrup, pineapple syrup, and mango syrup to get you started.
  • Maple Syrup: No need to make a syrup from scratch—maple syrup tastes great in this drink. While I haven't tried them, you could also play with other syrups. Would a touch of Lyle's Golden Syrup work? A judicious drop of molasses? Honey? Maybe, I don't know, but it'd be fun to try.
  • Extracts: A dash of good-quality vanilla in extract or paste form or almond extract would all add interest to the drink.
  • Citrus Wedges and Peels: The aromatic oils of citrus peel can add significant aroma and flavor the the drink with little effort. A lemon peel twist is great, though grapefruit is another pitch-perfect flavor for espresso tonic. And of course you could add a wedge for a bit of the juice as well.

Use the above ideas as a jumping off point, then look around your kitchen and see what else might be fun to try.

Fill a large glass with ice. Add tonic water to glass. Brew espresso and pour on top. Sweeten to taste (about 1/2 teaspoon at a time) with syrup and/or add more tonic to taste, if desired. Garnish with lemon peel, if desired. Serve right away.

A two-photo collage showing tonic water being poured on ice in a glass, then espresso being poured on top of that.
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Notes

Tonic water is already sweetened, so whether you want additional sweetness, and how much, is up to you. This drink is highly adaptable, so feel free to play with syrups with different flavor profiles: While simple syrup is neutral, other options like oleo-saccharum (lemon syrup), maple syrup, and more can work great.

Garnishes and flavorings are similarly optional. Lemon peel pairs nicely with this drink, but a couple drops of orange flower water, grapefruit zest, and many other flavorings are possible. Have fun with it!

How to Ripen and Store Bananas

We tested multiple ways to store bananas to both speed and slow ripening. Here, we are sharing our results and explaining the science behind them, along with our recommendations for how to best store bananas.

A series of bananas on a white background showing different stages of ripeness.
Serious Eats / Daniel Gritzer

A bunch of bananas can look, at first, like the ultimate convenience, a graceful cluster of plump arcs nestled together by nature's workshop for efficient transport and storage. And then they all turn yellow then brown and before you know you're planning your next batch of banana bread. The sad fact is, bananas don't care one bit whether they fit into your personal snacking schedule—once you've been tempted by their sugary sweetness and grabbed the bunch their evolutionary purpose of seed dispersal has been achieved. If they all ripen at once, so be it.

I'm of course giving bananas agency they don't have. They don't "care" about anything and, with the cultivars we buy at the store today, there's not a seed inside almost any banana that can grow into a future banana plant. Regardless, we're all constantly dealing with the frustrating experience of having a whole lot of bananas that are all either not ready to eat, very suddenly all ready to eat, and then very quickly too ripe to eat (but still great for baking). No wonder so many people are in search of tips on banana ripening, both how to speed the process up and how to slow it down. Gaining just a little bit of control over the progression from green to yellow to spotted to full-blown brown can mean the difference between being able to eat bananas when and how we want and not.

There is a lot of information out there about banana ripening strategies, but practical testing is always a plus (and not always a given on some websites). So for the past couple weeks I've been buying and storing bananas all sorts of ways in search of the methods that seem most effective for influencing banana ripeness.

I ran my storage tests twice. Each time, I shopped for the bananas from the same store, choosing bunches that were the same brand and from the same origin, and with the same level of ripeness as judged by visual inspection. The first time, I stored my bananas at home for three days before inspecting, and the second time in my office for two and a half days; the office is air-conditioned all the time, and thus is colder than my home by about 5 to 10°F (3-6°C). I inspected all samples visually and tasted them as well.

How Bananas Ripen

Bananas hold the honorable distinction of growing on the world's largest flowering plant—despite appearances, they are not trees. The fruits themselves, which grow in the clusters we all recognize from stores, are a climacteric fruit, which means that once picked they continue to ripen during a maturation phase marked by high levels of respiration and the production of the ripening gas ethylene. As bananas ripen, enzymes in the banana's flesh break down complex starches into sweet sugars, raising sugar levels from close to 2% in the unripe stage to 20% when ripe. At the same time, the pectin that holds cell walls together is weakened, leading to a pleasant softening in texture.

This ripening phase can happen rapidly and dramatically with bananas, so a specialized process is required to successfully ship them from tropical growing regions to the rest of the world without them turning to a puddle of rotting ooze by the time they arrive. To do this, bananas are harvested when the fruit is still in a very unripe, green state and then kept in temperature-controlled storage at around 55°F (13°C), which fully halts the ripening process.

Once they've arrived at their destination, they are brought to processing facilities where they are exposed to ethylene gas and slightly warmer temperatures, jump starting maturation again. From there, bananas go to the store, and then your home, where they quickly shift through varying degrees of ripeness until they're no longer good for much other than banana bread.

It's important to note that while the color of bananas shifts from green to yellow to brown as they ripen, color is not a perfect signal of ripeness. In my own testing, I had some bananas that retained a green tint even as the fruit inside matured to a good eating level, which made me wonder why that had happened. I found an answer in this article from the American Society of Plant Biologists, which describes a phenomenon known as "green ripening." In effect, a banana can remain green even as it ripens if the ambient temperature is above about 75°F (24°C). As it turns out, all my bananas that remained greenish even when ripe were at or above that temperature where I was keeping them in my home.

Clearly, the key factors at play with banana ripeness are: temperature and ethylene production, plus any other ways to influence the enzymatic activity that breaks down starches into sugars. I set out to test common methods of speeding and slowing ripening by manipulating things like temperature and ethylene concentration to see how dramatically that could affect the timing it took for the bananas to ripen.

TLDR: Your Best Options for Controlling Banana Ripening

If you want to slow down the rate at which your bananas ripen, the most effective steps are to move them to a cooler area, preferably around or just below 65°F (18°C), and tape the stem end well with Scotch tape (or another similar tape). Separating your bananas into individuals and keeping them apart may also help slightly.

If you want to speed up the rate at which bananas ripen, move them to a warmer area, preferably more than 75°F (24°C). In my tests I found no faster ripening when in a paper bag with or without another ethylene-emitting fruit (such as an apple), but there's no harm in keeping bananas clustered with each other and ethylene-emitting fruit just in case it does provide a boost. You can always use real heat, whether a low oven or microwave, or the enzymatic-ripening effect of egg yolks, to sweeten and soften bananas for baking, though these will generally not be good for eating out of hand.

One unexpected result of my testing: Storing the bananas in a paper bag did seem to encourage more even ripening and resulted in fruit that were more palatable after a few days than bananas that were left out in the open. It might be a good idea to transfer your fruit to a paper bag just as an overall quality-preserving measure even though it may not speed things up.

Test Results: Methods for Speeding Banana Ripening

Side by side image of three banana samples from testing: control group, paper bag, and paper bag with apples. They all look similarly ripe, though the control group has the largest brown spots.
Serious Eats / Daniel Gritzer

The first storage tests I wanted to do involved methods of speeding ripening, either to try to get bananas from a green and immature stage to one where they'd be enjoyable to eat as a fruit or in a fruit salad (meaning, sweet and tender but still firm enough to hold their shape) or ripened further so that they'd be appropriate for baking, banana whip, and other such recipes.

To run these tests, I had one bunch of bananas that acted as a control, and then the rest in their respective storage scenarios. All the bananas started out mostly green with just a trace of yellow and the photos you see here are the results after three days of storage. The ambient temperature for all of the bananas in these tests hovered around 75°F (24°C) (as noted above, this was warm enough to cause "green ripening," in which the bananas ripened while maintaining traces of green chlorophyll in their peels).

Paper Bag

A 3-banana bunch that was stored in a paper bag, showing mostly yellow bananas with a tinge of green in spots, and brown spotting all over.
Serious Eats / Daniel Gritzer

Enclosing bananas in a paper bag is one of the most common tips for speeding up ripening. The logic is that the paper bag is permeable, allowing oxygen to enter it and thus continue to feed respiration, while also ensuring humidity doesn't build up inside the bag. At the same time, the bag is meant to trap ethylene produced by the fruit, speeding ripening.

In my tests, I saw little indication even after three days enclosed in a paper bag that the bananas ripened any faster than the control bunch. In my home samples, I think I was able to perceive a slight superiority in texture and evenness of ripening with the bagged samples, but the differences were subtle enough that I wouldn't make too much out of this observation. At my office, the paper bag samples fared much better than the control, ripening more evenly and maintaining a good eating quality. Perhaps this was because the ethylene cloud around the bagged bananas was contained and thus more even, or maybe temperature was kept more moderate and even in the bag, or perhaps more ideal humidity levels were maintained.

In any event, my results weren't what I expected based on the idea that trapping the bananas' ethylene would speed ripening.

