Orange Trees Up North

Inspired by my trip to Miami and South Beach and all those orange rub-on or take a pill tans, I decided to taste test orange liqueurs tonight.

Not really. I'd been thinking about doing it for a few days. Then this evening I took a cooking class (techniques class actually: knife skills, not throwing them) at the Bloomington Cooking School in beautiful Bloomington, IN. Chef Matt (Irish, but I'll forgive him; he was very good) put an orange compote on some salmon with a hollandaise sauce, and I started to muse, without slicing my finger, which liqueur might kick it up a notch, to coin a phrase.

Moving up in my choice of barware from red Solo cups to paper Sponge Bob cups, the first one I tried was good ol' triple sec. Tastes like an orange gumdrop: very sweet and orangey, though not overpowering. I can see why it goes well in margaritas.

Next was curacao: also sweet, but a very strong rubbing alcohol taste to it, like the orange-flavored cough medicine from my childhood that I had to have poured down my throat. I tried blue curacao too: a slightly different taste and not as much of the cough medicine fumes. Maybe a higher-end curacao wouldn't make me want to rub it on sore muscles.

Then on to the higher-end stuff: Cointreau. Very strong orange flavor, potent liqueur kick but not like curacao, more refined. For what it costs, it should be.

And, of course, Grand Marnier. You can really taste the cognac base in this; of the bunch, it's the only one I'd sip as an after-dinner drink. It's not as overwhelming as the Cointreau and more complex, with all the secret herbal ingredients. And not as cloyingly sweet as the two colors of Chartreuse, which cost even more than Grand Marnier.

Last but not least Mandarin Napoleon. Also cognac based, but you don't taste that as much with this. Very orange color (good ol' dye number 10-31), herbal mix almost more of a Hermione Granger brew than Grand Marnier.

If I were going to put one of these in an orange sauce, say, for duck or my salmon, I'd try the last one first, the Mandarin Napoleon. Second choice would be Cointreau, since I might not want the cognac kick from Grand Marnier. Or even the Triple Sec would work, depending what you're using the sauce for--it would work great for a simple dessert orange sauce.