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 verjus. 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 Garden
Contributed 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
Garnish: Lovage sprig
Add everything except vodka to a shaker. Muddle gently, then add vodka and fill with ice. Shake vigorously, and strain into a rocks glass filled with ice. Garnish with a lovage sprig.
Add all ingredients except club soda and prosecco to a Collins glass and fill with ice. Stir, then top with equal parts club soda and prosecco. Garnish with sliced cherry tomatoes and a parsley stalk.
*Tomato water: INGREDIENTS:
1 container Holland or plum tomatoes
Add tomatoes to a juicer and mash them up. Let the mixture of tomato juices and skins sit in fridge for 30 minutes to an hour in order for the tomato juices to pick up aroma from the skins. Add the mashed tomatoes to a strainer and allow to drip into a container until all the juice is collected. Keep the juice refrigerated and use within few days to get the best flavor.
**Cherry tomato shrub INGREDIENTS:
.8 cups Halved cherry tomatoes
.8 cups White sugar
3.5 oz White wine vinegar
3 oz Dry rose wine
.75 oz Raspberry vinegar
Add all ingredients to a saucepan and cook over low heat for about 15 minutes or until the sugar is dissolved and the cherry tomatoes are soft. Allow the mixture to cool over an ice bath. Once chilled, pour the mixture into a blender and puree. Fine strain into a container with a lid and dispose of any solids. Keep refrigerated.
Contributed 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
Add cucumber, tomatillo and celery juices to a pitcher and combine. Stir in salt, pepper and Tabasco, as well as six to eight ounces of your preferred spirit (Naren Young recommends mezcal). To serve, pour into tall shot glasses rimmed with chili salt. Place a freshly shucked oyster on top of each. Eat the oyster first, followed by the shot.
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.