A recent edition of the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle featured this clue: Spicy fruit beverage often used as a tequila chaser. The answer? Sangrita. And just like that, sangrita cemented its place in our modern lexicon. But how did it get there? It had help from a few great chefs and bartenders who have made it their mission to teach Americans how to drink tequila.
Dating back to the 1920s in Jalisco, Mexico, sangrita (which translates to “little blood”) is classically made with orange juice, pomegranate juice, lime juice and either chili powder or hot sauce. That said, there are no real hard and fast rules about making sangrita. There’s no sangrita police, waiting to take your tequila away from you should you dare to add Worcestershire or grapefruit juice. Roughly, sangrita should be spicy, acidic and include some fruit juice (tomato juice counts). In practice, sangrita is served chilled in a small glass alongside a shot of tequila. You take a sip of tequila, you chase it with a sip of sangria, and finally you have a good experience drinking tequila—no lime wedge-biting or belly buttons involved!
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Sangrita might not be de rigeuer at every neighborhood bar yet, but don’t worry, it will be. With tequila sales soaring in the U.S.—high-end tequila brand sales have grown 189 percent in volume since 2002—expect to see the country’s tequila drinking IQ rise accordingly. Gone will be the days of slamming down shots and we will arrive in a golden age of sophisticated sipping with a side of acidity enhancing, palate-cleansing sangrita thanks, largely, to the work of knowledgeable chefs and bartenders creating their own delicious versions of the chaser. Here, a few places across the country to try some terrific sangrita right now.
Johnny Sanchez, New Orleans
Miles Landrem, the executive chef at John Besh and Aarón Sanchez’s New Orleans taco spot, was inspired to put a sangrita on the menu after spending last summer traveling through Mexico. “Almost everyone I ate with started each meal with a shot of good tequila and a shot of good sangrita,” he says. He’s experimented with a few recipes, but his favorites are made with local Louisiana citrus fruits like satsumas and Meyer lemons. Landrem doesn't stop with tequila when it comes to his sangrita, he also includes it in his Michelada (pictured above).
Big Star, Chicago
At chef Paul Kahan’s Big Star, the Los Tres Reyes features a can of Tecate, a shot of spicy jalapeño-infused tequila and side of sangrita. It’s a three-for-one mix-and-match drink course. A collaboration between beverage director Laurent Lebec and the culinary team, the sweet-tart sangrita is made with charred pineapple, apple cider vinegar (for funkiness and extended shelf-life), Serrano and habanero peppers, mint, and orange.
The Patio on Goldfinch, San Diego
Known for having an extensive tequila menu, The Patio on Goldfinch will soon debut a full sangrita section to complement its many agave-based spirits. Conceived of by general manager Chris Simmons, the sangritas will be designed to specifically pair with tequilas from different regions. For example, a cucumber-based Sangrita Verde will match with valley tequilas, while a watermelon-based sangrita will complement mineral Tamaulipas tequilas. Simmons will even offer a passion fruit-pineapple sangrita infused with pink peppercorns and jalapeño to sip with smoky mezcal.
Empellón, New York City
Chef Alex Stupak offers his signature sangrita at all three of his New York City restaurants: Empellón Al Pastor, Empellón Taqueria and Empellón Cocina. His recipe, a mix of roasted tomatoes, orange juice, lime juice, pomegranate and smoky chipotle peppers, is entirely his own. “My first experience with sangrita was making it myself,” he says. Though he’s tried others since, he continues to like his sangrita best. The key is using fresh produce. “Canned tomato juice will taste like canned tomato juice,” he says.