Storing Near Ethylene-Releasing Fruit

A bunch of bananas that were stored in a paper bag with an apple; apple shown. They are yellow with a faint tinge of green, and very light brown spotting in some areas.
Serious Eats / Daniel Gritzer

Many people recommend storing bananas with or near other ethylene-producing fruit, such as apples, to further speed the ripening process. To try this, I stored a bunch of bananas with an apple in a paper bag. Strangely, at home, these bananas showed slightly less brown spotting than the bananas in a paper bag without an apple and quite a bit less browning than the control group. In my office, the control group was no longer pleasant to eat, having turned mushy and brown in spots; while the two paper bag samples (one with an apple, the other not) were still in very good shape.

In no instances did I find that adding an ethylene-producing fruit speeded ripening, though I can't say that this technique never works—perhaps it does in some instances, depending on the exact positioning of the fruit, the relative amounts of them, and where in their ethylene-emitting phases they are.

Oven "Ripening"

The ripening of bananas is tied to ambient temperature, with bananas held in cooler areas ripening more slowly than those in warmer ones. The next logical step: Speed it up even further by baking the peel-on bananas in a low oven (around 250°F/120°C is a commonly given number).

In my tests, the bananas were warmed through and slightly softened after ten minutes in the oven, with a slightly more pronounced aroma, though there were hints of a perfumy funk. One could eat this banana out-of-hand, but it's not as good as a properly ripened banana and does not taste noticeably sweeter than before baking. After a full hour the banana peels had turned a deep, dark, totally consistent brown color; inside they were watery and very clearly cooked, while ever so slightly more sweet in a sickly-sour way. In a pinch you could use this method for bananas that will be pureed or mixed into a batter and then cooked further, such as for banana bread, but it is not an acceptable option for bananas that will be eaten raw and will not significantly alter the sweetness of the bananas.

Microwaving

The microwave is just another tool for heating bananas. I put a whole, peel-on banana in a microwave and cooked it for 30 seconds at high heat, at which point my microwave had made it warm to the touch. I let it go another 30 seconds and noted some soft popping sounds in the microwave. The banana was hot at that point, with dark brown blemishes spreading across the yellow-green peel. Inside the banana was very warm, with a flavor that managed to taste both underripe and ripe at the same time, but not much sweeter at all. It was quite similar to the 10-minute oven banana—edible but not great.

Egg Yolk–Ripening

Mixing an egg yolk into mashed bananas to promote rapid sugar production.
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Stella Parks has written about this clever speed-ripening method before, but it's important to note that because it requires mixing the bananas with raw egg, it only works in situations where you are going to cook the bananas further, and in which the egg will be a welcome addition (such as in a banana bread batter).

The underlying idea is that the egg yolk contains amylase, an enzyme that breaks down the starch in bananas into simple sugars, so by mixing mashed bananas with the yolk and letting it sit for at least 30 minutes, a good deal of starch-to-sugar conversion can take place, much faster than what happens on a banana's natural timescale.

Test Results: Methods for Slowing Banana Ripening

A series of bananas showing effects of ripening-slowing techniques, with the taped stem the least ripe looking and the control the most.
Serious Eats / Daniel Gritzer

Now let's look at the inverted scenario: What to do if you're worried your bananas are going to ripen faster than you can eat them. How can you slow the process down? The methods I tested here showed much better and more consistent results than the ripening-speeding tests, and I was able to repeat my results in both rounds of testing at home and in my office.

Taping the Stem End

Bananas with their stems taped with Scotch tape, showing very reduced ripening.
Serious Eats / Daniel Gritzer

In recent years, I've noticed some banana bunches at the market sold with tape around their stem end. The explanation often given is that it's the stem that releases the most ethylene, so sealing it with tape reduces ethylene in the air around the bananas, slowing ripening. I have failed to find any scholarly research to back this explanation up, and I'm quite skeptical of it. I've seen others say it's the stem end that absorbs the most ethylene, and once again I can't find anything to support that claim. (I wonder if taping the stem might have more to do with slowing moisture loss, which is another thing that happens as a banana ripens; could trapping moisture, as one can with a tomato by storing it stem-side down keep a banana from transitioning into further ripeness quickly?)

In my tests at home and in the office, though, I saw quite clearly that taping the stem thoroughly with Scotch tape slowed ripening to a remarkable degree. Even after two to three days, my taped bananas were more green than yellow (in the above photo you do see one banana in the bunch is very green and other other evenly yellow; I believe the green one was for whatever reason quite a bit less mature than its siblings in the bunch and the taping fully halted its ability to progress). I also saw little to no brown spotting on any taped varieties.

I've come across other sources that have had less success with this method, including an experiment done in this YouTube video, but my results suggest that wrapping can indeed work.

Separating the Bunch

A banana stored by itself separate from the rest of its bunch. It shows decent ripening after three days with noticeable brown spotting.
Serious Eats / Daniel Gritzer

Going back to that basic idea that reducing ethylene concentrations can slow ripening, some suggest that separating the bunch so that the bananas aren't awash in each others' ethylene can slow ripening. My tests slightly support this, with my solo bananas seeming to ripen at a slightly slower rate than those in bunches. Perhaps the power move is to split up the bunch and tape each one individually.

Cooler Temperature Storage

Bananas stored in cooler temps were still visibly ripened after 3 days but not as dramatically as the control group stored 10 degrees warmer.
Serious Eats / Daniel Gritzer

If you have the ability to find a cooler spot for your bananas, you will be able to slow their ripening. I kept a test bunch by an open window that averaged around 65°F (18°C), about 10°F cooler than the 75°F (24°C) zone of my other bananas, and the cooler ones ripened more slowly. My office is also cooler than my home, and all my samples there ripened much slower than their counterparts at home after the same number of days.

But then we can ask, can we go cooler? Sure we can!

You can store ripe bananas in the fridge, though my experience is that the cold of the fridge does not lead to bananas that are good to eat raw as a snack. Still, it's an option for preventing bananas from liquifying if you just need a few days before you're able to whip up that banana bread you were intending to make.

And of course the true cold of the freezer is an option as well for any very ripe bananas you want to hold for longer. Just peel and freeze your fully ripe bananas in a zipper-lock freezer bag until you've collected enough to make some banana whip or bread or whatever else might want to use them for.

Low-Oxygen Storage

Bananas stored in a sealed plastic bag full of CO2: They are green and spotted and did not fare well.
Serious Eats / Daniel Gritzer

I'm not even sure why I tried this one because there's no practical way to do it...but, I was curious. Since respiration drives the ripening process, I wanted to know what would happen if I stored bananas in a low-oxygen environment. So I created a bunch of carbon dioxide with the basic reaction of baking soda with white vinegar and trapped it in a zipper lock with bananas.

Humidity quickly built up inside the bag, but I didn't open it because the whole point was to keep the oxygen out as much as possible, not let it back in. The bananas remained green, but once I opened the bag three days later to taste them, their insides were murky and swampy. Some kind of maturation had happened, but not in a good way.

Is it possible to manipulate the mixture of gases for banana storage successfully? Sure there is—fruit companies do that kind of thing all the time to get their product from farm to market over great distances and times, but it requires a much more sophisticated setup that can maintain specific percentages of specific gases while also controlling humidity levels. Just shoving bananas in a plastic bag and letting them suffocate while sweating ain't the move.

The Bottom Line

To slow down the rate at which your bananas ripen, move them to a cooler area in your home, preferably around or just below 65°F (18°C), and tape the stem end well. Separating your bananas into individuals and keeping them apart may also help a bit. If you want to speed up the rate at which your bananas ripen, move them to a warmer area, preferably more than 75°F (24°C); a paper bag (with or without other fruit) may help maintain overall quality during ripening, but its ability to speed ripening is not at all a guarantee.

The Easy, Clever Trick for the Best Spicy Strawberry Lemonade

Use the power of fat to release flavor from the lemons, strawberries, and chiles for the brightest tasting lemonade you’ll ever make.

Side view of spicy strawberry lemonade
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

I'm a firm believer in not reinventing the wheel, so when it came time to create a flavorful spicy strawberry lemonade, I did what any efficient recipe developer would: I brazenly cribbed from my colleagues. Which is to say, this recipe for a spicy strawberry lemonade is really Genevieve Yam's recipe for strawberry lemonade (and that recipe was built on the towering shoulders of Stella Parks' ultra-flavorful lemonade recipe). All I did was add the chiles, though I can at least take credit for having a lot of intention behind how I added those chiles.

Overhead view of spicy lemonade
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

To be clear, I used their recipes because they're so good, so thoughtful, and so much better than most of the other recipes out there for this sort of thing. Anyone can make a lemonade by mixing juice with sugar and water, and anyone can add strawberry flavor by muddling some ripe berries into the mix. But Stella's use of oleo-saccharum, in which lemon zests are macerated in sugar to draw out the flavorful and aromatic essential oils into a bright and fruity syrup, leads to a lemonade with complexity way beyond the typical stuff. And Genevieve's adaptation of that method to also macerate berries with the zest for a vibrant red and intensely fruity strawberry-lemon syrup is just as effective, and way more delicious than the more basic alternative. Why would I not do the same?

