Sangrita -- the back to tequila
Sangrita / The Back to Tequila
This essay is about one of those little places in food. Culinary
ephemera I call it. For some reason I seem to be obsessed with this
drink. Pero no es importante! Yet much is made of it.
Sangrita. A Spanish word in the diminutive. The root, sangre means
blood. The 'ita' ending makes it smaller, or euphemises it. So instead
of -- a little bloody -- you get -- a little red-orange, instead -- I
first came across the term in the excellent:
A Guide to Tequila, Mexcal and Pulque
By Virginia B. De Barrios
[Mexico, Editorial Minutiae Mexicana, c1971]
Minutiae Mexicana series
I was trying to research pulque, of which more in another essay.
Mexicans are great cooks, maybe even more than that. Don't get me
I drank my first Sangrita at the Hotel Intercontinental Bar in Ciudad
Juarez. The bartender was surprised when I asked for tequila and
sangrita. But pleasantly so. I don't know if a gringo had ever asked
for them both together before. I lit up my Cuban cigar and really
enjoyed myself. My only error was not knowing what Tequilas they had;
and not ordering the most expensive one. Of course that was 12 years
The Sangrita, a back drink to tequila is not supposed to drench or
mollify the fiery liquid on the tongue. No self respecting Mexican
would think of such a thing.
I came across a recipe for it again, in a cookbook:
Author: Martínez Limón, Enrique, 1952-
Title(s): Tequila : the spirit of Mexico / preface, Carlos Monsiváis
Edition: 1st ed.
Publisher: New York : Abbeville Press, 2000.
It is a cocktail table size work. The recipe called for two pounds of
onions to something like eight ounces of orange juice. Was it an
error? If so, what kind, a typo or an actual mistake.
I emailed the publisher. Several weeks later, I got home and found a
message waiting for me. Much to my surprise the call had come from
Mexico City. It seems that the author of the particular recipe,
unlisted on the title page of the cookbook, was none other than the
famous Maria Dolores Torres Yzabal. A noted Mexican cookbook author,
who is generous enough to write in English.
We had a long conversation and she explained to me that she had been
given the recipe by friends of hers from Guadalajara Jalisco. The
recipe called for two tablespoons of onions, not two pounds. We had a
I probably impressed her by my knowledge of Mexican cooking. I told
her about the De Barrios book and she had never heard of the books:
Originally the drink was made with what has come to be called
pomegranate juice. That juice from a specific cultivar the sour
pomegranate or 'Granada agria'.
"Mexicans take especial pride in the pomegranates of Tehuacan, Puebla.
Many cultivars are grown, including 'Granada de China' and 'Granada
From a University of Purdue Horticultural webpage.
This corresponds nicely with the recipe posted at:
Albeit, a Spanish website, it does give a nice recipe for the
Sangrita. But it's hardly original. A search of the web turned up that
recipe with those ingredients at several pages. It is of interest that
the site says that the original way to make Sangrita was with the
"Granada Agria". And that now-a-days, the pomegranates are not seen in
the markets so much.
These sour pomegranate were used in place of lemon juice when the
lemons were too young to pick. Pomegranates are a fruit of great
antiquity and are mentioned in the Bible (Song of Songs. 4:13, 6,11,
7,12, 8,2 and Deut. 8:8.).
Some Sangrita recipes of today often have tomato juice mixed into the
orange juice. Yecchhh!
My research also indicated that is also possible that the
"pomegranate" referred to is:
inpahte' 'granada agria (culinary bush resembling the pomegranate)'
I found this citation, Googleing the word pomegranate. It's part of a
website from an ethnobotanist in Texas. The "inpahte" is some Indian
word. I think the tribe's name is Chorti, but I'm not positive.
Anyway, Brian Stoss, the ethnobotanist emailed me and said that the
dictionary (from which the above is lifted), was compiled in the 1940s
by a non-botanist, and that the reference is certain, anyway. He had
no botanical name for it. But it does leave open the possibility that
the Sangrita was made with berries from this bush, at it's origin.
I think the original Sangrita with the sour or Seville Orange juice is
just about right. It removes the sting of the alcohol but not the
taste of the Tequila. How did that tomato juice get in there in the
first place? Was some Mejico borracho or something? We will never
know. I theorize that the tomato juice is to give a further
pomegranate like color to the Sangrita.
The standard Sangrita would always contain the juice of the Seville
orange. That is the orange used to make marmalade. Usually, by itself,
it's far to sharp flavored to enjoy. But mixed with some chile and
onion, a pinch of salt, it becomes "just right" with Tequila. Most
modern recipes call for some minced onion. I don't understand this a
bit. I think some "authoritative" cookbook writer missed a step in the
preparation of the drink. The drink is best made with onion juice. But
I can only "cook" in Mexican style, as I'm not a Mexicano!
Why can't you use juice from other than the Seville orange? You can
but it won't be authentic. Will it taste good? Yes, but it won't "mix"
right with the Tequila. Would the pomegranate juice be superior? Yes,
but how often do you find yourself in Tehuacan, Puebla?
I mentioned Pulque at the top of this essay. It has a far more
important and romantic place in the culture of the Mexicans. In fact,
one might say that Pulque is both myth and legend. Songs are written
about it. The names of the shops where it are sold are legendary.
Names like: Recuerdos del Porvenir or Memories of the Future.
My recipe: Sangrita For 4 drinks
12 fl. Ozs. Seville Orange Juice, without the pulp
4 pinches of powdered chile piquin, or cayenne
4-6 tablespoons of Pomegranate juice, without the pulp
1/4 teaspoon of salt
2 T. onion juice (mince 1/2 med. Onion, put the minced onion in a
Rub the back of a spoon over the onion, carefully collecting the
juice. Obtain 2 Tablespoons of liquid. If the onion is old, you may
need to mince more to obtain the quantity desired.
Always feel free to change the above proportions to suit your own
Mix all, chill for an hour for the flavors to blend. And serve when
ready in short water tumblers.
Copyright 2003, Mark Preston
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