My tenure working the bar at Saxon + Parole ruined the Bloody Mary for me.
Up until then, I had become accustomed to extremely heavy, gazpacho-like variations that were the result of overly salted and overly sweetened canned tomato juice. How was I to know better? Linden Pride, our fearless leader at the time (and once a talented barkeep himself), brought his own Bloody Mary recipe over from Australia, where we both grew up.
It was the first time I had tried this ubiquitous hangover cure with--wait for it--freshly squeezed tomato juice. It was a revelation. He added carrots, celery, bell pepper and cucumber juices for an extra vitamin jolt and probably to show off. The drink made me realize how delicious tomatoes can be in cocktails. Sadly, most tomatoes in America have very little flavor, unless they're heirloom varieties (or organic) and sold at the height of the season. Well, guess what? That season is now, and tomatoes are indeed an amazing ingredient in cocktails.
Matthew Biancaniello, America's reigning king of the culinary cocktail, is leading the charge in Los Angeles with inspired tomato-based creations, including Lovage in the Garden (recipe below). Jonathan Howard, the brains behind the cocktail program at Manhattan's American Whiskey uses Veev and Aperol in his own seasonal libation he calls the Farmer's Cocktail (recipe below). And back at Saxon + Parole, current bar manager Masahiro Urushido has a killer Tomato Spritz (recipe below) on his current menu that screams of late summer.
One of my favorite party tricks is a variation on an oyster shooter (recipe below) using bright and acidic tomatillos, a close relative of the tomato most commonly used in Mexican cuisine, which are now fairly ubiquitous in the produce section of most supermarkets. The prep is easy, but the oysters need to be freshly shucked.
Vodka seems like the obvious choice to pair with tomatoes as it is the most neutral of all spirits. Gin makes an able partner, as does white rum and Pisco. Oh, and tequila and mezcal. These agave spirits love them some tomatoes. Best of all, perhaps, are lower-alcohol, fortified wines such as fino or manzanilla sherry, dry or white vermouth and white port.There are myriad tomato varieties--far too many to mention. When using them in cocktails, think like the Italians do and don't add many other ingredients. Even at their ripest, tomatoes are made up mostly of water, so they're not packed with flavor. A pinch of salt, pepper and sugar can bring out their inherent sweetness, as will a little vinegar or verjuice. Muddle in almost any fresh herb, add a splash of citrus and a base spirit and you pretty much have an awesome tomato cocktail in the making. Strain it over ice and you've got your last blast of summer right there.
Lovage in the GardenContributed by Matthew Biancaniello INGREDIENTS:
- 2 oz Hophead Vodka
- 3 Sun gold cherry tomatoes
- 4 Lovage leaves
- .75 oz Fresh lime juice
- .5 oz Agave syrup (one part agave, one part water)
- .5 oz Luxardo Bitter Aperitivo (Campari also works)
- Pinch of Hepp's ghost pepper salt
- Glass: Rocks
- Garnish: Lovage sprig
Farmer's CocktailContributed by Jonathan Howard INGREDIENTS:
- 2 oz Veev Spirit
- .25 oz Aperol
- 1 oz Fresh pressed tomato juice
- 3 one-inch-thick cubes Watermelon
- .75 oz Fresh lime juice
- .75 oz Simple syrup
- Glass: Highball
- Garnish: 3 cherry tomatoes
Tomato SpritzContributed by Naren Young INGREDIENTS:
- 2 oz Martini & Rossi Extra Dry Vermouth
- 1.5 oz Tomato water*
- .25 oz Hendrick's Gin
- .25 oz Cherry tomato shrub**
- Club soda
- Glass: Collins
- Garnish: Sliced cherry tomatoes and parsley stalk
- 1 container Holland or plum tomatoes
- .8 cups Halved cherry tomatoes
- .8 cups White sugar
- 3.5 oz White wine vinegar
- 3 oz Dry rose wine
- .75 oz Raspberry vinegar
Oyster ShooterContributed by Naren Young INGREDIENTS:
- 1 Cucumber, peeled and juiced (about 10 oz)
- 12 tomatillos, juiced (about 10 oz)
- 6 stalks of celery, juiced (about 10 oz)
- 1 tsp Maldon salt
- 1 tsp Cracked black pepper
- 3 tsp Green Tabasco Sauce
- 6 to 8 oz Spirit (whatever you prefer)
- Glass: Tall shot glass
- Garnish: Freshly shucked oyster
The mixture will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week. Be sure to stir ingredients together well before serving.
Naren Young is the beverage director at New York's Empellón Cocina and Empellón Taqueria.
(Illustrations: Ariel Dunitz-Johnson)
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