From Classic to Wacky
By: Lynn Ogryzlo
An evening cocktail, a famous brunch sipper or a hangover cure, this savory drink that hails from Paris, France is a simple mixture of vodka and tomato juice that lends itself to hundreds of different interpretations.
“I’ve seen some pretty outrageous Bloody Marys in my time,” laughs Frank Ryan, head bartender at Seneca Niagara Casino & Resort. Frank is an accomplished bartender listed in the Buffalo Bartender’s Hall of Fame so if he says, “the sky is the limit when it comes to designing Bloody Mary’s,” you know there has to be something to it.
Unlike other classic cocktails, the Bloody Mary is not a spirits-driven drink. Instead, it’s more of a vodka-soaked nutritional breakfast where “anything goes”. The classic Bloody Mary recipe calls for vodka and tomato juice with Tabasco sauce, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce and celery salt mixed together to achieve that delicious, savory drink that so many of us have fallen in love with.
But in today’s world of wacky cocktails, the base of vodka and tomato juice is just the beginning. You can change the amounts of horseradish or Worcestershire to your liking, you can switch up the tomato juice for Clamato (which for some bizarre reason makes it a Bloody Caesar), instead of vodka, use tequila (it becomes a Bloody Maria), gin (you now have a Red Snapper), or you can add just about anything else your culinary (and crazy) mind can concoct.
Frank explains a Bloody Mary is to a bartender what a stir-fry is to a chef. As he talks on about a lack of precision measurements required, I envision a baker surrounded with measuring cups and spoons painstakingly measuring out each ingredient. Beside him is Frank, surrounded by jiggers, shot glasses and eyedroppers painstakingly measuring out each ingredient for his award winning cocktail, the Crystal Clementine, an original drink Frank created for the bar at the Western Door Steakhouse. But then he recounts, “none of this is necessary. A great Bloody Mary is like a great stir-fry, it only requires some semblance of culinary adeptness.”
“OK,” say Frank sitting up abruptly as if he were going to challenge me. “Let’s walk through the process of creating a really outrageous Bloody Mary cocktail.” He presses on his index finger, “first, let’s start with a blank canvas – just tomato juice and vodka.” He presses on his middle finger, “second, let’s just leave the seasonings alone.
Ok, well, I thought we were going to see how outrageous a Bloody Mary can be and if we’re not changing up the classic recipe, what are we going to change? “Third,” says Frank as he presses on his ring finger, “is the rim and fourth is the garnish.” He’s now pressing on his pinky.
All out of fingers, Frank explains that a Bloody Mary, “looks like a salad in a glass. So let’s build on that.” Ok, I’m still not quite understanding this – does he mean a pepperette to replace the celery and a round of Babybel cheese instead of lime wedge? “Oh, you are so not a bartender,” laughs Frank. It’s obvious he’s laughing at me, not with me. So I sit in silence and learn.
Just search the web and you’ll find insane Bloody Marys that cross the line from drink to dinner with skewers loaded with bacon cheeseburger sliders, potato skins, pickles, a large wedge of Swiss cheese with whole, deep-fried, onion rings hung over the skewer. It’s a meal in a glass and after one of these, how can you possibly order a normal Bloody Mary again?
On my web research, I have to say I’d love to try to skewer bacon wrapped lobster over crab cakes loaded with guacamole, fried fish fillets and crab legs with calamari rings dividing each course. If I could have one of these, it would be my entire meal, an irresistible brunch dish.
Frank admits he’s made Bloody Marys very much like the ones we’re having fun concocting in our conversations. He’s substituted soy sauce for Worcestershire sauce, used the Asian hot sauce Shiracha instead of tobacco (“gives it an Asian flair lots of people like,” says Frank) and the one I told him I’d have to taste for myself, lump crab blended into the tomato juice by shaking.
Contrary to the wacky Bloody Marys anyone can throw together, Frank is a dependable classics Hall of Famer. “My most popular garnish is a giant shrimp and a double-sized olive. We sell an awful lot of these in the bar [at the Western Door]” says Frank because “there’s no point in messing around with what’s isn’t broken.”
Frank’s Blank Canvas Bloody Mary
I asked Frank what advice he would have for others to create a outrageous Bloody Mary’s at home. He recommends beginning with large wooden skewers, the kind you use to make shish kabobs. Think of these large shish kabob skewers as replacements to celery in the glass. Now, “the more foods you can stack on the skewer, the better.” So here is a list of some of Frank’s suggested ingredients for wacky Bloody Mary drinks that are more like a full meal.
1 lime wedge
2 oz. premium vodka
2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
4 oz. tomato juice
2 dashes Tabasco sauce
2 tsp. horseradish
1 pinch celery salt
1 pinch ground black pepper
1 pinch smoked paprika
Squeeze the lemon and lime wedges into a shaker and drop them in. Add the remaining ingredients and fill with ice. Shake gently and strain into an already rimmed glass. Now go crazy!
Mix 1 teaspoon of any of the following with a teaspoon of kosher salt. For a classic rim, use celery salt. For something different, use any of the following:
Old Bay seasoning
BBQ rubs (they’re mostly salt anyway!)
Pickled beans, Marinated artichoke hearts, Pickled asparagus, Crispy strips of bacon, Oysters, Candied bacon strips, Cooked shrimp, Beef jerky, Pepperoni sticks, Hamburger sliders, Corn fritters, Loaded potato skins, Falafel balls, Fried chicken wings, Pierogi, Tempura vegetables, Tempura seafood, Spaghetti wrapped lobster, Sticky ribs, Cubes of tenderloin beef, Cheese squares, Hard-boiled eggs, Baby corn, Double sized or stuffed olives, Jalapeno poppers, Deep fried onion rings, Tofu (fried or fresh)