My little innovation was to work chiles into the mix to capitalize even further on this technique.

The Science of Extracting Chile Flavor for Spicy Lemonade

The thing with chiles is that much of their heat and flavor is fat-soluble, which can present a challenge for getting their full effect in a drink that is made only of juice, sugar, and water. That's not to say you can't muddle chiles into a lemonade—you can and you will of course taste them. But fat is the better vehicle for pulling out their full range of flavor and heat, and it's not an ingredient in almost any lemonade I've ever seen. Or is it?

This is where that oleo-saccharum lemonade base the Stella and Genevieve both used in their recipes comes in. The process of making oleo-saccharaum involves muddling and then macerating citrus zest with sugar. As the mixture sits, the oils in the zest leach out, wetting the sugar in a fatty glaze. At the same time, water that's also in the zest (and in this case in the strawberries as well) is pulled out too, dissolving the sugar and forming a syrupy emulsion with the oils.

Overhead view of spicy lemonade base
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Those oils, in turn, are exactly the kind of fat-based flavor-extracting medium we want for the chiles. By mincing the chiles finely and letting them sit in the sugary mixture with the lemon zest and strawberries, we get a powerfully flavorful syrup that, once mixed with the tart juice of the lemons, forms a concentrated flavor base for our drink. It works beautifully.

For this recipe, I tried not to go too hard on the chiles, since I find a more gentle heat to be pleasant with the fruity strawberries, versus the higher levels of heat I aimed for in my basic spicy lemonade and my refreshing cucumber-jalapeño limeade. I also opted for red chiles here, since I think their more ripe, fruity flavor pairs better with the berries and lemons than a green chile would.

You can of course increase the amount of chiles in this recipe if you want an even hotter drink, or decrease them if you want the chile element to be a more subtle background heat. That's the fun: You can take my recipe, tweak it slightly, and call it "yours" (though I'd of course appreciate a little bit of credit...alongside Genevieve and Stella).

For the Strawberry Lemonade Concentrate: In a large nonreactive mixing bowl, toss the strawberries with granulated sugar, lemon zest, and minced chiles. Refrigerate, stirring occasionally, until sugar has completely dissolved and chiles have infused into the syrup, about 2 hours.

Two image collage of spicy strawberry lemonade base
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Meanwhile, juice the zested lemon halves (You should have about 1 cup of lemon juice). Refrigerate juice in an airtight container until ready to use.

Side view of juicing lemonade
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

When strawberry mixture is ready, stir in 3/4 cup (180ml) reserved lemon juice and 1 1/2 cups (355ml) water and refrigerate for another 30 minutes. Strain through a nonreactive fine-mesh strainer or piece of cheesecloth into a glass or ceramic container (you should have about 2 1/2 cups concentrate total). Cover and refrigerate the concentrate until ready to use.

two image collage o adding lemonade and straining
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

For Serving: Pour strawberry lemonade concentrate into a large pitcher. Stir in 5 cups cold still or sparkling water and garnish with lemon slices and strawberry slices, if using. Dilute with additional water and remaining 1/4 cup lemon juice to taste, if needed (see notes).  Serve over ice.

Side view of spicy lemonade
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Special Equipment

Silicone spatula, cheesecloth or nonreactive fine-mesh strainer

Notes

How much chile you use will depend heavily on your tolerance for heat and the type of chile you use. In our testing, about 3 to 4 ounces of medium-hot red finger chiles (about 4 to 6 chiles) produced a lemonade with a good, but not oppressive, heat. Depending on your taste and the specific chiles you use, you may want to use more or less for a hotter or milder effect. You can also use smaller red chiles such as Thai bird's eye, but keep in mind that you may need to use less of hotter chiles like those. If in doubt, start with less and taste the strawberry-chile syrup as it develops; you can always add more but cannot remove the chiles if they're too much.

The ratio of the strawberry lemonade concentrate to water is based on my personal taste preference to create my ideal balanced sweet and tart drink. Adjust with additional water and lemon juice to your own taste level, keeping in mind the lemonade will dilute further when served over ice.

To make one serving of finished strawberry lemonade, combine 1/2 cup strawberry lemonade concentrate with 1 cup of cold water, garnish, adjust with water and lemon juice to taste, and serve over ice.

Make-Ahead and Storage

The spicy strawberry-lemonade concentrate can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to one week.

Bananas Foster: The Easiest Dessert You’ll Ever Light on Fire

This classic flambéed banana-and-caramel dessert comes together in minutes in a single skillet, making it both impressive and so easy. Served with ice cream, it’s a dessert that should be on any cook’s list of quick hits.

Overhead view of bananas foster
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

I will be the first to tell you that I am not a baker. I don't mean that I can't bake, I can—if you doubt me, watch me make the infamous pecan pie recipe that Stella Parks deemed so difficult she refused to release to the public. For me, baking usually involves more effort than I care to expend on dessert, a part of the meal that I consider fully optional. This means that my sweet spot for desserts is anything with a great effort-to-reward ratio, and if the bananas Foster is anything, it's that.

What makes bananas Foster so great is how high it scores on all the following metrics: Easy to make? Check. Impressive? Check, check. Delicious? Check, check, check. Pyrotechnics? Check, check, check, check, check, and...IGNITION.

Overhead view of banana ice cream
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Those flames can be a hurdle, though. Recipes that involve a setting a bonfire to a skillet can be intimidating, so let's address this head-on. First, you don't have to light the alcohol on fire, you can successfully simmer the caramel with the booze the caramel reaches a good stage for serving; the alcohol will mostly have cooked off at that point anyway. But second, it's really not that hard. Just think about who traditionally makes bananas Foster. (Hint: It's not the chefs.) I'll explain.

Flash in the Pan: Why the Origins of Bananas Foster Explain Its Ease

Bananas Foster is a New Orleans classic, invented in the 1950s at the restaurant Brennan's in honor of Richard Foster, the city's crime commissioner at the time. Watch any video of bananas Foster being made at Brennan's (there are a lot!), and you'll notice that this is one of those tableside desserts that restaurants like to do for a little dining-room theatrics. I mean, I get it, the pyrotechnics are cool.

But you can only do tableside service for dishes that are easy to make, for a couple reasons. First, the dish has to be quick and simple enough to prepare in minutes using minimal gear and ingredients. It doesn't work to have the maître d' pull up a cooking trolley and then slowly stir a pot in front of you while saying, "And now we'll keep cooking this roux for another 45 minutes until it's dark enough for a proper gumbo. Care for a cocktail?"

Overhead view of banana foster
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

And that's the other thing: It's usually a maître d' or other front-of-house staff doing the cooking, not the actual cooks in the kitchen, and while I mean no disrespect, being a great cook isn't part of any front-of-house job description. So a tableside dish like bananas Foster has to be something the wait staff and management can quickly learn to whip up successfully on repeat with a side of flair and entertaining monologue.

None of it will work if it's a difficult or time-consuming dish to make.

Look How Easy!

I can write all day about how contextual clues are proof that bananas Foster is easy, but I can also just tell you. It's this easy:

  • Melt butter and brown sugar in a pan along with a pinch of salt and warm spices like cinnamon and nutmeg.
  • Add bananas and cook as caramel forms.
  • Add booze and light it on fire. Cook until flames die down and caramel looks good.
  • Serve with ice cream.

One note on the booze: In the original recipe from Brennan's, both rum and banana liqueur go into the pan. I considered calling for banana liqueur here too, but eventually decided against it. I'm sure there are some legitimate uses for banana liqueur and perhaps some of you reading this already have a bottle in your liquor cabinet. But I can't in good conscience call for an ingredient with such limited utility when you really don't need it here. The bananas in the pan are banana-y enough, the rum tastes great, you will not miss it.

Close up of bananas
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

That said, if you have banana liqueur and want to add a splash, please do—though as with all flambés, never pour directly from any bottle of booze directly into the pan with a flame under it, lest the fire leaps up and lights the whole bottle on fire. The goal is to flambé the alcohol in the pan, not make a Molotov cocktail.

The classic way to serve bananas Foster is with some ice cream, usually vanilla but I say have fun with whatever flavor appeals to you. This raises a kind of definitional question that I'd like to leave you with: Is bananas Foster a dessert unto itself, in which à la mode is the typical way to serve it? Or are we really just making a banana–flavored caramel sauce for ice cream? My god, I just realized it's an à la minute banana split, served hot. I think I just lit my brain on fire.

In a large 12-inch stainless-steel skillet over medium-high heat, melt butter with the brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt while stirring and swirling, until mixture blends into a grainy liquid and begins to bubble, about 2 minutes. Add bananas, cut side down, and continue to cook, swirling gently, until liquid begins to resemble a more smooth caramel, about 2 minutes longer.

