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Sunday Bloody Funday

Whether you like yours spicy, tangy, smoky, or loaded up with all sorts of gourmet garnishes, it's easy to find a concoction that's a bit more substantial than a mimosa on a weekend morning.

Donna Leahey
February 28, 2018

Whether it’s served alongside your brunch, is your brunch, or you just need a bit of the hair of the dog, the spicy and tangy bloody mary is one of the most popular morning cocktails. And with hearty garnishes, it holds its own later in the day as well.

No one is completely sure who invented the bloody mary, but sommelier TC Safavi says most credit Fernand Petiot. “His granddaughter says he created it while working at the New York Bar in Paris in 1921 using just vodka and tomato juice,” Safavi says. “Most people agree it’s named after Queen Mary I for her short and bloody reign as she attempted to re-establish the Catholic Church in England.”

The most basic bloody mary contains vodka, tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce, horseradish, black pepper, celery salt, and Tabasco sauce. It’s often garnished with celery, olives, lemon, and lime.

“The lemon, lime, and olive contribute tart and salty flavors, just as they do for martinis,” explains Safavi. “The salt rim lets you control how salty your drink is personally. If you want less, drink through the straw. If you want more, drink from the rim. The celery is more of a visual effect and good for stirring the drink. Many people find it refreshing to eat the celery afterward, for the same reason celery is commonly served with Buffalo wings. After all that smoky and spicy, you want something crunchy with a high-water content to cool and cleanse your palate, and maybe make you feel like you ate a vegetable.

“Salad is the general flavor theme of the cocktail, so bartenders everywhere will get creative with additional vegetables, smoked meats, and other barbecue-style effects. Cherry tomatoes are popular, as is bacon.”

What makes the bloody mary so popular? It has at least as much to do with when we drink it as where. Part of it is a simple love for salty things. But it turns out that everything about a bloody mary appeals to people who are drinking or have been drinking.

“Particularly after a Saturday night spent drinking, the body is dehydrated, and the fatty, salty components of a typical Sunday brunch help restore your electrolyte balance,” explains Safavi. “With greasy bar food, a tart, refreshing drink provides a nice contrast and helps cut the grease. This is also why mimosas are popular. Champagne is tart, and so is orange juice. But the bloody mary — in addition to being cold, tart, and salty — is a socially acceptable way to consume a lot more alcohol before noon than half a flute of champagne.”

In an extensive and varied career as a sommelier, Safavi has encountered copious creative variations on this classic drink.

“Working at a French-Thai restaurant in my 20s we made bloody marys with Asian-inspired ingredients, such as Sriracha instead of Tabasco, or wasabi instead of horseradish,” she says. “At a high-end Latin club, we used michelada mix as the base.

“A favorite personal recipe of mine is to go Italian with the theme and mix in roasted garlic and balsamic vinegar, then garnish with fresh mozzarella balls and basil leaves. Voila, its bloody mary a la caprese. I almost always include paprika and cumin for their smoky, earthy tones that I feel round out the base notes of the drink. With only the bright, acidic tones of horseradish, tomato, and citrus at the forefront, a mix can start to taste like cocktail sauce to me.

“Of course, some people lean into that effect and garnish the drink with chilled shrimp for good measure. That’s not wrong, but I prefer a darker and more developed flavor, like the quality a long-simmered meat ragu picks up versus a bright, fresh primavera. I am half Chinese and tend to favor Asian-style chili pastes in my recipe, particularly sambal oelek. It has a sweeter and more garlicky base, but lacks the vinegar content of Tabasco, so when I switch out the sauce, I’ll balance it with a few drops of sherry vinegar. I like to garnish with bacon, weaving a strip in between the olives, and I’m not above South Pacific-ing with fried Spam.”

As the bloody mary grows in popularity, the extravagance of the garnishes grows as well. A slice of bacon or a few shrimp are one thing, but you can find bloody marys garnished with pizza, fried chicken, or full-sized bacon cheeseburgers.

“There are some bars that make a game of how much food can we balance on top of this glass. There’s a point at which it’s no longer a garnish but simply the food you were going to eat with the drink, served on top of it rather than next to it,” says Safavi. “I enjoy the more outlandish garnishes visually, but I don’t fall in with the bigger-is-better fetishists.”