A Lime Cut Three Ways: The First Cut

1 Jun

The Caipirinha

My first exposure to Brazilian food, if you can call it that, was at a three-level place in the theater district called Cabana Carioca. At lunch on all three levels, there was an “all you can eat” buffet were rice and beans, plantains, potatoes, hearts of palm salad, baby shrimp salad, chorizo, roast chicken and  macaroni were some of the offerings. Depending what level you ate, was what you paid. The higher you climbed, the cheaper the buffet.

On the main level was a flat out, standard restaurant. I don’t think I ever ate there, but maybe I did. I just don’t remember. The second level, where the kitchen was located, was a bit more casual than the main level and the most popular of the three.  It was on the second level where I ate most of my meals. The third level was bare bones; dark and usually empty—used probably only when the other two levels were packed or for private parties, but still serving the restaurants’ enormous portions of steaks, fish, shrimp, and the specialty: feijoada, also known as the “Brazilian National Dish.”

Cabana Carioca’s feijoada came in a cast iron pot stuffed with black beans and a variety of meats; pork shoulder, chorizo, kidney, beef, and other cuts that at the time, I could not identify. They were all coated in the black gravy of the beans and, really, since by then I was probably on my second or third caipirinha, no longer cared what I might be shoveling into my mouth.

The Brazilian National Dish

Along with the alcohol’s numbing effect, the caipirinha, as opposed to beer, helped cut through the density of the feijoada and made it much easier to navigate. The only problem was the next day’s hangover from too much cachaca, the Brazilian spirit made from pressed and then distilled sugar cane juice and used to make the caipirinha.

I think the last time I had a caipirinha at Cabana Carioca was in 1998 watching Brazil lose to France in the World Cup. The restaurant, all three levels, closed soon after and now, both its caipirinha and feijoada are just memories.

I’ve never had the fortitude to try to resurrect the feijoada in my kitchen, but the caipirinha is a frequent guest. The ingredients are simple; cachaca (available at most liquor stores), sugar, ice, and of course limes. Despite the easy ingredients, making a really good caipirinha requires a little sweat, or, as they used to say, “elbow grease.” The result, however, is well worth the effort.
What follows is the first cut of the lime: the caipirinha.

Some of the tools and ingredients in making a caipirinha.


1 or 2 limes

2 to 3 ounces of cachaca*

2 to 3 teaspoons of sugar syrup **

3-5 ice cubes

*Spirit importers are beginning to market “premium” cachaca, which really just translates into a glitzy bottle design along with an upscale marketing campaign all in the hopes of selling a much higher priced product. I advise you not to go that route when purchasing cachaca for your caipirinhas. In Brazil there are two very popular brands that are used at most restaurants and clubs in making caipirinhas and they can be found here for well under $20 a liter. Seek them out. I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

**Most caipirinha recipes call for granulated sugar. I prefer pre-made sugar syrup thus skipping the “dissolving” process that is necessary in making the drink. To make simple sugar syrup, combine equal amounts of sugar and water, bring to a boil, lower the heat and let cook until the granules have dissolved. The syrup will last for weeks in your refrigerator. I like to use Demerara brown sugar for my syrup, but basic white sugar works just as well.


Sugar syrup and cut up limes.


To make the caipirinha you will need:

1 lime muddler. I have a parrot lime muddler that was given to me by my brother; a souvenir he picked up on a trip to Brazil.

The parrot

Cocktail shaker and strainer.

Cut the lime into eighths or even tenths.

Toss the lime pieces into the cocktail shaker and using your muddler, it can be a pestle, if you have a mortar and pestle, or anything that can mash and muddle lime pieces, muddle mash the lime, extracting the juice from both the rind and the pulp. Don’t be stingy with that aforementioned elbow grease.

Let the lime muddling begin.

Add the sugar syrup, cachaca and a some ice cubes.

Shake vigorously and then strain into an ice cube filled glass.

Almost cocktail time.

Do not be fooled by the drink’s petite size. It will be tempting to down it in a few gulps, but try to sip slowly.  Drinking the caipirinha too hastily will only mean a quicker return to the kitchen and more work for you to make another.

5 Responses to “A Lime Cut Three Ways: The First Cut”

  1. Paul June 1, 2012 at 1:11 pm #

    Brian – a great little article about a great little cocktail, one of my favorites. Thanks!


  1. A Lime Cut Three Ways: The Second Cut « Fried Neck Bones…and some home fries - June 21, 2012

    […] *You can use superfine sugar, granulated sugar, or even confectioner’s sugar instead of simple syrup, but I prefer homemade syrup which eliminates having to dissolve the sugar into the drink. The recipe for simple sugar syrup can be found on my post, A Lime Cut Three Ways: The First Cut. […]

  2. A Lime Cut Three Ways: The Third Cut « Fried Neck Bones…and some home fries - July 20, 2012

    […] the first cut, The Caipirinha, I used cachaca from Brazil. In the second cut, The Mojito , I used a white, neutral Puerto Rican […]

  3. Neck Bones’ Fat Tuesday Red Beans and Rice « Fried Neck Bones…and some home fries - February 12, 2013

    […] Enjoy with a cold beer or maybe borrowing from another Fat Tuesday celebration, this one in Brazil, with a cold caipirinha, the recipe for the cocktail can be found here A Lime Cut Three Ways: The First Cut . […]

  4. The Mount Vernon Meat Hangover | Fried Neck Bones...and some home fries - April 24, 2013

    […] The caipirinha’s I’m familiar with and wrote about in the trilogy: A Lime Cut Three Ways (see A Lime Cut Three Ways: The First Cut) usually were served in small, Old Fashioned glasses. This one came in a big plastic cup with a […]

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