I once went to a barbecue and was confused by a platter of sliced watermelon. It was accompanied by a sign that said “not for kids!!!” As a former child who loved watermelon, I was about to lodge a complaint, when someone clued me in: This watermelon had been dunked in vodka. The juicy, floral fruit takes to liquor especially well when chilled, but I personally prefer a bit more oomph than simply plopping fruit in a spirit. I like to make a boozy watermelon granita.
When it’s so hot outside that the sweat running down my water glass matches the situation on my brow, the only thing I want to eat, in fact, is a granita. The slushy treat is a blended mixture of sweetened, flavored water or juice. It has Sicilian roots, but depending on where you get one (in Italy or otherwise), granitas can be smooth, almost sorbet-like, or coarse and icy. When it comes to flavor, lemon and coffee are traditional, but any blended fruit, especially watermelon, works delightfully well. You can make a granita in an ice cream maker, but the most uncomplicated way requires only a fork and a bit of time — naturally that’s my preference on a lazy summer day. You’ll also need a blender or food processor, sieve, cake pan, and a working freezer.
Let’s talk booze. I typically go for a watermelon Margarita vibe, so that means tequila blanco. It just tastes like summer. (Actually, I happened to be catching up on VinePair’s podcast recently when I heard Zach Geballe predict that the drink of the summer would involve watermelon and tequila. Just call me a trendsetter!) If you’re not a tequila fan, mezcal and gin are also particularly nice here, as their flavors will shine through along with the fruit. You could also channel the vibes of that barbecue I attended and use a more subtle-tasting vodka if you prefer the buzz without the additional notes.
Blend fresh watermelon with booze, sugar, and lime, then give it a good freeze and a bit of meditative ice-scraping. Not a watermelon fan? Weird that you made it this far, but not to worry. This method will also work with other fruit, from strawberry to pineapple to mango. Since watermelon has (duh) a lot more water than most other melons, stone fruit, and berries, if you’re swapping in something else, stick to using five cups of fruit and one cup of filtered water. Feel free to swap out the lime for other citrus as well — lemon is a natural solution, but grapefruit and orange can also be quite nice here.
Scoop the finished granita into serving cups with a sprinkle of flaky salt and mild chile flakes to keep things exciting. Keep in mind, this granita isn’t as strong as a cocktail — two-thirds to half an ounce of liquor per serving to ensure the mixture can still form ice crystals — but you’re welcome to top off servings of the granita with an extra splash of a spirit (I actually think it’s a nice moment for an aperitif like vermouth or Campari, but you can also just add more of whichever booze is in the granita) if you so desire.
Boozy Watermelon Granita
Serves 6 to 8
- 1 ½ pounds fresh chopped watermelon (about 6 heaping cups) or 3 ¾ cups unsweetened watermelon juice
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2 ounces (¼ cup) fresh lime juice (from about 2 limes)
- 4 teaspoons lime zest (from about 2 limes)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 4 ounces (½ cup) tequila blanco, mezcal, gin, or vodka
- Flaky sea salt, for serving
- Mild chile flake, such as Aleppo pepper or gochugaru, for serving (optional)
- Place the watermelon, sugar, lime juice, and zest, and salt in a blender. Puree the mixture until smooth. (If using watermelon juice, start at step 2 and mix everything with the tequila until the sugar is dissolved.)
- Strain the watermelon mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a 9- by 13-inch metal baking pan (you’ll have about 4 cups).
- Discard the solids. Pour the tequila into the watermelon mixture and stir to combine. Place the baking pan in the freezer, uncovered, and freeze for 3 hours.
- Use a fork to break and scrape up the icy bits. Return to the freezer for 2 hours, then scrape up the icy bits again. Repeat until the mixture is completely icy and set, about 4 hours. After 4 hours, scrape the granita into airtight containers and freeze until you’re ready to use.
- Scoop the granita into bowls or cups with a sprinkle of flaky salt and chile flake if using.