ICE: LET’S GET THIS CLEAR
Getting good ice at home may be your biggest challenge – but it’s not impossible. Good ice is dense, dry on its surface, holds a chill for a long time, has no off-flavors or -smells, and is as clear as possible.
High-end bars and commercial ice providers have systems to gently agitate water while freezing to work out air bubbles, then cut off the cloudy parts where trapped air and particulates settle. At home, there’s no magic trick like using boiled or distilled water that’ll get you crystal-clear ice… but there is a reliable technique, detailed below. Working down from big to small, there’s:
Block Ice – sometimes available at the store, but easy to make on your own if you have room in the freezer. If you want to go deep into your quest for ice perfection, the best way I’ve figured is to fill a small Igloo cooler with water and freeze a couple days. The cloudy stuff will settle in the bottom, where you can saw it off (carefully, please!) using a bread knife. Use these blocks for chilling punch bowls or to carve…
Rock Ice – attractive mini-icebergs hand-carved from block ice. They’ll dilute much slower than cubes, plus they’re impressive. Carefully use an ice pick or bread knife to shape clear chunks that will fit snugly in an Old Fashioned glass. Store finished ice rocks in your freezer in a freezer-safe airtight container.
Cubed Ice – Tovolo makes two sizes of silicone trays that produce perfect cubes (as opposed to the crescent shapes made by freezer icemakers that hug the edges of the glass in an annoying way). Plus, real cubic cubes dress up a drink nicely and allow you to crack or crush your ice as need be. Punch a small hole in the bottom of each section and elevate this ice tray (filled with and surrounded by water) inside a cooler in your freezer if you want crystal-clear cubes (see technique detailed below). Store finished ice cubes in your freezer in a freezer-safe airtight container.
Cracked Ice – if your freezer’s icemaker filters water and cracks ice, that’s good enough for most. Alternately, you can hand-crack ice cubes by holding a single cube in the palm of your hand and whacking it hard with the back of a barspoon – or bust them up in a canvas Lewis bag. For parties, you’ll want to buy cracked ice in bags (they may call it “crushed”) and keep it in the freezer – not in ice buckets on the counter.
Crushed Ice – for fine, snowy crushing, the Lewis bag does a great job, if a little loudly. Good way to annoy people trying to relax. Some good smashes from a rolling pin or muddler against an ice-filled gallon freezer Ziploc wrapped in a dishtowel will work in a pinch.
HOW TO MAKE CRYSTAL-CLEAR ICE CUBES AT HOME
I’ll preface this procedure by acknowledging that, for 95% of the population, obsessing about clear ice is roughly as interesting as cataloging variances in the brownness of cardboard. But still – hand a guest at your home a drink with perfectly cubic, crystal-clear ice and they’ll be impressed. To make ice this way, you’ll need a free shelf in your side-by-side freezer or a good amount of clear space in your over/under freezer. Credit-Where-Credit-Is-Due Department: this technique was inspired by what I learned from Camper English’s quest for clear ice at home on his website Alcademics.
Using scissors, trim the end row from each Tovolo tray, leaving a 3 x 4 grid instead of a 3 x 5. Using any handy (and safe) implement, poke five small holes in the center-bottom of each tray space. You’ll see in the photo, I started with a one larger hole at first and found it wasn’t necessary to make clear ice. In fact, the cubes coming from the spaces with smaller holes are more clear. To make the small holes, I used a small hole-punch tool designed to be used with an outdoor drip-irrigation system.
Place an empty 2-cup (or so) plastic food storage container in the bottom of an Igloo Playmate 7-quart cooler, then lay the Tovolo ice trays on top. The reasoning behind this setup: when water freezes into ice slowly, trapped air bubbles and particulates settle to the bottom. By placing this rig inside an insulated cooler and elevating the trays, cloudiness will be forced through those pinholes in the bottom of the trays into the area below.
Lifting the edge of an ice tray, fill the cooler with plain old tap water just to the top edge of the ice trays. No need to filter or boil (unless your tap water is disgusting). Make sure the water is evenly distributed, filling each ice cube space to the rim and the food-storage container under the ice trays as well. If you overfill above the ice trays, you’ll have a hard time breaking out your cubes. Place the cooler with the lid folded down in your freezer for 24 hours.
Once the ice cubes are set, there’ll still be some liquid water at the bottom that holds all the trapped air and particulates. You may even see one space where cloudy freezing ice has pushed up, fighting against being trapped underneath. Using a knife, carefully chip away any ice that has formed around the edges of the ice trays. Over the sink, tilt the cooler and pull out the ice tray assembly. Break the trays loose from any ice that may be holding them, then pop out your perfect, clear ice cubes. Store finished ice cubes in your freezer in a freezer-safe airtight container.