Meet Sangrita, Tequila’s Lesser Known Sidekick

Thought lime and salt were tequila’s BFF’s? Think again. For something that enhances the experience rather than just shocking the senses with down-in-one shots, try a more traditional sangrita/tequila combo.  Sangrita is a non-alcoholic juice based companion shot to be consumed by alternating sips with a separate serving of tequila.

Sangrita’s origins are somewhat murky with most sources claiming it came about in the 20’s and providing the same scant definitions plus recipe variations. In search of more food for thought on the subject, I turned to friend and fellow food and drink diehard Phrederick Hume. Phred is a long time fan and aficionado of Tequila and has dedicated a lot of that time to tweaking his own sangrita recipe to share with others. He reflects on the subject: “Most modern recipes source sangrita to the 20th century. But is almost certainly the continuation of an older tradition by another means. The flavor balance of the drink is very pre-Columbian mesoamerican: Sour, spicy, bitter, herbal, and sometimes a hint of sweet. Chocolate, from the early Classical Period of the Mayans, under the guise of the drink xocoatl, was most often seasoned with vanilla, chile pepper, and achiote….and often maize gruel (which emulsifies, as well, like xanthun gum) and honey.”

The most common commercial sangrita in Mexico is Viuda Sanchez, however, many places make it from scratch following their own recipes. While in the US (and more frequently these days in Mexico, it seems) the drink is often made with a tomato juice base, traditionalists will tell you this is just plain wrong. As Jeffrey Morgenthaler explains on his blog, “Real sangrita from the Lake Chapala region of Jalisco is made with Seville orange and pomegranate juices, with powdered chiles added for heat.” Taking into consideration that even the most serious cocktails bars are not likely to have Seville oranges or fresh pomegranate juice behind the bar at all times, he created a recipe to approximate the flavor while retaining authenticity:

1 oz orange juice (freshly-squeezed)

¾ oz – 1 oz lime juice (depending on the sweetness of your oranges)

½ oz real pomegranate grenadine

3 dashes hot sauce or ¼ tsp pasilla chili powder

Online searches bring up recipes from the likes of Bobby Flay or Rick Bayless.  Mexican restaurants across the US seem to be serving up their own versions of the stuff. And while I’m very often “team traditional”, there are some appealing variations that I could get on board with.  Over at SeriousEats, Daniel Gritzer uses Morgenthaler’s recipe as a jumping off point to eventually arrive at other recipes that use entirely different ingredients – like pineapple and cucumber or grapefruit and chipotle –  to achieve the same acidic, savory, sweet and spicy profile. The Kitchin likes this version served up at NYC East village eatery, Mayahuel, which includes tomatoe and celery juice.

Considering the many options and clear appeal, it’s surprising that sangrita remains somewhat of a secret to so many.  I’ve yet to see it served in a Paris establishment. (Although I hear that one of the co-owners of Paris’ most influential tequila bar, Candelaria, has a great recipe that involves coriander, mango, chipotle, orange and lime juice. So, maybe if we make enough demand for it… ) But, fortunately, even if you can’t find it, you’ll have no problem finding recipes to create your own.

And, what else can you do with it once you’ve made it? I turned to local bar consultant Sebastien Gans, who recently spent three years managing Candelaria to find out.  He suggests serving it in a traditional way with the tequila or mezcal plus a beer.  He calls this a “Carbonero” and claims this “trio work perfectly together”. Otherwise, he suggests using sangrita to make a Bloody Maria.

 

Modern Take on Traditional Sangria by Phrederick Hume

Ingredients for a little more than 1 litre

Scant 2/3 litre of Seville oranges (jugo de naranja agria) which can be vaguely approximated with freshly squeezed orange juice plus 1-2 tablespoons white wine or rice vinager

Scant 1/3 litre pure pomegranite juice

Juice of 2 Limes

A bouquet of fresh cilantro

1 small sweet oignon

3 Tablespoons of Achiote paste (Annato, paste or powder)

Chiles, all finely ground

1 teaspoon piquin

1 teaspoon ancho

1 teaspoon dried jalapeno (or 1 fresh jalapeno or, using a pretty standard mexican household cooking seasoning, some of the juice from a jar of pickled jalapeños)

Optional:

A tablespoon of honey

If you have some berries or fruits around needing to be used up, include them (stawberries, cherries, raspberries, mango all work)

Instructions

Puree all the ingredients

Filter through a fine sieve

Add a small teaspoon of Xanthan gum, Kudzu or Agar-Agar

Blend until the desired silky texture is reached

Taste and adjust by adding more honey or lime for too spicy or a few dashes of your favorite pepper sauce if it seems too mild.

Note:

If you couldn’t find the dried peppers. Yucateca, Cholula and Valentina are good.

Phred says “Then, serve with any good tequila. It sort of works ideally for an afternoon of drinking…You have a shot of each. Sip from one, then the other. At some point one glass will be empty, so order a refill. Then later on the other glass will be empty. Order another refill.  Continue. Ad infinitum, nauseam or oblivion, whichever comes first.”