Four image collage of cooking bananas
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Add rum (do not pour directly from the bottle if working over an open flame), then tilt pan to ignite the alcohol from a gas burner, or carefully light with a match. Cook, shaking the pan, until the flames have died out and the caramel has thickened to a honey consistency, about 1 to 2 minutes. Alternatively, you can add the rum and not light it on fire, instead simmering until the rum has mostly cooked off and the caramel has reached a honey consistency.

Side view banana foster on fire
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Flip bananas cut side up, then transfer to serving plates with ice cream (2 pieces of banana each for 6 servings; 3 pieces of banana each for 4 servings; or 4 pieces of banana each for 3 servings).

Overhead view of bananas foster
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Make-Ahead and Storage

Bananas Foster is best made right before serving and eaten immediately.

Refreshing and Spicy Cucumber-Jalapeño Limeade

The secret to the incredible flavor in this limeade is layers and layers of infusions: We infuse lime peel oils into sugar while simultaneously infusing spicy jalapeño into those oils. Then we infuse cooling cucumber into tart lime juice before blending it all for a refresher that both brings the heat and beats the heat.

Side view of Spicy lemonade
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Looking back from today, it's hard to remember that spicy margaritas were not always a thing. The idea seems so obvious, so inevitable, so timeless. And yet you'd have been hard-pressed to find one on a cocktail menu before the year 2000. Point is, if you like either the spicy margarita or its close cousin, the cucumber margarita, this is the nonalcoholic drink for you. And I'd wager that this one has just as much potential to become a mainstay of refreshing hot-weather drinks for years to come.

It should be easy to envision this drink, but in case anyone is struggling: Imagine the flavor of bracingly tart lime balanced with just enough sugar to make it sing, infused with the sting of fresh jalapeños and offset by the cooling breeze of fresh cucumber. The green-on-green-on-green theme isn't an accident here—all three of these ingredients bring a verdant freshness to the glass, even as they playfully spar with your taste buds. It's like jumping into a cold pool on a very hot day.

Getting the Most Flavor Into the Glass

The key to building bold flavors is all about doing infusions the right way. For this limeade, I run two infusions side by side. The first is soaking thinly sliced cucumber in freshly squeezed lime juice, which is more than enough to draw the cucumber's flavor and water out.

Side view of juicing limes
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

While that's happening, I use a technique that is built on a cocktail ingredient called oleo-saccharum. Trus oleo-saccharum is made by muddling and then macerating citrus peel (usually lemon, but it can be lime as it is here) with sugar. The muddling and sugar together draw out the natural, deeply flavorful oils from the citrus peel; then, as the water in the peel is extracted, an emulsified syrup forms that blends the oil, sugar, and water together. It's a potent ingredient that allows you to get all that great flavor from the rind without all the acidity of the juice tied to it.

My twist is to add the minced jalapeños to this oleo-saccharum mixture as it's forming, the logic being that much of the flavor and the spice-delivering capsaicin of the chiles is fat-soluble and the oils from the zest provide that fat. The result is a more potent and complex dose of the chile in each sip.

Overhead view of limes
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Once the syrup has formed, all you have to do is blend in the cucumber-lime juice and some water and then strain out the solids to produce a concentrated limeade syrup that can then be mixed with ice and further diluted to taste for serving.

Dialing in the Jalapeño Heat

The recipe below calls for one or two jalapeños. My preference is two, for a limeade that really has some punch, but feel free to reduce the amount for a more gentle heat (or increase it if you really want to sweat). Of course jalapeños can vary in intensity, so I recommend tasting the syrup as it's forming. If you decide it's not hot enough, you can always add more minced chile and allow the syrup to macerate even longer to draw that heat out.

Cut off a 2-inch section from the cucumber and reserve, well wrapped in the refrigerator, for garnish. Very thinly slice the remaining cucumber and set aside. Bring limes to room temperature, then roll firmly against the counter to soften their rinds. Halve and juice; pour juice into a sealable container and add the sliced cucumber, then refrigerate.

Side view of slicing cucumber
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Cut lime rinds into 1-inch chunks. Toss with minced jalapeño and sugar in a large nonreactive mixing bowl, cover tightly with plastic, and let stand at room temperature, stirring once every 45 minutes or so, until sugar has completely dissolved, about 3 hours. (You can let the mixture stand up to 12 hours, if desired.)

side view of adding sugar to lime mixture
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Strain cucumber-infused lime juice; discard cucumber. Add water and 12 ounces (1 1/2 cups) of cucumber-lime juice (see note). Stir well, then strain through a nonreactive fine-mesh strainer or piece of cheesecloth into a glass or ceramic container, pressing to express liquid; discard solids. At this point, the concentrated jalapeño-limeade can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.

Overhead view of straining limeade
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

When ready to serve, pour spicy limeade over ice and adjust to taste with additional water or cucumber-lime juice, depending on personal preference; bear in mind, though, that the limeade will be diluted as the ice melts. (You will likely have some fresh cucumber-lime juice left over, which can be reserved for another use, though exactly how much you have will depend on how much you added to adjust the limeade.)

Side view of pouring limeade into a glass
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Special Equipment

Cheesecloth or nonreactive fine-mesh strainer, 2-quart pitcher

Notes

How many jalapeños you use will depend heavily on your tolerance for heat. In our testing, 2 large jalapeños produced a limeade with strong but tolerable heat. Depending on your taste, you may want to use more or less jalapeño for hotter or milder effect. You can also use smaller green chiles such Serranos, but keep in mind that you may need to use a different total weight of those to compensate for their heat. If in doubt, start with less and taste the jalapeño-lime syrup as it develops; you can always add more but cannot remove the chiles if they're too much.

Make-Ahead and Storage

The concentrated jalapeño-limeade can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

The Science-Backed Trick for Flavorful Spicy Chile Lemonade

This fruity, spicy, refreshing lemonade uses the natural oils in lemon peel as a solvent for the spicy capsaicin in hot red chiles to create a potent and flavorful spicy lemon syrup.

Side view of spicy lemonade
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Lemonade has plenty of zip, but there's always room for a touch more zing, and what's zingier than the fiery heat of chiles? I'm not the first person to think that spicy lemonade is a good idea, and I sure won't be the last. But I might be the first to come up with this particular method for making it—and the method makes a heck of a lot of sense once you understand the science.

There are several obvious ways to make a lemonade spicy. Some people spike the lemonade with a spicy chile powder, but while I don't mind chile powder on the rim of the glass as a garnish, it muddies up the lemonade both flavor-wise and texturally. Others seem to think adding hot sauce is a good idea, but the vinegar kick of something like Tabasco or Cholula isn't what I want competing with the fresh citrus acidity of lemon. Another approach is to infuse the lemon juice with chiles either via a long steep or by muddling the chiles in a glass with the juice. That works, but it fails to take advantage of a key fact: The capsaicin in chile peppers that makes them spicy is primarily fat- and alcohol-soluble, which makes lemon juice a less effective medium for extracting it.

But...how do we use fat to hold and distribute the capsaicin in a drink that's made only from water, lemon juice, and sugar? Ah, so that's where my technique comes in.

The Key to Extracting Capsaicin for Spicy Lemonade

The secret to getting the most out of our chile peppers can be found in a substance called oleo-saccharum, which more or less means "oily sugar." It's a frequent ingredient at cocktail bars, used to add the bold flavor of lemon to drinks in the form of a sugar syrup instead of tart juice. That's because the lemon flavor in oleo-saccharum comes from the peel, not the juice, and as anyone who's spent time with a lemon before know, a lot of that essential lemon flavor and aroma is locked in the oils of the peel, not the juice.

By muddling and macerating lemon peels in sugar, the oils are drawn out along with water from the peel. This dissolves the sugar slowly until an emulsified lemon-oil syrup forms. It's not a new technique to Serious Eats, nor is it a new technique to our lemonade recipes: Stella Parks published her recipes for a kind of quick-and-easy oleo-saccharum in which the peel is not even separated from the pith, which she uses to make both lemonade and limeade.

Overhead view of lemonade mixture
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

My little innovation was to build on this with the realization that I could take advantage of the lemon oils extracted during the oleo-saccharum formation to also dissolve the capsaicin from the chile peppers. There's a old culinary saying that "fat equals flavor," and that is absolutely true here. As a great conveyor of so many flavor molecules, from the lemony limonene of the citrus peel to the capsaicin of the chiles along with all the fruity chile flavors, the oil in this chile-lemon syrup is a powerhouse of flavor.

The Steps to Perfect Spicy Lemonade

The process for making this lemonade is the same as for our ultra-flavorful lemonade, just with the addition of chiles:

Straining lemonade
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez
  1. Juice the citrus and mince the chiles.
  2. Macerate the juiced citrus halves with the chiles and sugar for a few hours to create the lemon syrup.
  3. Mix a portion of the reserved lemon juice into the macerating fruit to "wash" the syrup off the fruit and create a spicy lemonade base.
  4. Prepare amazingly spicy and refreshing drinks by adding the base to glasses with ice and diluting to taste with water.

