Matthew Mead/Associated Press
Matthew Mead/Associated Press
The parade of retro treats marches on. And this summer it seems the foodie hipster scene has declared shaved ice is the hot “new” old way to stay – and be – cool.
“We have lines. People are really excited about it,” says David Carrell, one of the operators of the New York City-based People’s Pops, which specializes in shaved ice, along with ice pops, both made with fresh fruits and herbs.
Carrell, also a coauthor of the new People’s Pops cookbook containing 55 ice pop and shaved ice recipes, thinks shaved ice is just on the cusp of becoming a mainstream phenomenon. And he thinks for good reason, saying shaved ice has dramatic appeal, especially when made from hand-carved ice.
“There’s not that much visible about an ice pop,” he says. “But if you have a 75- to 100-pound block of ice sitting in front of you and you’re shaving it by hand – especially on a day when it’s 88 going on 110 degrees – it will stop you in your tracks.”
Unlike snow cones, where the ice is usually crushed, shaved ice is – wait for it – shaved, resulting in a finely textured ice that absorbs the syrup added to it. It’s popular in a number of cultures; think granitas in Italy or piraguas in Puerto Rico.
In the United States, the treat is a specialty of Hawaii, where it’s known as shave ice and may come served on top of a scoop of vanilla ice cream and/or with a splash of sweetened condensed milk on top. (Pictures of President Barack Obama enjoying shave ice during visits to the Aloha State have certainly helped boost the product’s visibility.)
Shaved ice can be made the old-fashioned way like People’s Pops does it or in one of the many machines available on the market, each promising to deliver ice with just the right texture. In fact, retailers this summer seem flush with shaved ice machines; Target alone offers several models, most selling for around $20.
What one does with that shaved ice is where things get interesting. Syrup flavors can range from the traditional, such as pineapple or strawberry, to the less-expected, like the mango tea and green apple served by chef Peter Smith at the PS7s restaurant in the Penn Quarter section of Washington, D.C.
At the Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar and Eatery in Arlington, Va., chef Davis Guas serves some interestingly flavored shaved ice and has a few syrup tips for those who want to try making their own. First, start with the freshest fruit. Second, don’t puree the fruit, especially if it has seeds. Rather, macerate it with a little sugar and lemon juice, then steam it in a double boiler before straining the juice through cheesecloth.
Finally, poke the ice with a straw before adding the syrup. This helps ensure that the syrup gets evenly distributed.
If you’re feeling festive, shaved ice can segue into cocktail hour. For private events, Carrell has made a fresh watermelon lemonade Bellini version that includes prosecco. “When it’s 95 degrees and it’s July, nothing really beats a fresh shaved ice watermelon lemonade Bellini,” he says.
Editor’s note: Machines for making shaved ice at home have become common, especially this summer. Hand-cranked models can sell for less than $10, with more powerful electric versions averaging $20 and up. But if you don’t have or want a machine, it’s easy to make granita-style shaved ice. Our recipes offer directions for both methods. Recipes by Alison Ladman.