Mexican vs. American Sangrita: A Tale of Two Recipes
With the renewed rise of cocktail culture, Tequila has come back from a low point in American drinking (the 90s weren’t kind to the spirit’s image). One-hundred percent pure agave bottlings have become the norm and people have discovered the beauty of slowly savoring a glass of quality Tequila. Now it’s time to replace the lime-and-salt-shaker chaser and rediscover Tequila’s original sipping companion, sangrita.
Often confused for the popular summertime fruity wine concoction of similar name (sangria), sangrita is a blend of juices and spices native to the Lake Chapala area of Jalisco, Tequila’s homeland, and meant to be sipped alongside the liquor as a palate cleanser.
Sangrita, which directly translates to “little blood” in Spanish, takes its name from the chaser’s distinctive red hue.
The mistake of adding tomato juice caught on and a distinctly different—but equally delicious—variation on the drink had formed.
Like so many other classic cocktails, its origins and history are a bit of a mystery. For most of its history this Tequila companion was little-known outside its home in Jalisco. However, in recent years, outsiders who managed to try it were eager to recreate the spicy, savory drink back home.
And this is how sangrita style became split between two camps.
You Say “Tomato,” I say “… No”
Traditional Lake Chapala-style sangrita uses Seville oranges as its base—a sour, tart and slightly bitter variety—usually combined with lime, pomegranate, chili powder and hot sauce. These ingredients come together to impart the signature color that gives the drink its name.
However, when non-locals saw the vibrant red concoction, many erroneously assumed it contained tomato juice, and used the ingredient in their own recreations back home. The trend caught on, and as a result, a distinctly different—and equally delicious—variation on the drink formed. This alternate style uses a tomato juice as a base, along with a variety of citrus, savory and spicy flavors.
This technique, sometimes called “Mexico City style,” has now become as ubiquitous as the original citrus-based blend.
How Do I Make Sangrita?
We’ve enlisted two seasoned bar professionals to contribute their very different takes on this classic: Alex Valencia, a native of Jalisco, Mexico, who is bartender and partner at La Contenta in New York City, and Jeff Stockton, a San Diego native and current bar manager at Cast Iron in Atlanta.
Click through to check the technique.
Courtesy Alex Valencia, bartender/partner, La Contenta, New York City
A native of Jalisco, Mexico, Valencia now helms the bar at La Contenta where he shines a light on mezcal, Tequila, and lesser known Mexican spirits like raicilla and sotol.
“Growing up as a kid in Guadalajara, I remember my sister and me drinking sangritas when we were just 9 years old,” Valencia said. “My mom used to make these with grapefruit juice, hot sauce, salt, and pepper. This is the recipe I grew up on, and we never used tomato juice … Other families in different regions and states of Mexico had their own takes on the sangrita, some with grapefruit soda or lime juice.”
He adds, “In Mexico, there’s not a heavy cocktail culture so this mixture was created to compliment tequila.”
Valencia’s recipe focuses on simplicity and tartness to refresh the palate after each sip of Tequila.
- 8 ounces fresh grapefruit juice
- 2 ounces fresh orange juice
- 4 ounces fresh lime juice
- 5–10 dashes hot sauce (more or less to taste)
- Ground black pepper
Combine all ingredients and stir. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Courtesy Jeff Stockton, bar manager, Cast Iron, Atlanta
This American riff on sangrita uses a “more is more” approach to ingredients, and decidedly emphasizes the savory to strike balance with the sour. Tomato juice is used in equal proportion to orange juice, and roasted vegetables take center stage.
“It’s a pretty unconventional approach for sangrita,” says Stockton. “It has some gazpacho-like qualities. Grilling some of the ingredients provides a char and mellowness that tempers the bite of the onion and pepper.”
- ¼ medium white onion
- ½ dried ancho chili
- 1 jalapeño, halved
- 4 ounces tomato juice (Sacramento)
- 4 ounces fresh orange juice
- 3 ounces fresh lime juice
- ½ teaspoon Maggi seasoning
- ½ stalk of celery
- ¼ medium cucumber
On a grill or in a cast iron pan, roast onion, ancho chili and half the jalapeño for 4–5 minutes, until onions begin to char. Remove from heat and place in a blender. Add remaining ingredients and blend until smooth, and salt to taste. Let sit for 10 minutes. Strain finely before serving.
- 1Sangrita for the Traditionalist
- 2Sangrita for the Non-Conformist