Tequila's best friend, sangrita: You say tomato, we say watermelon

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Jessica Bryce Young

Cinco de Mayo is past (just), but that doesn't mean you should put away the tequila. Just put away that stupid sombrero, and get the best tequila you can buy, instead of glugging an adult Cuervo Slurpee. Truly fine tequila is meant to be sipped, and can be as complex and flavorful as whiskey. Traditionally, when it's served completo (straight), it's accompanied with a chaser of hot red sangrita. 

No, I don't mean sangría. Sangrita ("little blood") is, as renowned craft cocktailer Jeffrey Morgenthaler describes it, "a nonalcoholic sipper that cleanses the palate between fiery doses of agave." I won't dive too deeply into the origin of the drink, which are lost to history; different regions of Mexico serve different recipes, and even within those regions there's debate about what's authentic.

The main quibble is over tomato juice. It's said that in Jalisco, where most tequila is distilled, sangrita contains no tomato juice, only fruit juice. But if you order a shot of tequila in Mexico City, you'll be served a tomato-and-orange sangrita on the side. (The "classic" recipe, right, is that Mexico City version.) Sadly, though, most places use a pre-jugged mix, manufactured with shelf-stable juices, artificially flavored grenadine, Worcestershire and Tabasco.

While I won't pretend that I did enough research to definitively say what's the one true real sangrita, reading about it did free me to get creative with this Remix. Some claim sangrita arose as a "waste not, want not" move: The juice left in the bottom of a daily bowl of fruit salad was poured into a glass and drunk alongside the nightly tequila. That salad was composed of a random mix of fruits including pomegranate, orange, lime juice, mango, papaya and chilies. So if we're free to use any fruit we like, why not watermelon? I experienced a counterintuitive combo of watermelon chunks and yellow heirloom tomatoes at a restaurant recently, and the taste stuck in my head.

After getting out my juicer and goofing around with various combos of tomato, watermelon, lime, orange, Turkish pomegranate molasses, tamarind drinking vinegar, pink peppercorns and every hot sauce I own, I came up with my Remix. I may have decried bottled mixes above, but not everything that comes in a bottle is bad – sometimes a little help from the ethnic foods aisle is a godsend. I found acceptable versions of all but the watermelon juice on the supermarket shelf: Dei Fratelli Truly Tomato juice is not from concentrate, has no added salt and comes in a shelf-stable carton; despite its super-low price, Badia sour orange juice, usually used in mojo marinades, contains only Seville orange juice; and pomegranate molasses from the Middle Eastern store comes in handy in an amazing range of recipes, including this one.

Experiment with proportions or even ingredients to your own preference, but be sure to serve it alongside a quality tequila. I recommend a peppery reposado.

30 milliliters tomato juice
20 milliliters fresh watermelon juice
10 milliliters Seville orange juice
1/4 teaspoon pomegranate molasses
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
many dashes of green Tabasco

This recipe is for one serving, but you can retain the 3:2:1 ratio and adjust the spices to make more. As I said above, I juiced the watermelon myself, but if you don’t have a juicer, puree the fruit and press it through a fine-mesh strainer. Place all ingredients in a Mason jar and shake hard. Serve alongside a shot of good tequila.

1 ounce fresh orange juice
3/4 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
1/2 ounce real pomegranate grenadine
1/4 teaspoon ancho chili powder
2 slices jalapeño

Place all ingredients in a shaker and shake briefly. Muddle to crush the jalapeño, strain into a glass and dust with more chili powder to taste.

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