It takes a bit longer than just juicing citrus and mixing that with sugar and water, but it's significantly more flavorful this way. Plus, you'll get the most bang for your chile-pepper buck, with a deeply fruity flavor profile and clean spice is perfectly integrated into the drink.

The Secrets to Chile Pepper Success

The trickiest thing about developing this recipe is that chile peppers can range quite a bit in their heat level, and an individual's tolerance for heat is highly variable too. For this recipe, I chose red chile peppers because I want that ripe fruit flavor to meld with the lemons, not the raw, grassy-green flavor of jalapeños or Serranos. But even in the world of red chiles, you have a lot of options.

The quantities I've listed here worked well with medium-hot red finger chiles, which are often sold in Asian markets, though other medium-hot chiles like cayenne peppers can work too, as can red jalapeños. Small red chiles like Thai bird's eye pack a bigger punch, so if you're using those you'll want to dial back the quantity, unless you really, really like heat.

Overhead view of lemons and chiles masaracing
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

My advice for getting the heat where you want it is, when in doubt, to start with a lesser amount; then taste the syrup as it's forming, adding more chiles and letting them steep longer to draw out their heat—the syrup can go for up to 12 hours, so you have time. Keep adjusting as needed until you begin to detect the heat level you're after and giving them enough time to infuse before straining.

One final note: In my tests, I found that I got the best flavor and heat from the chiles when I minced them quite finely, maximizing surface area for flavor extraction. You could also muddle them, smashing the chiles' cells open. Large pieces of chile, though, just won't do much, so make sure you mince or smash to get that flavor out.

Bring lemons to room temperature, then roll firmly against the counter to soften their rinds. Halve and juice; pour juice into a sealable container and refrigerate. Cut rinds into 1-inch chunks. Toss with minced chiles and sugar in a large nonreactive mixing bowl, cover tightly with plastic, and let stand at room temperature, stirring once every 45 minutes or so, until sugar has completely dissolved, about 3 hours. (You can let the mixture stand up to 12 hours, if desired.)

Note: Chiles can vary in heat intensity, as can one's tolerance. We found 6 ounces of a medium-hot chile like a red finger chile worked well, but you may require more or less depending on your chiles and tastes. If in doubt, start with less, then taste the syrup as it develops, adding more chiles if the heat isn't sufficient and macerating longer to pull out their flavor and heat.

Two image collage of squeezing lemons and adding sugar
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Add water and 8 ounces (1 cup) of reserved lemon juice (see note). Stir well, then strain through a nonreactive fine-mesh strainer or piece of cheesecloth into a glass or ceramic container, pressing to express liquid; discard solids. At this point, the concentrated chile-lemonade can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.

Overhead view of adding lemonade to lemons and chiles
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

When ready to serve, pour lemonade over ice and adjust to taste with additional water or lemon juice, depending on personal preference; bear in mind, though, that the lemonade will be diluted as the ice melts. (You will likely have some fresh lemon juice left over, which can be reserved for another use, though exactly how much you have will depend on how much you added to adjust the lemonade.)

Overhead view of lemonade
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Special Equipment

Cheesecloth or nonreactive fine-mesh strainer, 2-quart pitcher

Notes

How much chile you use will depend heavily on your tolerance for heat and the type of chile you use. In our testing, about 6 ounces of medium-hot red finger chiles (about 8 chiles) produced a lemonade with a good, but not oppressive heat. Depending on your taste and chiles, you may want to use more or less for hotter or milder effect. You can also use smaller red chiles such as Thai bird's eye, but keep in mind that you may need to use less of hotter chiles like those. If in doubt, start with less and taste the lemon-chile syrup as it develops; you can always add more but can not remove the chiles if they're too much.

We prefer a tart lemonade, made by adding 8 ounces (1 cup) of reserved lemon juice to the lemon rind syrup. If you prefer your lemonade sweeter, start with 6 ounces and taste before adding more.

Make-Ahead and Storage

The concentrated chile-lemonade can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

The “World’s First” Iced Coffee Is Also Still Its Best

This bright and refreshing iced coffee is made with fresh lemon juice, sugar, and strongly brewed coffee such as cold brew, espresso, or an iced coffee concentrate. Often dubbed the “world’s first,” it’s good enough to also be ranked as the “world’s best.” The secret to making it is all about dialing in the flavor to your taste.

Side view of Mazagran iced coffee
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

I have a love-hate relationship with iced coffee. No, that's not quite right, it's not love-hate, it's love-meh. As a staunch drinker of black coffee, I have long known, deep in my bones, that the iced coffee I crave as soon as the hot weather rolls around is not as delicious as the hot coffee I drink the rest of the year. In recent years I have accepted this fully, so that it's now common to find me on a steamy August morning sweating through an even more steamy cup of black coffee. I'll do anything for flavor.

I'm excited for all my future summers, though, because I'm now an avowed Mazagran coffee drinker, and while I can't claim that it's served "black" due to the fact that it's coffee mixed with lemon juice and sugar, it is an iced coffee so refreshing, so undeniably delicious that I'd be willing to drink it every single warm day of the year, and very possible all the cold ones too. It's that good.

Side view of mazagran iced coffee
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

My journey to this phase of my iced-coffee drinking life has been a long one. For years I sought great iced coffee on its own terms, jumping from technique to technique as I grew disillusioned with each like a polar bear leaping to ever-shrinking ice floes. About twelve years ago I was in the phase in which I tried to convince myself cold brew had solved all my problems. But slowly, as I spent more time with cold brew (including running a series of enlightening taste tests for Serious Eats), I admitted to myself that it wasn't the best way to feature cold coffee in an unsweetened, un-milked form.

After that I shifted to "Japanese-style" iced coffee, in which coffee is brewed hot directly onto ice, which was the method that won in my tastings when served black. But even then, I had to face a personal truth—I still preferred my coffee hot. I've always loved iced coffee with lots of milk, but that's a much heavier drink than I want for caffeine delivery most days, so it's not an option I would make a habit.

Now, with Mazagran, I have icy cold, bright, and refreshing coffee to look forward to day after day. I hope you will too.

What Is Mazagran Coffee?

While different variations of Mazagran iced coffee can be found around the world, in its most essential form it is simply a coffee-lemonade hybrid. Some recipes spike it with rum or another spirit, but plenty of others leave the alcohol out.

The story of Mazagran's creation is often told something like this: It was the "world's first iced coffee," created in 1840 by vastly outnumbered French colonial troops while successfully defending the Mazagran fort in the town of Mostaganem during the French conquest of Algeria. According to the tale, as supplies dwindled and the embattled French troops fought tooth and nail to survive, they had to quit their habit of drinking coffee with liquor or milk or whatever they were using and diluted it with sweetened cold water instead. The soldiers then took this practice back to France, where it became a popular to drink served in a tall, narrow porcelain cup. From there, it spread to other countries like Portugal.

At some point—precisely when and where is unclear—lemon became a popular addition, possibly first as wedges or rinds as a flavorful garnish, but then in the form of sweetened lemon juice. Thus the drink ended up in coffee-spiked lemonade territory.

Overhead view of lemon on top of Mazagran Iced Coffee
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

It's impossible to know just how much truth lies in this origin story for Mazagran, though it smacks of the kind of national myth-building that often accompanies military conquests. Seen through this lense, the Mazagran coffee story serves to romanticize France's invasion of Algeria by celebrating the idea of French ingenuity and ultimate success in the face of very unlikely odds. It's a David-versus-Goliath narrative that casts the French as the victorious underdogs, when in reality they were the invading superpower.

It's also hard to believe that it required this particular moment in military history for anyone to figure out that diluting coffee with water and drinking it cold might be enjoyable. I know firsthand that my daily mug of coffee frequently drops to room temperature whenever I'm too busy to drink it quickly, and I can only assume this would have happened to coffee drinkers around the world in the 19th century as well. Add to that the fact that room temperature was likely how these French soldiers would have been drinking their diluted coffee—not iced, as the "world's first iced coffee" moniker implies—given that this story takes place in a during a time when ice for beverages was a luxury available to few, in particular during a siege in a famously hot land.

How to Make Great Mazagran Iced Coffee

I may be a skeptic about how Mazagran coffee came into being, and I'm certainly dubious of the motivation of its story's tellers, but one thing I do not doubt is how good Mazagran coffee is. When working on this recipe, I spoke to my former Serious Eats colleague and coffee expert Jesse Raub to get his take on Mazagran along with any tips he could share on preparing an excellent version of it. His advice set me on the right path.

