Tuesday, July 27, 2010

South of the Border con El Castigador del Hígado

The season premiere of Mad Men aired this past Sunday and we celebrated with a little get together and hors d’oeuvres buffet. The snacks were simple: chips, dip, snack mix, cheese and crackers, etc. Nothing fancy or mind blowing just fun and filling and easy to share.

BUT! We drank well. Very well. Guests, Paul and Alicia, contributed a six pack of Dundee’s Summer Wheat ale. A crisp, refreshing, golden hoppy wheat beer that I’m sure was had at a price that belied its tastiness. My offering to the party was a pitcher of sangria.

I’ve mixed and tested numerous batches of the red stuff over the years. It’s a great summer libation, perfect with Spanish or Mexican dishes, of course, but also excellent with summer grill fare or on its own before dinner. Plus it’s one of the easiest ways to treat you and guests to a delicious, refreshing beverage.

Having tasted a few variations of the drink I think I’ve found the perfect version. It’s simple, flavorful, and, best of all, not loaded down with fruit salad. (A quick aside: I understand the concept of “eating with your eyes.” That presentation is important. But when did it become acceptable practice to scrimp on the drink by filling glasses with soggy fruit. I know the old song and dance about how “the fruit absorbs the booze and then you eat it and it gets you drunk.” But I call bull shit. Save for porous apples and melons fruits have skins designed to keep fruit juice in and foreign liquids out so a whole, skin on grape is going to absorb next to nothing. Besides, good fruit is so full of liquid already, somewhere between 70 and 80% that there’s little to no room for it to absorb booze. At best alcohol soluble essential oils and fruit juice will leach into the punch/sangria/hairy buffalo adding some depth of flavor—although it will likely be imperceptible in the presence of high proof grain alcohol and Froot Punch Kool-Aid—but any loss of liquid from the fruit or break down of pectin due to prolonged soaking will make the fruit limp and unpleasant. Using frozen melon balls in lieu of ice cubes for some drinks is fine, topping a cocktail with a fruit salad is not. Ever. Thank you.) and now back to our regularly scheduled food blog posting...

Anywhoozle, the recipe, gleaned from the beverage section of a favorite Mexican/South American cookbook of mine, goes a little something like this:


1 bottle (750mL) red wine

½ cup orange juice

½ cup brandy

¼ cup super fine (castor) sugar

Juice of 2 limes


Mix all ingredients in a large pitcher. Refrigerate for at least two hours. Serve over ice with garnish of lemon slices.


For this party I used a shiraz, but any mostly dry red will due. I’ve had good luck with cabernet sauvignon in the past, pino noir is good, too, but merlot may be too dry in most cases. Don’t be tempted to use a sweet red as Sangria is a drink of checks and balances. The drier, spicier, sometimes bitter notes of dry reds are essential to the balance of the drink. Besides you’re going to be adding sugar and orange juice. This is a cold, mixed drink so the quality of wine isn’t urgent, but it should be something you’d be willing to drink on its own. I used Barefoot, about $6 per bottle, but I wouldn’t go a whole lot cheaper, unless you can find Crane Lake. If you don’t have castor sugar, a super finely ground that dissolves easily in water, fear not! Either give regular table sugar a spin in the food processor until finely ground OR make up a 1:1 simple syrup by heating ¼ cup sugar and ¼ cup water until completely dissolved. Some recipes call for triple sec, a sweet orange flavored liqueur, but sangrias made with triple sec are often too sweet, if you don’t have brandy—a type of distilled wine—and must use triple sec leave out the sugar. Using the juice of one and a half lemons or one lime and one lemon are acceptable variations. I like to garnish with lemon slices as the yellow peel contrasts nicely with the deep, purple-y/red color of the sangria.

Oh, and if it ain’t red wine it ain’t sangria. A perfectly nice wine punch or spritzer or whatever can be made with whites or blushes, but the name of the drink is sangria. As in sangre, as in the Spanish for blood. Unless you have some sort of horrible blood disease I’m assuming that your sangre is as rojo as mine.


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