Eggs are undoubtedly one of the most versatile ingredients, but they’re not just for baking and breakfast. Egg whites are a common ingredient in cocktails, used to create a creamy texture and foam. Drinks like the Pisco Sour, Ramos Gin Fizz, and eggnog are all dependent on raw egg whites for their signature taste.
According to Gary Regan, author of “The Joy of Mixology: The Consummate Guide to the Bartender’s Craft”:
“While incorporating egg whites, yolks, or whole eggs, in a drink, you’ll need to work a little harder to get the correct texture. In order to fully combine all the ingredients (commonly referred to as emulsification), you can use a few techniques and tools. One method you can use for any recipe that calls for eggs is the dry shake, introduced to me by Chad Solomon of Cuff and Buttons in Brooklyn. Add the egg and the other ingredients to the shaker without ice and shake for 5 to 10 seconds. Put some effort into this if you want the right results. Add ice and shake for an additional 10 to 15 seconds. This works well simply because the eggs emulsify more readily at room temperature than they do when chilled.”
When you’re adding egg whites to a cocktail, make sure that they’re as fresh as possible—err on the side of caution and only use eggs that you’ve purchased recently (and be sure to give them a quick sniff to make sure they don’t have any type of odor). Salmonella is fairly rare these days but make sure that the eggs have unbroken shells and are fully intact without cracks. If you’re really worried about bacteria, you can use pasteurized egg whites (many bars and restaurants use these so that they can buy them in bulk).
So why would you add an egg white to your drink? Texture. The raw egg doesn’t contribute an eggy taste, but the silky smooth texture and cappuccino-like foam are hard to achieve with any substitute ingredient. When you beat or shake an egg white, the mechanical action makes the proteins unfold and traps tiny pockets of air. The egg whites change from translucent to white and if left untouched, the foam will eventually collapse and return to a liquid state. If you’re crafting a frothy cocktail with an egg white, be sure to serve immediately or you’ll lose a significant amount of the foam.
Greg Cochran, a manager at Union Square Hospitality Group’s Vini e Fritti, a Roman-style aperitivi bar in Manhattan, advocates for adding in that extra texture: “You use egg whites in cocktails for body. You’re taking a cocktail that can be a little flat, and giving it this beautiful texture and silkiness. Most of the time they’re used for sours, Pisco sours, whiskey sours, but there are all sorts of uses—you just have to balance your sweetness and your acid. They’re one of my favorite drinks and egg whites in cocktails are one of the ways I use to judge a bar. If it’s bad it’s really bad, and if it’s good, it’s good.”
If you’re sold on the texture of cocktails that contain eggs but don’t love the smell of egg whites, Gary Regan has another suggestion: “Some folks can’t stand the odor that sometimes accompanies raw eggs and Jon Bonné, my editor when I wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle, once advised me that a drop or two of bitters can mask this unpleasantness quite handily…You can also combat egg stench by flavoring them prior to use. If you’re planning on making Ramos Gin Fizzes, for instance, you might think about flavoring your eggs with orange zest.” So the next time you’re in the market for a whiskey sour, don’t think twice about adding in an egg white to your cocktail shaker (but be sure to prepare one drink at a time—batching cocktails with egg whites takes practice and a lot of shaking).
Related Video: How to Use Egg Whites in Cocktails