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Cupboard Cocktails: Don’t Jettison the Juice — Save the Water from Canned Tomatoes to Add Zing to Your Cocktails 

click to enlarge RON BECHTOL
  • Ron Bechtol
Just FYI, tomato water is a thing. At least it is among the cocktail cognoscenti.

Usually obtained by chopping up fresh tomatoes and letting them drain through a sieve lined with cheesecloth, the water is a pale pink and appealingly translucent suggestion of the turgid, traditional tomato juice some of us drink only on airlines. Cocktails made with tomato water stealthily suggest, say, a Bloody Mary without resorting to this classic brunch cocktail’s over-the-top excesses. Bacon garnishes need not apply, for example.

But since we’re working with pantry staples in trying times, and many of us have stocked up on canned tomatoes, there’s a previously untapped source of tomato water waiting in the wings. Especially as many recipes ask you to drain and discard the liquid canned tomatoes are packed in. Yes, some straining is required, and the results are likely to vary brand to brand. I used Cento peeled, whole plum tomatoes because they’re Italian and, frankly, I like the label.

Start by draining the tomatoes through a semi-fine sieve into a stainless or glass bowl, trying not to press too much. I slit the tomatoes to allow a little more of their trapped juice to escape. This process will take some time. When you’re tired of waiting, remove and refrigerate the drained tomatoes, line the same sieve with about four layers of cheesecloth, then strain the remaining juice once again to obtain a liquid that’s somewhat clear with streaks of red. If the idea of an almost totally clear liquid intrigues, further draining the tomato water though a coffee filter will do the job — but I reserve that kind of obsession for picking the perfect pair of socks in the morning.

The easiest drink to make with your hard-won water is a variation of a martini. I’m usually a gin-or-die guy when it comes to martinis, but I’m willing to make an exception in extraordinary times. Grab that bottle of vodka you surely have hanging around — no problem if it’s citrus-flavored. The following proportions, and even ingredients, can be varied to suit the intensity of your tomato water. Unlike the perfect Martini, nothing’s sacred except a cold temperature. You can even shake it if you prefer.

2 ounces of tomato water
1 ¼ ounce of vodka or more, depending on intensity of tomato water
1 tablespoon of fresh lime juice, or lemon if that’s all you have
Pinch of salt
A couple shakes of Tabasco or Cholula (optional)

Directions: Combine all but hot sauce in a glass with ice, stir enough to chill and dissolve salt, strain into a chilled Martini glass since we might as well do this right. Dash in the hot sauce and garnish with cherry tomatoes if you have them. As this is low-alcohol, feel free to rinse glass and repeat. As an added note, I tried this with a splash of dry white vermouth but wasn’t thrilled. You might feel differently.

click to enlarge RON BECHTOL
  • Ron Bechtol
Of course, the elephant in the room when it comes to tomato cocktails is the above-mentioned Bloody Mary, but we’re going to go in a slightly different direction. A commonly thought-of precursor to that most famous of brunch drinks is the Red Snapper, a gin-based cocktail that eschews some of the excesses of its better-known progeny. As I’m using tequila, let’s call it a—

4 ounces of tomato water
1 ½ ounce of reposado tequila (I used El Jimador, since it doesn’t need to be fancy)
1 teaspoon of fresh lime juice
4 drops Worcestershire sauce
3 drops Tabasco sauce
A couple of grinds of black pepper
A pinch of salt or celery salt or both
¼ teaspoon of prepared horseradish (optional)

Directions: Combine the ingredients in a highball glass with ice or stir with ice in a separate glass. Doing the latter allows you to double strain to remove the particles of horseradish, if that matters. As this is a clearer and cleaner drink than the Bloody Mary, it mattered to me. Attentive imbibers may notice that swapping out the tequila for a local craft beer will yield a variation on a Michelada. Go for it.

So many restaurants, so little time. Find out the latest San Antonio dining news with our Flavor Friday Newsletter.

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