"People don't always think of these coffee drinks correctly," he told me. "You can dump all the ingredients together, but it may not come out balanced and with the flavor profile you're trying to hit." Instead of trying to land on the one perfect recipe, Jesse advised me to think of the drink more like making a vinaigrette: Start with the flavorful base, get that flavor balanced, then dilute it.

Overhead view of pouring lemon into coffee
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

In vinaigrette's case, that would mean starting with the vinegar or citrus juice, seasoning it with salt and any other add-ins like mustard or garlic, and then dilute with the oil until the flavor is just right. In the case of this coffee, the idea is to combine the concentrated coffee, whether cold brew concentrate, espresso, or some other strongly brewed coffee, and then mix in fresh lemon juice and sugar until it tastes perfectly balanced, if on the strong side. Only then would you add ice and dilute with water as needed to get it to a pleasurable stage. "If it tastes good on its own when concentrated," Jesse said, "it'll taste good once diluted."

This was a critical insight, and it helped deal with the trickiest part of writing a simple recipe like this one: Not all strongly brewed coffees taste the same. There's really no one magic ratio or recipe for making this coffee taste good, since it depends so much on what the coffee you're starting with tastes like, as well as how concentrated that coffee is. So while I offer a recipe below, I've made an effort to keep the specifics flexible—my ratio is just a starting point, you should adjust as needed to get your coffee to a place where it tastes great with the other ingredients.

A few points to consider:

  • The Coffee: There's a wide world of coffee out there, and a lot of it can work for Mazagran. You'll want something strong, but whether that's cold brew concentrate, a shot or two of espresso, or a strong brew from a moka pot or Aeropress is up to you. Each will be different, and each may require slightly different amounts of lemon and sugar as well as overall dilution. Similarly, different bean types and roast levels will have a range of flavor profiles, from dark and roasty to bright and fruity. Those flavor profiles may also require differing amounts of lemon and sugar and dilution to reach your perfect Mazagran.

    In my tests, a good ratio of concentrated coffee to lemon juice is 1:1 by volume, though that may not be true with all types and concentrations of coffee. If using regular-concentration coffee, I've found that 2:1 by volume works (so 1/2 cup coffee to every 1/4 cup of lemon juice), but again, this may require adjustment based on your coffee and taste preferences.
  • Lemon: Some recipe have you put rounds or wedges of lemon in the coffee along with ice, sugar, and some water, but mine follow's Jesse's guidance on truly building a balanced drink with the component parts. That means mixing the coffee with fresh lemon juice and then sweetening it to taste. Of course you can always add some lemon pieces to the glass for garnish, or spritz a bit of lemon peel on the surface to get some of the skin's essential oil flavors into the drink for even more complex aroma.
  • Sugar: You have options here. You can just use granulated sugar, though that takes the longest to dissolve into the coffee-lemon base. Superfine sugar, which is just a more finely ground version of granulated sugar that dissolved more quickly, will be even easier. Easiest of all, if you already have it on hand, though, is simple syrup, in which the sugar is already dissolved into an equal volume of water for rapid sweetening and no further dissolving necessary. If you're feeling creative, you can also branch out into other sweeteners, including demerara or brown sugar or maple syrup. Those will bring deeper, darer, more complex flavors to the mix, which may or not be what you're in the mood for.

In a serving glass, combine concentrated coffee with lemon juice, sugar, and salt, stirring to combine and fully dissolve sugar (if not using simple syrup). Taste, then adjust flavor as desired with additional lemon juice and/or sugar until the flavor is strong but properly balanced between sweet, tart, and coffee. Add ice, dilute to taste with cold water, and garnish with lemon rounds. If desired, spike with rum to taste. Serve.

Four image collage of making Mazagran Coffee
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Notes

The type of coffee you use and how concentrated it is will have a big effect on how much lemon juice and sugar to add; this is a variable this recipe can not account for, so adjust accordingly. If you're using a regular-concentration coffee, start by doubling the amount of coffee relative to the lemon juice and sugar (so: 1/2 cup coffee for each 1/4 cup lemon juice and 2 tablespoons sugar), then adjust to taste; you may not need to dilute this coffee beyond the addition of ice.

You can make a 1:1 simple syrup by dissolving equal volumes of granulated sugar and water. While the sugar will dissolve the most quickly if heated with the water, you then have to allow it to cool; it's faster to simply combine the sugar and cold water and shake or stir until fully dissolved.

Make-Ahead and Storage

The coffee concentrate and simple syrup can be refrigerated separately for up to 2 weeks, but the lemon juice should be squeezed fresh and the drink should be mixed to-order.

Sauce Gribiche: What Tartar Sauce Would Look Like After Vacationing on the French Riviera

Made with cooked eggs, sauce gribiche is a classic of the French kitchen. While traditionally an emulsified sauce, many versions today are broken, and it can be made well either way. Here we explain the tricks and techniques for making both versions successfully.

A plate of blanched asparagus dressed with creamy sauce gribiche.
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

French sauces are a lot like the pantheon of ancient Greek gods. There are the major ones, biggies like bechamel and hollandaise, Zeus and Hera, and below them the hierarchy descends. But that hierarchy doesn't indicate absolute superiority in all senses—I'd rather hang out with Dionysus and Pan over Zeus and Hera any day. I think, for example, we'd all agree that we'd be better off if Irene, goddess of peace, got a bit more of the world's attention. And if we're talking sauces, I'd argue gribiche is ready for a much bigger spotlight.

Overhead view of sauce gribiche
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Gribiche is a cold sauce in the family of mayonnaise-based sauces. Its closest cousin is tartar sauce, with which it shares many ingredients, from the pickles and capers to a healthy dose of fresh herbs. If I had to describe it, I might say gribiche is what tartar sauce would look like after returning from a holiday on the French riviera, tinged with a deeper golden hue and more overtly Mediterranean vibe. Gribiche is eggier, with a pronounced caper flavor and the anisey aroma of herbs like tarragon and chervil alongside the fresh greenery of parsley.

It's beautiful with or on just about anything: fish (hot or cold), poached meats (especially off-cuts like tongue and tête de veau, the classic quivering slab of poached veal's head), vegetables (poached asparagus are divine dipped in it), and as a condiment for fries or spread mayo-like on a sandwich.

Overhead view of sauce with chicken
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Aside from its flavor differences with tartar sauce, gribiche has one other unique calling card. Unlike tartar and so many other mayo-derived sauces, gribiche is made from hard-cooked, not raw, yolks. This fact is significant, and has major consequences for how the sauce is made. There's a lot to unpack there, which I'll do in the next section, but let's get familiar with one basic detail: Sometimes gribiche is served emulsified like mayo and sometimes it's served broken, more like an oily vinaigrette.

All Yolks Aside: The Consequences and Challenges of Gribiche's Cooked-Yolk Base

A few weeks ago I was shopping at a food market in New York City when I ran into an old boss of mine, the French chef Didier Virot. It was perfect timing, because I was in the process of developing this recipe and was confused about the whole broken-versus-emulsified thing that I was seeing across a wide array of recipes for gribiche. Much of what I know about classic and modern French cooking I learned while working for Didier at one of his former French restaurants many years ago, and Didier's cooking pedigree is as impressive as it gets: He worked under the legendary French chef Michel Bras and ran Jean-Georges Vongerichten's flagship restaurant Jean-Georges for several years.

So I turned the question to him, asking where he stood on the whole broken/unbroken thing. He told me he generally preferred the sauce emulsified as a mayo, but appreciated how it worked when broken in some contexts, like on a serving of tête de veau. Then he asked me why I didn't just teach Serious Eats readers how to make it both ways. So that's what I've done. Here in this headnote and in the recipe below I will explain both how and, perhaps more importantly, why gribiche takes these two forms.

Overhead of both preps
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Let's make one thing clear: As far as I can tell, gribiche was originally meant to be an emulsified cold sauce, often described in classic French sources as a derivative of mayo, and mayo is by definition not a broken sauce. I can tell you that as a dip for things like asparagus, it works better in that emulsified form. But the broken version has become common enough that it's worth explaining as well, and would be a welcome addition on many plates.

Why did this happen with gribiche specifically? Almost certainly the culprit is those cooked yolks. You see, when you cook egg yolks, you reduce their emulsifying power, meaning sauce gribiche made with hard-cooked yolks, as it's meant to be, is much more prone to breaking. As many a wise person has said before, If you can't beat 'em, break 'em, and that's why broken gribiche has earned recognition not as a failed gribiche, but an acceptable form of it.

Side view of broken sauce
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

One obvious question one might ask is: Why use cooked yolks at all? Gribiche's specific origins are unclear so there's no way to get an answer from whoever first created it, but I can make a guess: The cooked yolks fundamentally alter the sauce. It's creamier, the flavor is different in exactly the way a hard-cooked yolk tastes eggier and vaguely more sulphurous (in a good way!) than a raw one.

