Kitchens are repositories of paraphernalia, equipped with an endless array of gadgets, gizmos and appliances that often have frustratingly specific jobs. It’s time to free those lonely kitchen tools and put them to work somewhere a lot more fun: your bar.
Though its name sounds like a mode of transportation that might be preferred by characters in a 1960s space-themed cartoon, the Pacojet is actually one of the most useful culinary appliances of recent times.
It was invented in the 1980s by Swiss engineer Wilhelm Maurer, who wanted to create the ultimate ice cream maker. It hit the market in the early 1990s, and since then it has become as much of a haute gastronomy essential as are the sous vide immersion circulator and Spinzall.
What Is a Pacojet?
The “pacotizing” process, as it’s called, involves deep-freezing ingredients for at least 24 hours at -8 °F or lower in a proprietary beaker. Afterward, it’s attached to the Pacojet machine, and a blade spinning at 2,000 rpm shaves off micro-thin layers from the top of the frozen block. Think of the device as an über-efficient, ultra-fast automated shaved ice machine, capable of producing gallons of incredibly smooth ice cream, sauce or soup per hour—or one portion in just 20 seconds.
These results don’t come cheaply, however. The standard Pacojet runs upwards of $7,000, while the Junior, the company’s base model, clocks in at just under $4,000. But the tool has long been coveted by any chef who’s obsessive about crafting silky, finely textured smoked salmon mousse, gazpacho, soufflé or ice cream. And it doesn’t take much connecting the dots to see its cool applications for cocktails. Why blend when you can Paco-tize?
“The Pacojet is the most expensive and niche tool we have in-house,” says Drew Hairston, who has served as the beverage manager at the globally inspired New American restaurant Dirty Habit at the Hotel Monaco in Washington, D.C. He discovered it a while back at the three-Michelin-starred Inn at Little Washington in Washington, Va., where it’s used to make the Caesar salad ice cream that accompanies chef Patrick O’Connell’s lamb carpaccio.
Hairston has used it to create drinks like the Blue by You, which combines Barr Hill Tom Cat gin with blueberry puree, lavender bitters, raw honey and Meyer lemon stock. It’s all frozen in the Pacojet’s specially designed cylindrical beaker at an exceptionally low temperature, with staff finding the right balance of sugar and gin so that it completely solidifies. When it does freeze, the mixture is full of ice crystals with a snow cone-like consistency. “This is where the Pacojet comes in,” says Hairston. “It’s essentially an auger that micro-purees full frozen substances into a smooth ice-cream-like texture, vastly improving the presentation and mouthfeel of our boozy sorbet.”
“You can refreeze ingredients every night and Paco-tize daily to have the perfect consistency for service,” says Ryan Clark, the executive chef at Casino Del Sol in Tucson, Ariz. “We can Paco-tize the mixture daily so that it’s extremely fresh and has a perfect mouthfeel.” Clark won the 2018 World Margarita Championship using the Pacojet for his Heilo Verde Margarita, a drink that starts with a traditional base of blanco tequila, plus lemon, lime and orange juices, agave syrup, and dry curaçao. It’s shaken and strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice, and topped with a salt-forward, slightly smoky green ice made from Topo Chico, English cucumber, sugar, mezcal, tomatillo, kosher salt and cilantro that’s all been Paco-tized.
He also uses the equipment for flavored sorbets, herb oils and infused spirits for seasonal cocktail menus. The house gin Martinis are finished with a lemon verbena oil made with the Pacojet, which he says “infuses the oil and helps keep the vibrant green color from the leaves of the shrub.”
Get the Most Out of Fruit
Los Angeles bartender Ryan Wainwright, who has worked at restaurants including Gjelina and The Tasting Kitchen before his current roles as national brand ambassador for Bombay gin, uses the Pacojet for his riffable Fruit Suckle, a combination of gin, fruit, lime juice and honey syrup. “I love to use this with any fruit I have kicking around my freezer that needs to get used up,” he says. “I just throw it in the Pacojet and then straight into my blender with the other ingredients.” Depending on the fruit selected, the amount of honey and lime juice may need to be tweaked to taste; strawberries and mangos tend to be sweeter, while raspberries and blueberries may be tarter. Finishing it in the blender allows for the inclusion of more alcohol; you can make the entire drink in the Pacojet, but you might need to adjust the ingredient ratio so it freezes solid.
If you still aren’t sold on the Pacojet as anything more than a fancy blender, there’s yet another benefit. Processing fresh ingredients and keeping them deeply frozen preserves them at their optimal flavor until they’re ready to use—a suspended animation of sorts. Fruit sorbets like pineapple-mango or apple-basil can be scooped into a coupe, topped with sparkling wine and garnished with fresh mint or basil for an effortless wine slushie. A dollop of horseradish concentrate made in the Pacojet punches up a Bloody Mary, while a few drops of dill concentrate makes a Martini much more savory. “It’s a lot of fun to come up with different flavor combinations,” says Clark. “Play with sugar and fat levels to come up with a different mouthfeel and texture.”