Sunday, November 12, 2006

Starfruit or Carambola Cocktail

Carambola cocktails have been my all-time favorite cocktail for two decades. In more recent times, as hurricanes ravaged the bounty of Florida growers, the principal ingredient necessary for making them has become both scarce and expensive hereabouts.

Up until several years ago, starfruits, known also as carambolas, were becoming ubiquitous even at chain supermarkets. When in season as they are now, a small starfruit might go for as little as 50 cents. Today it's more likely to be several dollars. The only good news is that when available, they're likely to be larger and of better quality than before.

Considerations other than size are very important in carambola selection. Ripeness is paramount. This means bright yellow with little or no green coloration remaining. The texture should be slightly softened, with some brown along the ridges, to be peeled off with a sharp knife.

The originator of this magnificent concoction is Elizabeth Schneider, author of Uncommon Fruits and Vegetables: A Commonsense Guide, Harper & Row, New York, 1986. Here is her own take on it:

"Anyone who has visited the French West Indies will become dreamy-eyed when he sips this type of white rum and fruit drink, which instantly creates tropical nostalgia. Although I've not tasted this sunny yellow combination anywhere but in my own wintry New York City living room, it deserves a tropical home."

Though Ms. Schneider refers to a "white rum and fruit drink," her recipe specifies either golden or white rum. That's why our version calls for two parts white to one part golden. Another variation that has worked has been to substitute lemon juice for lime juice. A further distinction uniquely ours was to use Mrs. Yi's homemade kumquat liqueur as the preferred "light fruit liqueur."


1/2 pound carambolas or starfruit (think three small, two medium, or one large)

1 ounce pale fruit liqueur (Cointreau, Triple Sec, banana liqueur, apricot liqueur---we use Mrs. Yi's homemade kumquat liqueur)

1 ounce lime juice---or lemon juice

1 1/2 tablespoons powdered sugar

3/4 cup golden or white rum (we use 1/2 cup white, 1/4 cup golden)

Shave ribs (likely to be dark brown) off carambolas. Cut a crosswise slice from and set aside to use later to create a garnish. Then quarter fruit lengthwise and remove seeds with a sharp tipped spoon. Puree seeded carambolas with liqueur. Then press through a sieve (a food processor is the best tool for both of these steps.). Add sugar and lime juice to the mix. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Add rum. Pour into a cocktail shaker and refrigerate until serving time. Halve the carambola slices, and partially slit each from the center to make a garnish. Fill a glass with crushed ice and garnish with a carambola slice . Shake without ice to blend, then pour into a glass. It will be good for one to four drinks depending upon the type and size of the glass you use.

And finally a warning: A few ethnic stores carry carambola juice in cans. I don't think it tastes very good, and am comfortable that any attempt at using it for a carambola cocktail should prove to be a disaster.