When I was a dirty young man working at a low-end marketing outfit, I scoffed at the tagline for the office-approved Dockers-rock station that played all day in any cube pod where the clip artisans outnumbered the conference callers. In between Lilith Fair dirges, furniture store ads, and the softer Third Eye Blind anthems, WMOM congratulated its captive audience for reaching the enlightened stage where we “enjoy Sunday morning more than Saturday night.”
I’ve never been an enthusiastic Saturday night specialist—crowds and lines are for suckers—but I couldn’t imagine ever thinking “Thank heavens it’s finally Sunday morning.” Unless you’re being held without bail until court reconvenes, there are few rational reasons for a nine-to-fiver to welcome Saturday’s unholy slide into Pre-Monday. The fat newspaper is a pretty good time if you’re precious, and there’s football on a third of the year if you’re not, but otherwise Sunday doesn’t have a ton to recommend it.
But I now like Sundays more than I ever foresaw, largely because in my dotage I’ve finally begun to embrace the Bloody Mary. I used to be suspicious of clock-dependent drinking conventions. I liked beer in the afternoon and the evening, and I couldn’t follow any logic that mandated drinking something else on the rare and glorious wet morning. I figured that if people really liked their odd mishmashes of vodka, tomato juice, and condiments, they wouldn’t restrict the pleasure to brunch. I thought Bloody Marys were a fussy affectation for people who lacked the gumption to wash down their omelets with a shot and a beer. And I still kinda think that, but that’s neither here nor there: The point is that even though a lot of Bloody Marys are lame, there is potential for greatness, and that’s where we’re headed.
All you need in order to be able to call your drink a Bloody Mary is tomato juice, vodka, and one other ingredient of your choosing that prevents it from being some sad-ass two-tone vodka-and. But don’t be lazy about it. You only make a couple Bloodies a week, right? And you do it on slow days. Roll up your pajama sleeves and make a credible drink. It’s fun. Let’s run through your necessities and some of your optional accessories.
Are you a proud modern boozebag who fancies himself too sophisticated for vodka? Nice, me too! But fuck us, it’s Bloody Mary time, which means it’s vodka time. The primary knock against vodka is that cheap versions taste like gasoline and expensive versions taste like nothing, and there’s a broad truth to that. But Bloody Marys tend to be such clusterswallows that the other ingredients can hide a bit of gas while adding plenty of not-nothing, so your choice of vodka isn’t quite as important as you’d think. Just don’t buy Grey Goose or any of that high-end shit. There’s no reason to ever spend more than the $20 a liter of Tito’s will run you. If that’s too rich, I recommend Skyy for around $15 or Gordon’s for $10 (and maybe a second job?).
This part’s pretty easy, too. If it’s the end of farmers’ market tomato season, buy the ugliest ones you can find for a buck a pound, run them through the juicer you almost certainly don’t own, strain out the seeds, add a lot of salt, and you’re ready to make Mary. If it’s one of the other 11 months of the year or you’re not the home-juicing sort, just buy the best tomato juice you can find. Campbell’s is fine, so is Knudsen’s. (The Whole Foods 365 isn’t.) You don’t need to go high-end heirloom organic, but a solid brand-name from a well-lit major grocery chain is in order. Don’t you dare use one of those prepackaged Bloody Mary mixes. They’re sweet, gummy, and expensive, and they take all the joy out of operation. V-8 will do in a pinch, but why are you in a pinch? Use tomato juice.
Lime and tomato are weird together. Go with lemon. Lemon bitters even works a little bit.
Horseradish contains glucosinolates, which are said to inhibit the spread of cancer. Cool! Of more immediate importance and verifiability, horseradish tastes fantastic. There should be more horseradish-flavored snack chips and candies and beers. Some people think they don’t like horseradish, but they are mistaken. You know that green paste you get with sushi? That’s not real wasabi—at least, not on your budget. That’s plain old horseradish spiked with food coloring. (No idea where they get the hardened pink gelatin they call “ginger.” Maybe another part of the horse, maybe actual ginger root. We’ll get to that on Dark and Stormy day.)
YES. And you don’t even need to spring for the Lea & Perrins, though it wouldn’t kill you to since the stuff lasts forever. I’ve never been disappointed with any of the scruffier brands, either.
Oh boy. I really should let Burneko handle this section, as he’s got much more of a stomach for instigating food wars. I’m going to tread medium-lightly and insist that you use hot sauce but allow you to pick the brand. I suggest the clean vinegar-cayenne heat of Frank’s Red Hot. Crystal is good, too. You’ll probably use Tabasco, and that’s cool. I prefer the green (jalapeño) Tabasco, but more than a couple drops of green would further muddy a Mary already discolored by Worcestershire. Cholula’s great on eggs and other boring things but the flavor’s a bit more complex than other popular hot sauces, so it could clash with either your Bloody or your tongue. You know what’s good if you’re feeling kinky? Drain off a bit of the adobo sauce from a can of chipotles.
Well sure, a little bit of salt (or better yet, celery salt) and pepper, but be careful with the powders. Before you shake in a fistful of cayenne sand, consider if there aren’t fresher, livelier ways to heat up your breakfast. I do like a small dose of cumin, though, and maybe paprika, too, if you’ve got some decent, not-too-ancient stuff.
Don’t hang your limp, nasty lemon wedge off the side of the glass. Wring it out and toss it. As for celery, that could go either way. It’s not going to impart any flavor just sitting there, but it’s worth adding if you actually intend to take a bite or two. If it’s the swizzling properties you’re after, consider replacing the celery with a pickled green bean, or a Slim Jim. Or one of these beautiful-looking beef straws. Classy places will sometimes hook a shrimp on the rim, but that’s not always practical for the home cook. Do you often have spare shrimp lying around on Sunday morning? You probably shouldn’t. An honest home like your own probably has a good stash of pickled eggs, though. Chop one of those in half, slit it up the side, and impale it on the side of the glass. Float some pickled jalapeño slices in there; gherkins too.
Here’s a basic recipe. Make this, tell me how much you love it and me, and then start improvising.
3 ounces vodka
6 ounces tomato juice
5 shakes of Worcestershire (soy sauce if you’re desperate)
2 teaspoons prepared horseradish (less if you’re a coward)
1 tablespoon lemon juice (about ¼ of a lemon)
1 teaspoon celery salt or table salt (not both)
½ teaspoon black pepper
hot sauce to taste
1) Combine ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker.
2) Shake the hell out of it—you need to make sure you get everything evenly distributed, particularly the horseradish.
3) Strain it into a pint glass filled with fresh ice.
4) Load in your Slim Jim and your pickles and your various other hopes and dreams.
5) Take some pride in having done one small thing right this morning.
Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and has visited all of the other New England states, including, come to think of it, Vermont. Find him on Twitter @WillGordonAgain.
Find lots more food and drink stuff at foodspin.deadspin.com. Image by Sam Woolley.