Thursday, August 21, 2003

Sangrita - Mexican for Superb - the "back" to Tequila

Sangrita or The Back to Tequila
Mexicana Minutiae

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 started.

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. 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 ago and I'm writing this in 2003. (and 2009)

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. They would want to add flavor and savor to the tequila.

I came across a recipe for it in a cookbook:
Tequila : the spirit of Mexico
by Enrique Martínez Limón
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. Or even the correct proportions of ingredients!

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 celebrated Maria Dolores Torres Yzabal. A noted Mexican cookbook author.

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 laugh!

I hope I impressed her by my knowledge of Mexican cooking. I told her about the De Barrios book and she had never heard of the books from Minutiae Mexicana.

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 Agria'." The foregoing from a University of Purdue Horticultural webpage: Pomegranite

This corresponds nicely with the recipe posted at: El Correo Digital. In July 2014, the page is archived here:

 Here is what the original page said:

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.

My research also indicated that is also possible that the pom-egranate referred to is: inpahte  or granada agria  (culinary bush resembling the pomegranate)

I found this citation, netsearching 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 Mejicano 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 under-stand this a bit. I think some "authoritative" cookbook writer miss-ed 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.

I obtained some pulque, albeit in a can, in the summer of 2008. They market had several flavors. Plain and pineapple flavored I tasted. The plain was a wonderful organoleptic experience. The pineapple was a let down. I had read about pulque having a slimey or gelationous texture. I had heard that pulque is an acquired taste. I disagree with those authors. It is neither slimy or jello-ish in texture. It is smooth, and has an unusual feel on the tongue. But it isn't slimy. If an acquired taste requires more than one taking or portion, then I aver that pulque had me at the first sip. Think of a sour taste, like lemonade yet, without the fruity flavor. Sour but luscious. Very thirst quenching on a warm day. I dream of going to the pulquerias of the high Mexican desert and tasting the ancient Aztec culture, again.

My recipe:


For 4 drinks

12 fl. Ozs. Seville Orange Juice, without the pulp
1 tablespoon of sugar (white, granulated)
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

Mince the onion. Put the mince in a sieve. Rub the onion to a pulp, obtaining the juice to 2 tablespoons of liquid. If the onion is old, you may need to mince more to obtain the quantity desired.
Mix all, chill for an hour for the flavors to blend. And serve, when ready, in short water tumblers.

Copyright 2003, 2009 and 2014, Mark Preston

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