Mexico City ranks among the world’s greatest destinations for dining. And one of my favorite things about dining in Mexico City is sangrita. Not to be confused with the wine-based drink sangria, nor to be confused with tequila shots, sangrita (with a t) is a companion to fine tequila.
Regional variations of sangrita exist, including one made with pomegranate juice that some people swear by and claim is the original. But the sangrita in Mexico City is most commonly (and almost always) made with fresh tomatoes. It is served side by side with a glass of high-end tequila.
In the ritzy restaurants of Polanco and the luxury hotels of Reforma, pretty much every restaurant has a tequila cart. And almost everyone — the locals at least — begins their meal with round of tequila and sangrita. The tequila is a palate cleanser, an amuse bouche meant to awaken the senses, to take the edge off and to slow things down. It is particularly popular at lunch, over which people often linger for hours. Tequila and sangrita are liquid Prozac.
I’ve been searching for a good recipe for years. I’ve looked at recipes on Wikipedia. I’ve tried recipes from the New York Times and many popular food blogs and websites. I’ve downloaded recipes from popular tequila brands’ websites. But nothing came even close to the wonderful, fresh tomato-water sangritas of Mexico City. So I started experimenting, and after several trial-and-error batches, I’ve done it. I’ve cracked the code. This sangrita replicates exactly the style and character of the ones I’ve sipped in Mexico City.
You’ll need lots of fresh, ultra-ripe and very juicy tomatoes. For mine, I use a mix of red, green and yellow heirloom tomatoes, which I store at room temperature on my kitchen counter until they are extra soft.
Fresh tomato-water sangrita
4 lbs very ripe heirloom tomatoes
1 tsp kosher salt
1 clove garlic, roughly smashed
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 Tbsp finely chopped sweet onion
2 birds-eye chilies, sliced lengthwise
High quality tequila
Roughly chop the tomatoes and transfer them to a large bowl, being sure to capture any juices released by chopping. Add the onion, garlic and salt and toss everything well to combine. Cover loosely and let this mixture to sit for about 45 minutes at room temperature. Drain and capture the liquid (this is your sangrita), and let the tomatoes rest another 30 minutes, adding a pinch more salt to bring out the remaining juice. Collect the juice again, gently pressing the pulp through a strainer or sieve to extract as much liquid as possible.
Strain everything again to remove any random large particles, seeds or pulp. Add the lime juice, orange juice and fresh chilies to tomato juice. Stir well. Chill for several hours or, even better, overnight.
To serve, pour equal amounts tequila and sangrita into separate glasses and serve side-by-side. Sip the tequila. Sip the sangrita…
Note: All that leftover tomato pulp can easily be turned into a very simple and delicious salsa. Just transfer the tomato pulp to a blender with a handful of roughly chopped chilies and a splash of lime juice.