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Bloody Mary: An Unauthorized Biography

Being an early riser, I don’t have the opportunity to indulge in brunch often, but when I do, I enjoy a Bloody Mary along with my Eggs Benedict. It has all the components that I love: spicy, salty, tomato-based - and includes olives. But I’ve often wondered: how did such a delicious cocktail end up with such a gory name?

Fernand “Pete” Petiot is said to have invented what has become America’s favorite brunch drink - also known as the “morning-after drink”, the “hangover remedy”, and “hair of the dog”.

Pete was the bartender at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris. As bartenders are apt to do, they experiment and create new recipes. He mixed up vodka, tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, salt and cayenne pepper and the Bloody Mary was born.

Some stories say that Pete named his new concoction after Queen Mary Tudor, the daughter of Henry VIII. She was also known as Bloody Mary because during her five year reign she managed to slaughter an impressive number of “heretics”.

Others say that it was named after an evening with a British visitor at Harry’s, who drank copious amounts of the cocktail while complaining about his wife Mary. Using the British adjective “bloody”, he declared his wife a “bloody nag” and “bloody impossible”.

You can believe whichever story you like, but the fact is that while visiting Harry’s in Paris, John Jacob Astor fell in love with the Bloody Mary. He persuaded Pete to return to New York with him and work at the King Cole Bar in New York’s St. Regis Hotel. The hotel was owned by the Astors and this allowed Mr. Astor to indulge in his favorite cocktail whenever he desired.

This was in the 1930’s, and fearful that the name might offend, the Astors renamed it the Red Snapper. Thank goodness that name didn’t stick! It soon became the favorite cocktail for morning consumption, and when the modern invention of brunch became popular, it took its place to become the third most popular cocktail in America.

There are many recipes for a Bloody Mary, and of course everyone claims that theirs is best. Some agree that horseradish is a yes, others say no. Some like tomato juice and others prefer Clamato. Some upscale restaurant bars even add dry sherry or red wine to the mix. But pretty much every aficionado agrees that prepared mixes should be dismissed in favor of the personal touch of a hand created cocktail.

When it comes to mixing a Bloody Mary, there is no right way and there is no wrong way. Make it the way you like it. My favorite recipe for a Bloody Mary is 4 ounces of tomato juice, 1-1/2 ounce vodka, 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, 1 squeeze of lemon juice, 4 dashes of Cholula hot sauce, and a pinch of salt. Stir well and pour into a glass half filled with ice. Add 2 olives, a wedge of lime and enjoy.

The choice of vodka is important. While Chopin or Grey Goose are lovely in a martini, I prefer one of the Texas vodkas like Titos or Texas Son for a Bloody Mary.

Almost as personal as the mix is the garnish. Celery sticks and olives are traditional, but try other garnishes like scallions, dilled green beans, pickled okra, cornichons, jalapenos, limes, lemon peels, even bacon. The most important question is how many garnishes are too many? We’ve all seen the Bloody Mary that has a slider or piece of fried chicken perched on the rim of the glass.

Not surprisingly, restaurants in New Orleans know how to make a good Bloody Mary. My favorite is from Felix’s Restaurant and Oyster Bar, which came topped with a fresh shucked oyster in the half shell. Another favorite is the Bloody Mary you can order while waiting in the long line for breakfast/brunch at The Ruby Slipper; the fat boiled shrimp provides sustenance until you can be seated.

It goes without saying that alcohol should be served with food; and foods high in protein will slow the absorption of alcohol into the circulatory system and allow you to enjoy the remainder of the day.

Here’s a recipe from my daughter, Erin Pavia. Try it along with your Bloody Mary for an easy and delicious brunch. It serves 6, but you wouldn’t want to have brunch with less than four of your friends anyway, right? And of course, you can always double the recipe!

Ramekin Eggs

6 slices Pancetta 3 Tblsp chopped shallots

1/4 cup chopped scallions 10 ounce fresh spinach

3/4 cup heavy cream 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

12 eggs 12 slices French bread or buttered toast

Additional accompaniments (optional):

1/2 cup diced tomatoes

1/2 cup chopped mushrooms

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter 12 ramekins (or cupcake pans).

Brown pancetta over medium heat; remove, cool, and roughly chop. Remove the tough stems from spinach; rinse, drain, pat dry and chop. Sauté shallots and scallions, stirring briefly, then add the spinach and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring, until the spinach is wilted (about 2 minutes). Add the cream and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring, about five minutes. Stir in the cheese and remove the mixture from the heat.

Spoon an equal portion of the spinach mixture into the bottom of each ramekin. Divide pancetta amongst ramekins and layer accompaniments if desired. Break one egg into each ramekin, and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.

Arrange the ramekins in a baking dish and pour boiling water around them. Bake 18-20 minutes. Serve two to each guest accompanied with French bread or buttered toast.

Serves 6

Note: The traditional way of serving food in ramekins is to cover a small plate with a napkin, then place the ramekin on the napkin. Provide each guest with a salad fork and a small spoon.

Enjoy Erin’s recipe - and don’t forget to set up a Bloody Mary bar so your guests can choose the garnishes that appeal to them. It goes without saying that you should drink responsibly. :-)

Bon Appétit!

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