Perhaps the original intention was to make an eggier sauce, and one logical way to do that was to cook the yolks to enhance that egginess. Those cooked yolks not only taste eggier, but you can also pack more of them into the sauce precisely because they don't emulsify as well—you literally need more of them. Just consider a classic mayo, in which a single raw egg yolk can easily emulsify a cup of oil and often much more, whereas gribiche needs something like three cooked yolks just to stand a chance at holding a mere cup of oil in a stable emulsion.

Side view of whisking in oil
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Cooking the eggs also offers the opportunity to use the whites differently. In a mayo, the whites are often just whisked in with the yolk, disappearing into the finished sauce. In gribiche, the whites are cooked solid, and are then diced or julienned and stirred into the sauce. This creates a whole different textural dimension while upping the perceived egginess even more.

As you can see, the cooked yolks of gribiche are both one of its defining qualities and also one of its trickiest technical aspects. The good news is that enough cooks have broken gribiche enough times that there's something of a collective agreement to not be upset about that. With this acknowledgement comes tremendous freedom, and gribiche becomes one of those wonderful culinary creations in which you have lots of latitude to change it up while still being able to call it by its name with a straight face.

The Many Faces of Sauce Gribiche

By now we've established that gribiche can come in both emulsified and broken forms, and while emulsified is the more classic, broken is an acceptable alternative. But gribiche is even more variable than that. I was recently in Paris and made a point of eating gribiche every time I saw it on a menu. It was never the same twice.

Overhead view of both versions of sauce gribiche
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

At one fancier brasserie, I was served gribiche that was refined and delicate, with muted notes of Dijon, pickle, caper, and herb (that one came with a wonderful little crispy torpedo of fried pig's head). I was also served a gribiche at a bouillon—a type of old-school eating hall featuring (often) slapdash versions of French brasserie fare at low prices that has become trendy in recent years—that seemed like they'd just grabbed a bucket of mayo and stirred a few bits of cornichon and a memory of tarragon into it. At a popular sandwich shop, I had a fried chicken cutlet on a baguette with gribiche as the condiment, and that gribiche was broken, allowing it to soak into the bread instead of just ride on the surface.

In my recipe below, I offer tips on making both an emulsified and a broken gribiche. To lean into the more rustic nature of the broken one (rustic in the sense that the sauce is more likely to break for people with less technical proficiency in the kitchen and thus doesn't reflect the work of a precise hand), I added a much more crudely diced array of the solid flavorings. In the emulsified version, on the other hand, I show a truly fine mince of the solids. There's no absolutely right or wrong way to do it.

OVerhead view of pickles cut two ways
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

And while my recipe offers set quantities for all the ingredients, you should know that you have liberty there too. If you don't want a sauce quite so chock full of pickles and capers and egg white, simply add less! Add less Dijon if you don't want as much of a piquant punch, or more if you do. Really have fun with it, the sauce is yours to play with.

The Secret to Not Breaking the Sauce

Let's say you want to make gribiche and you're dead-set on it not breaking. What to do? Well, I can tell you firsthand that with care it is absolutely possible to make an emulsified gribiche with hard-boiled egg yolks. Simply process or whisk the yolks with vinegar and mustard until they have fully become a paste with no firm yolky lumps left and then incorporate the oil very slowly while whisking or processing constantly. Bit by bit, without going too fast, you will get there.

Overhead view of whisking eggs
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

But you know me and you know this site! We're not the kind of place that just leaves you with advice like that if we can help it. I've seen tricks such as adding a single raw yolk to the cooked ones, but I have what I think is an even better one: Just don't cook the yolks hard-hard. Instead of making hard-boiled eggs, you can make semi-jammy yolks by cooking the eggs just a couple minutes shorter (nine minutes in my recipe for semi-jammy versus 11 for fully firm yolks). This tiny difference is just enough to keep a bit of the yolks' original emulsifying power intact, while still yielding solid whites and a cooked yolk flavor.

It's just a tiny cheat, a subtle nudge to get the eggs to a place where you're not quite as disadvantaged when trying to stick the emulsified landing.

Now it's your turn. Pick between emulsified or broken as a goal, decide on just how strong or reserved you want your flavors to be, settle on how finely you're willing to mince everything. Then get gribiching, because this sauce deserves to be spread all over your kitchen.

Bring 3 quarts (2.8L) water to a boil in a large pot and prepare an ice bath. Carefully lower eggs into pot and continue to boil for 30 seconds. Cover tightly, reduce heat to low (water should maintain a bare simmer), and continue cooking for 9 minutes for jammy yolks or 11 minutes for hard-cooked yolks (see headnote above for guidance on how the degree of yolk doneness can affect the sauce). Immediately transfer eggs to ice water and allow to cool for at least 15 minutes, then peel under cool running water. Halve eggs lengthwise and scoop yolks into a medium mixing bowl, blender, or food processor. Finely dice egg whites.

Overhead view of eggs
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Add vinegar, mustard, and a pinch of salt and pepper to the egg yolks. Whisk, blend, or process until yolks are almost entirely combined with the other ingredients and very few if any yolky lumps remain. While continuously whisking or blending, slowly drizzle in oil in a thin, steady stream. The sauce should emulsify, but it may break more easily with hard-cooked yolks (see headnote above on why you may or may not want this); you can also whisk less vigorously and/or add the oil much faster to deliberately create a broken sauce.

Two image collage of base of sauce
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Stir in cornichons, capers, herbs, and egg whites until well combined. Season with additional salt and pepper, if desired, then serve or refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to use.

Two image collage of finishing sauce gribiche
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Notes

Chervil, an herb with delicate lacy fronds and a subtle anise flavor, is a very difficult herb to find in US markets. It is fine to omit it and use only parsley and tarragon instead. You can also use just parsley if you can't find tarragon (I've done it, it works!), but that will eliminate one essential flavor from the sauce.

Make-Ahead and Storage

Sauce gribiche can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

The Best Way to Poach Chicken Is Not What Most Recipes Say, and We Have the Proof

Traditional poached chicken recipes are usually a guessing game of timing and temperature, leading to meat that’s either undercooked or dry and stringy. Our unconventional cold-start method is worlds better, producing chicken that is plump, tender, and juicy.

Overhead view of poached chicken
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Baked, roasted, braised, and fried chicken are inarguably delicious. Poaching, by comparison, can seem bland. And yet, when done well, poached chicken is unsurpassed in its tender texture, juiciness, and pristine flavor. While you can—and should—poach any part of the bird, we find that the gentle, wet cooking method works particularly well for breasts, so that's what this recipe focuses on. It's a method that is highly regarded in some cuisines (Chinese, just to name one), and deserves far more respect and attention than it tends to get here in the United States.

The key to great poached chicken, though, is to cook it such that the meat remains absolutely tender and juicy throughout. Too often, chicken poaching recipes lead to the opposite result, one in which the chicken comes out overcooked, dry, and stringy despite the wet cooking medium. The question, then, is how to devise a chicken poaching method that is repeatable, foolproof, and free of the guesswork and imprecision that troubles so many of the common approaches?

Poaching Precision: Why Many Poaching Methods Don't Work Well

Most recipes for poached chicken have you add the breasts to simmering or boiling liquid, often water with some aromatics added. One of the most common methods tells you to remove the pot from the heat as soon as the chicken goes into it, then let it stand for 30 or 40 minutes until the chicken is cooked through. I don't love that lack of precision—different-sized chicken breasts will cook in different times, and the varying ratio of water to chicken will change the rate at which the water cools, throwing off cooking times even more. You can too easily end up with chicken that is overcooked or undercooked, and you won't even know it until you cut into the breast.

Another common method has you hold the chicken at a simmer until it is fully cooked through. This eliminates the risk of serving undercooked chicken, but it increases the risk of overcooking. That's because a simmer is quite a bit hotter—just under water's boiling point of 212°F (100°C)—than the ideal temperature of chicken breast meat, which is closer to about 155°F (68°C).

This made me wonder whether there wasn't a better way to poach chicken, one that cooks it more gently from start to finish, ensuring doneness without over-doneness. I started wondering whether I couldn't improve upon the chicken approach using a technique I've seen and used before with seafood: cold-start poaching. After all, that's more or less what chicken breast cooked sous vide is, except that with sous vide, the chicken is in a plastic bag.

Cold-Start vs. Conventional Poaching

To test it out, I cooked two bone-in, skin-on chicken breast halves separately in two pots of water that I'd seasoned with salt and flavored with scallion and ginger. I dropped one of them into boiling water, then maintained the simmer until the thickest part of the chicken had reached 150°F (65°C) on an instant-read thermometer. I added the other to the water while it was still cold, then brought the water up to about 150°F and cooked it until the inside of the chicken had reached the same final temperature; I adjusted the heat to maintain the water's temperature, but wasn't too strict about it—it sometimes hovered up around 160°F (61°C), or even a little higher.

