You've seen it by now - clear ice, crystal clear ice, ice rocks, pond ice, the holy grail of ice -- we all love the beautiful illusions, the bare reflections, the looking-glass clarity and almost-not-there effects of a big ass clear ice cube chilling down a cocktail in our rocks glass.
If bars and restaurants get fancy with clear ice, it often comes from a giant block of ice that is broken down using saws and chisels. Some restaurant groups have entire ice programs devoted to keeping them in supply, while others contract with ice companies who deliver the goods.
Some bartenders take their ice very seriously, and continue to carve it into spheres or other shapes (very popular in Japan). Here's an impressive demonstration by Hidetsugu Ueno:
And of course, as the clear ice craze has made its way into the home bartending scene, there have been many, many new products created for helping you achieve crystalline perfection. We've tried a few, and while some work (and others don't), we find we have a bigger appetite for clear ice when we do decide to make it, and producing one or two clear chunks at a time just doesn't cut it.
Thankfully there have been some pioneers in the clear-ice-at-home movement that have done extensive testing and experimenting, the foremost being Camper English of Alcademics, who has a whole treasure trove of blog posts devoted to his ice experiments. Our favorite methods produce a good quantity of ice for relatively little expense - here are our top two for making some fancy-ass ice at home:
For both methods:
- Use distilled water - it has less impurities than tap water!
- If you can adjust your freezer temperature without compromising food contents, set it to a higher cool temperature (or, LOW COOL on your freezer). The goal here is to get the water in the cooler to freeze slowly from the top down, like pond ice. (Food safety guidelines say your freezer should be set at 0° F or -18° C. If you're not storing food, you could set the temperature higher than 0° F. Just try not to set it at sub-zero temperatures like -10° F.) In other words, the colder the temperature, the faster the freeze, and the less clear your ice will be!
The Cooler Method for Making Clear Ice
- Fill a small, clean, hard-sided insulated plastic cooler with distilled water.
- This part is important: Take the lid of the cooler OFF, so that the surface of the water is exposed to the air in the freezer. Put it in the freezer.
- Wait. Depending on the size of cooler you're using, and your temperature settings, it could take a few days to freeze all the way, so plan ahead. (If you let the water freeze all the way solid, its possible the cooler can crack! One option is to check on it every day, and when about 75% of the ice has frozen, remove the ice block that has formed so far from the surface of the unfrozen water. If you let the block freeze all the way through, the bottom 25% or so will be cloudy, so this just cuts your time down and leaves the to-be-cloudy portion unfrozen.
- Take the cooler out of the freezer, and let it sit at room temperature until you can extract the ice from the cooler. This could take some time, anywhere from 20 - 45 minutes.
- When you've got your solid block of ice free, you're ready to render it down into smaller pieces. You may have to let it sit out at room temperature some more; if the ice is too cold, it could shatter a lot when you're cutting it. Let the ice block sit until the surface is shiny and starting to sweat.
- To cut the ice, use a serrated blade to score around the block at the width of your first desired cut. Be sure to score all the way around the block, drawing a line where you want the ice to break apart. Use a chisel and hammer right on the scored line to break the ice, which should follow the score line and calve off a nice big block.
- First cut off any cloudy areas - you can cut these down and use them for shaking or stirring ice. Continue to score and use the chisel to break down the larger block into smaller blocks, ice rocks, and cubes.
The Cube Method for Making Clear Ice
- Procure some silicone ice cube trays in the size you prefer
- Punch or cut holes in the bottom of the trays
- In a deep tray (we used bread loaf pans), elevate the ice cube tray about 1" above the bottom using whatever you can. Ideally the support will allow water to flow freely - we stack a few metal trivets on the bottom and put the ice trays on top.
- Put the whole thing in the freezer, and wait until the water in the trays has frozen all the way through. Then you can take them out, and let it rest at room temperature until the ice cube trays can be separated from the rest of the block of ice. You should have clear, already shaped square cubes ready to use from the trays!
Ready to take the Clear Ice Challenge? Try your hand at making some at home, and tag us on Instagram @standardspoon #clearice!