The Bloody Mary appears most often at brunch because it’s great for brunch. It’s great for brunch because it offers A/ a whiff of virtue signaling, or at least a simulacrum of healthiness, because it often carries vegetables, and is in fact made largely of a vegetable and B/ it usually comes with a least a little snack, and you were flipping starving before you even left home for brunch and C/ its savoriness whets the appetite for other things.
Which is why we’re here. Sure, the Bloody is great as a hair-of-the-dog morning drink, says Rob Chirico in his zippy Field Guide to Cocktails, but “it is equally a stimulating predinner drink.” Exactly. One beautifully calibrated bloody makes for perfect cocktail hour.
It helps a lot if you like tomato juice, or V8. I think most people don’t. My mother did. She also liked tomato aspic, an unspeakable thing, sort of a rudimentary, bland Bloody Mary rendered semi-solid and placed into a mold. Tomato aspic enjoyed a long celebrity as a shiny, wiggly thing commonly seen on buffet tables and in the middle of ladies’ lunches, holding great mounds of chicken salad, or shrimp salad concocted of mayonnaise and those little frozen krill that used to be not only acceptable but damn near fancy back in the 70s.
Anyway: One thing we can learn from aspic is that the tomato dimension can not stand alone, not by a long shot.
None other than Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa herself, has a terrific base recipe, replete with well-processed celery and onion to add body. Her version, she says, is “sort of all the classic ingredients, but …. more.” Yes!
My advice for this drink is: load it up like the fun bars in your town do. Make it yours. Cheese is great. Encased meats of every sort. Leftover steak is silly good with a Bloody, cubed and stuck on a stick with large wedges of the orange bell pepper you’d nearly forgotten about in the fridge, and a mushroom, and some of that other kind of cheese. Olives of any persuasion. A boiled shrimp, praise the lord. If I have a shrimp around, I skip the cheese and tilt toward pickles and veg. I’m not a barbarian.
How to make it? I’m not going to attempt a recipe here, because I think anyone who is game for a Bloody, or just Bloody curious, has a sense of which way they want their celery stalk to lean. I personally believe celery is required. The drink must have also of course:
Worcestershire sauce (not vegetarian, btw)
Tabasco or its ilk
And these, to me, are welcome additions:
— A dash of beef broth. A dash of olive brine.
— Some people like — hell, they swear by — Clamato. I am not opposed to it.
— Another heat source, like a smoky hot pepper rim
There are some very good mixes out there. I have found—and I am not attempting to claim some kind of lowbrow high ground here—that many of the artisanal and farmers market mixes are too tomatoey for my taste. They can taste like… like tomatoes emerging from a blender.
But to each her own. A big part of the fun is putting the thing together. I whipped up a small batch the other night, before I started getting dinner sorted out. About 20 minutes later, I heard my fiancee crunching on something. “What are you eating over there?” I said, sure that she was spoiling her appetite for the meal ahead.
“My Bloody Mary,” she said. “It’s making me hungry.”