Side-by-side comparison of whole skin-on chicken breast using two poaching methods. The traditional method shows chicken that is tight and contracted and dry; the method offered by this recipe shows one that is plump with a relaxed appearance and minimal contracting of skin and flesh.

Straight from the water, the differences were visible. The chicken cooked in the simmering water had skin that retracted more, while the gently cooked cold-start chicken retained a much more even covering of skin. I could also feel by pressing on the flesh that the simmered chicken was tighter and firmer to the touch than the cold-start poached chicken.

Side by side comparison of two methods of chicken breast poaching showing the interior of the meat. The traditional hot-start method looks more dry and fibrous, while the cold-start method advocated by this article shows meat that is plump and juicy.

Once sliced, the exposed meat revealed similar results, with the lower-temp sample much tenderer and juicier than the simmered one, though the photos here don't do a good job of conveying that visually. In person, there was no question about which was better.

The downside of the lower-temp method, of course, is that it takes longer due to the lower cooking temperature. My chicken breast halves weighed three-quarters of a pound each, and at that weight, the simmered one cooked in 30 minutes (including the time it took to bring the water to a boil), while the low-temperature one was just a little shy of one hour when it was ready—not a terribly long time if you're prepping other things for dinner while it gradually cooks, but not ideal if you're in a rush.

It's important to note, though, that the times can be quite variable here, dependent on both the average temperature at which you're able to hold your liquid and also the mass and thickness of your chicken breasts as well as whether they are bone-in or not. I've since had chicken breasts poach in about 35 minutes using the cold-start method simply because they were slightly smaller.

A Middle Ground for Quicker Results

You can split the difference, raising the poaching temperature to about 170°F (77°C), which is still lower than boiling/simmering water, but not quite as low as 150°F. That shaves some valuable minutes off, while still producing a tenderer piece of meat than simmering does.

I recommend you give it a try. After all, poached chicken not only yields delicious meat that's a blank canvas for so many recipes, but also a flavorful broth that can be sipped or saved for future recipes.

In a large saucepan, combine water and salt, stirring to dissolve salt. Add chicken and aromatics and set over medium-high heat until water temperature reaches between 150 and 160°F on an instant-read thermometer; adjust heat to maintain water temperature in the 150–160°F range. (It's okay if the temperature bounces around a little, but try to keep it above 150 and below 170°F.) Cook until thickest part of chicken registers 150°F on an instant-read thermometer, about 30 minutes to 1 hour (timing is difficult to estimate as it is heavily influenced by both the temperature at which you're able to hold the poaching liquid and also the size of the chicken breast used). Remove chicken from broth and let cool. Strain broth through a fine-mesh strainer.

Overhead view of chicken poaching
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Refrigerate chicken either submerged in cooled broth or the two components separately in airtight containers until ready to use as desired.

Overhead view of slicing chicken
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Notes

There's no need to be precise with the aromatics, though for this quantity of chicken, roughly one medium or large onion, one medium or large carrot, one or two celery ribs, and a few cloves of garlic , and a few parsley sprigs would be an appropriate amount. You can use as many or as few aromatics as you like: only onion and garlic, for example, in which case you might want to use two or three onions and a few more cloves of garlic. Another approach could be to use only scallion and ginger if the chicken is intended for Asian dishes where that flavor profile might be a better match. There are no hard rules, though—just use your judgement and follow your preferences.

Special Equipment

Instant-read thermometer, fine-mesh strainer

The Simple Trick for Ultra-Creamy Oatmeal

These traditional Scottish oats are made from steel-cut (also known as pinhead or Irish) oats, cooked in lightly salted water until creamy but still flowing, and topping with little more than butter and maybe a sprinkling of good sea salt.

Overhead view of oatmeal
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Oatmeal can be a lavish affair, laden with milk or cream, topped with flowing rivers of butter butter, drizzled with honey or maple syrup, garnished with fruits, and mounted with nut butters and pastes. I love oatmeal like that, and have recipes like a bananas foster–inspired oatmeal with peanut butter and a rich and creamy milk-based oatmeal. But oatmeal doesn't have to be chock full of those kinds of things to be great, and if you want proof, look no farther than the Land of Oats itself: Scotland.

I have no idea if the Scottish would agree with this moniker I've bestowed upon them, but unless they'd prefer I call them the Land of Fried Mars Bars, I'm sticking with it. Also, our new AI overlords agree with me: When I asked ChatGPT which country it would guess I was referring to with The Land of Oats, it replied, "My best guess would be Scotland. Scotland is renowned for its oats, which are a staple grain used traditionally in various Scottish dishes, most notably porridge and oatcakes. The climate and soil conditions in Scotland are particularly well-suited for growing oats, making it a prominent part of the country's agriculture and culinary traditions." So, as we all know, if AI says it, it's true.

The Key Ingredients in Scottish-Style Oatmeal

Anyway, back to oatmeal. Classic Scottish oats are made with three basic ingredients, and two of them—water and salt—hardly even qualify when playing the recipe publication ingredient counting game. So that leaves the oats as the only main ingredient, which means I could declare in a headline that These One-Ingredient Oats Are Better Than My Wildest Dreams and maybe get some attention on Google Discover. (I'd get vastly more attention if I wrote Taylor Swift Says This Ina Garten Recipe for Scottish Oats Is the Best Breakfast Ever, but they have nothing to do with this recipe so we're not gonna go there.)

Up until this moment I've not mentioned the butter, but it is an optional topping, along with some beautiful flaky sea salt. I'll be honest, though, it's not an optional topping for me because the butter makes it. As they say quite rightly in Scotland, "Give me that pat of golden butter on my porridge or give me haggis."

Tips for the Perfect Bowl of Scottish Oats

As for the cooking method, here are the most important techniques and details to pay attention to:

  1. You do not need a spurtle for this. A spurtle is a traditional Scottish oatmeal-stirring implement that others would identify as...a stick. I own one and I get a big kick out of it, but I've done side-by-side tests stirring with a spurtle and a wooden spoon and I can't detect a lick of a difference.
  2. Use steel-cut oats, not rolled oats, and toast them if desired. This oatmeal is correctly made with steel-cut (also sold as "pinhead") oats, not rolled or instant oats. They take longer to cook, but they're nuttier and produce a much better texture. You can dry-toast them for a deeper, lightly roasted flavor; it's a nice touch that only takes a few extra minutes. (Don't burn them!)
  3. Save time with an overnight soak. While there's no requirement to think about breakfast the night before, you will save time in the morning by waking up to a pot full of oats that have been sitting in the water while you slept. Once fully hydrated, they cook up much more quickly, saving you a good ten to 15 minutes on the total cooking time.
  4. Salt matters. Add a bit of salt to the oats and water before cooking will make all the difference in the oatmeal's final flavor. It shouldn't be too salty but it should taste seasoned. Finishing the oatmeal with a few large crystals of flaky sea salt is also a worthwhile move.
  5. Stir gently. While the spurtle doesn't matter much, how you stir does make a difference. Stir too little and you could end up with scorched oatmeal, thin and watery oatmeal, or both. Stir too rapidly, and it could turn into a pot of oat glue. That's because the stirring motion loosens starches from the oats and disperses them throughout the pot, thickening the porridge in the process. With gentle and frequent stirring, you'll get oats that are plump and suspended in a creamy glaze, neither thin nor cement-like.
  6. The recipe says the butter is optional, but it's not. I know I already told you this, but I'm telling you again because I mean it. Eat the butter, enjoy the butter. If you must skip butter, consider a bit of cream instead.

If you prefer a deeper, more complex flavor, dry-toast the oats in the cooking pot over high eat, stirring and tossing constantly, until lightly roasted and fragrant, then remove from heat. If making overnight oats, combine toasted or untoasted oats and water in a medium saucepan or 3-quart saucier and let stand, covered, overnight. If not making overnight oats, combine toasted or untoasted oats and water in the saucepan and proceed with cooking immediately.

OVerhead view of oats cooking
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Bring oats and water to a simmer over medium-high heat, seasoning lightly with a pinch of salt. Reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook uncovered, stirring frequently but slowly, until porridge is well thickened but still flows slightly, about 5 minutes for overnight oats and 20 minutes for un-soaked oats.

Overhead view of oats cooking
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

If oats are still too firm to your taste, stir in additional boiling water 1/4 cup (60ml) at a time and continue cooking until desired texture of oats is reached. Scoop porridge into warmed bowls and top with a pat of butter and/or a splash of cream. Sprinkle flaky salt on top, if desired. Serve.

Side view of sprinkling salt
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Notes

Most steel-cut oats work best with the overnight method as described here, but we have found some artisan brands that have a slightly more powdery texture; those do better if you pour off the soaking water, rinse the grains lightly, then add fresh water to cook them. If your overnight oatmeal is overly thick and starchy, you may want to try that soaking-and-rinsing method instead.