If Sunday morning spanks you like a linebacker, then wake up with a liquid breakfast that’ll ease you into game day. The Bloody Mary gives you a clean-feeling buzz and a day’s worth of veggies, besides. You’ll find the classic cocktail at the Superdome – tomato juice dashed with vodka, mild or hot (depending on how many squirts of Crystal sauce you take), and in a glass stacked with celery, pickled green beans and olives. But that’s just one way of enjoying this classic hangover cure.
There’s been a lot of buzz about the Blood Mary lately, and all the different ways it can be dressed up to go with almost any current cocktail trend. This timeless drink is so versatile because at its base is vodka, that blank slate of spirits. The only real fixed ingredient is the tomato (which is why it’s Bloody), though I’ve seen recipes calling for yellow tomatoes or even tomatillos. Whichever kind of tomato you use, the juice can be sweetened or spiced up. It all depends on what else makes it into the glass. You can also shake up the cocktail’s consistency and make it chunky, or double-strain for a paler, think drink.
But those are simple switches. I’ve seen some really exciting variations on the Bloody Mary that play directly into what’s happening in this year’s food and cocktail trends.
First is the pickle’s popularity. As more restaurants turned out beautiful little plates of dry-cured charcuteries, so there’s been a rise of pickled vegetables, which cut through the dense, rich meat. (I’ve seen all-pickled appetizer plates too.)
Turns out, these marinated garnishes are a perfect match for the vegetable-rich Blood Mary, and you can use most anything from the garden: Brussels sprouts, green beans, okra, creamy white asparagus. (To make your own pickled beans, for starters, boil together 4 cups water, ¼ cup salt, 2 tablespoons vinegar and a dash of sugar; let it cool and then add cooked, cooled and tender beans). Or if you’re rushed, check out the garnish buffet at the Whole Foods Market, where you’ll find bowls of robust olives, sweet peppers, and wrinkled cornichons. (Be sure to scoop up the mild and meaty Castelvetrano olives, which are a striking bluish-green).
Loading up your Blood Mary with vinegar-crisp veggies adds tang and texture, and a bracing quality to this earthy drink. They also stretch this cocktail into a snack, blurring whatever lines exist between the culinary and cocktail worlds. This is already happening in restaurants with ambitious programs that pair cocktails with custom-tailored dishes; it’s happening in spirits that are infused with everything from Chinese rhubarb to bacon.
You can make your own infusions – and nudge Mary in any direction – by pouring unflavored vodka into a glass and adding what you like: bright cucumber rounds, woody sprigs of rosemary or shaved ginger root. Today’s big culinary tend – farm to table – plays on these fresh flavors, all of which are within your reach. If you really want to go locavore with the Bloody Mary, start with Creole tomatoes and make the juice from scratch, and round out the drink with Louisiana crabmeat or local shrimp.
If you’re organic-minded but short on time, try R.W. Knudsen’s organic tomato juice. Vegetarians and vegans should be able to find a Worchestshire sauce that doesn’t contain anchovies (I’ve heard that vegan sauce from the Annie’s Naturals line is good).
Another big trend is anything tiki, so rock the hut with a Bloody Mary made with tomato juice, simple syrup and light rum. To taste Polynesian, your cocktail should also include elements of tropical citrus and spices. Here, orange juice pairs especially well with the tomato; simple syrup goes exotic when it’s infused with vanilla or coconut. Keep the tiki vibe with a garnish of edible flower blossoms, or spear mozzarella balls on your swizzle stick to swing more Mediterranean notes. (You can also stir your drink with a stick of sugar cane; using natural sweeteners is hot.)