Infuse Your Own Milk Liqueur, à la Ceia

The Portuguese nightcap has been a staple at the restaurant since its early days, and it will grace the tableside bar carts at Oak + Rowan, opening in Boston this summer.
Ceia Kitchen + Bar

Ceia’s Milk liqueur cocktail. / Photo provided

If you make a batch of restauranteur Nancy Batista-Caswell’s Portuguese milk liqueur this weekend, its ultimate smoothness probably won’t be realized in time for Thanksgiving dinner next week—it takes 10 days to infuse. But there is plenty of time to perfect this addition to your at-home liquor cabinet with time to enjoy nightcaps all winter long.

The Azorean booze is a family recipe, Batista-Caswell said. She was just 28 years old when she opened her first restaurant in Newburyport, Ceia Kitchen + Bar, and the concept is built around her Portuguese heritage. “Ceia really just became became about what I grew up with: Enjoyable conversation, drinks, and food around the table,” she said. 

That conviviality will continue south this summer, when the Caswell Restaurant Group opens its first restaurant in Boston. Oak + Rowan is on its way to A Street in Fort Point, and it will merge some of the most popular components of Ceia and the group’s second Newburyport spot, the simply extravagant Brine.

Oak + Rowan will have Ceia’s hearty, house-made pastas, and a similarly robust, European wine list; and executive chef Justin Shoults will produce delicate seafood crudos, prime steaks, and a substantial caviar program, like he did at Brine.

A recent recipient of a Zagat 30 Under 30 nod, Shoults is testing dishes like poached sea scallops with quinoa pancetta, picked ramp, and scallop roe vinaigrette; yellowfin tuna crudo with egg yolk, baby turnip, charred scallion, and white sturgeon caviar; a lamb trio of tartare, tenderloin, and braised shank; ribeye with bone marrow bread pudding; and house-made sausage.

Something new Oak + Rowan will bring to the table? Beverage service, quite literally. In addition to a 29-seat bar, there will be three bar carts throughout the dining room, providing tableside drink service.

“We put a lot of energy into our drinks at Brine and Ceia, and we want to make sure we showcase that to our guests,” Batista-Caswell said. “When you go into a restaurant, drinks are coming off the service bar, and ultimately, the guest loses that experience unless they’re sitting at the bar. We want them to understand the dynamic of making a drink, the adding and subtracting that goes into it. And of course, there’s always the question of, ‘Where is my drink?’ Now, they’ll be able to see it in the dining room and be able to engage with the bartender who’s making it for them.”

They’ll be able to ask questions about the Portuguese milk liqueur, which surfaced on Ceia’s cocktail list three months after it opened and hasn’t left. Milk, sugar, and a flavor component infuse over time with vodka or grappa, an Italian pomace brandy.

“It really eliminates the sting of grappa,” Batista-Caswell said. “It becomes creamy on the palate. Traditionally, it’s enjoyed as an after-dinner drink, or a cocktail before bed. We started working with it many different ways: We’ve used a chai base with it, and winter citrus, cocoa nibs, or vanilla beans in the past. Essentially it’s become a mixer [at Ceia], or served straight up on the dessert list.” 

Batista-Caswell shared the recipe for the liqueur with Boston, as well as the current milk liqueur cocktail on Ceia’s list:

Portuguese Milk Liqueur

Ingredients:
2 cups vodka
2 cups whole or 2 percent milk
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 (or more) lemon or other citrus, juice, and rind
2 cracked vanilla beans

Mix all ingredients together in a clean, glass container with a tight-sealing lid. Shake vigorously and store in a cool, dark place for 10 days. Give the container a few shakes every day.

After 10 days, strain the liquid through a double-layer cheesecloth or a coffee filter to catch the milk solids and clarify. More rounds of straining will result in a cleaner, clearer liqueur.

To make a cocktail:

Glass: rocks

1 ounce milk liqueur
1 ounce Amaro Nonino
1/4 ounce lemon juice
2 dashes walnut bitters
garnish with lemon zest

Mis all ingredients together in a shaker over ice. Shake vigorously, and strain into rocks glass neat or over ice. Shave lemon zest over the drink.

Oak + Rowan, opening summer 2016 at 319 A St., Boston; oakandrowan.com.


Jacqueline Cain Associate Food Editor at Boston Magazine jcain@bostonmagazine.com