The Red and The Black
I’m so excited about our new favorite summer cocktail, it wouldn’t do to just snap a pic and post it on social media with a “Yum!” comment and a fun emoji. I have to actually make a blog post about it, because you need the recipe. You should get out there while there are good fresh strawberries, and make this wonderful celebration of sweet berries, fresh lime and blanco tequila, with a pop of black pepper.
It’s adapted from a cocktail recipe published in Food and Wine Magazine years ago, from Bar Chief Michael Cecconi, back when he served as mixology master at Peter Hoffman’s restaurants in New York City.
If you can, make sure you have great strawberries. Not those Camarosa ones. If you don’t know what Camarosa strawberries are… well, I’m sure you do. You know the ones where you can stand next to a giant display of them in the grocery store, but there’s no aroma of strawberries? They are the only variety available in virtually every large grocery store; they look lovely and travel well, but they don’t have a lot of great ripe strawberry flavor.
But if you can get to a farmer’s market or the equivalent, you will find the many other breeds that still smell and taste like the fruit we remember enjoying as kids on 4th of July strawberry shortcakes. Yes, they’ll get mushy within a few days, but don’t worry. Between waffle toppings, the aforementioned shortcakes, and this amazing cocktail, they probably won’t have a chance to expire. (Truth be told, we don’t bother with either of the first two applications.) Anyway, super-ripe berries are exactly what you want for this drink.
If you’re like me, you’ll spot the making of a dedicated black pepper syrup in this recipe and be tempted to stop reading. “Too much trouble!” you’ll grumble. Trust me, it’s almost no trouble. It takes mere minutes, and you’ll be glad you have this beautiful syrup, which lasts a lifetime in the refrigerator. Make at least double the amount, because you’ll want to add it to everything. Sweet summer fruit and black pepper is a match made in heaven. You’ll want to baste your own mother in this syrup, if you can get her to sit still long enough.
The following recipes are for two drinks.
First, the black pepper syrup:
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- ½ cup water
- 1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper
To grind the pepper, I just open my pepper mill to its widest setting. You want it barely cracked, not powdered.
Combine sugar, water and black pepper in a small saucepan. Heat to a simmer and stir for a couple of minutes until the sugar dissolves. It does not need to boil. It will be the color of tea. Transfer the syrup out of the saucepan to cool it. If you want to speed up this process, set your vessel of syrup in a larger container partly filled with cold water and a few ice cubes, and it will cool nicely within a few minutes. Then pour it through a fine strainer into a bottle or jar and refrigerate until ready for use.
For The Red and The Black cocktail:
- 4 ounces ripe strawberries
- ½ cup black pepper syrup
- 5 tablespoons fresh squeezed lime juice
- 5 ounces white tequila
- fresh mint and/or lime slices for garnish
Cut the berries in half after removing their stems. Muddle strawberries in a jar, cocktail beaker or small pitcher. Add lime juice, black pepper syrup and tequila. You can hold back some of the syrup if you are apprehensive about the sweetness, but we’ve found that with the brightness of the lime and the heat of the pepper, this is the amount that works and the drink is not oversweet.
Refrigerate the mixture until ready to use. It’s actually good to chill it for a while. It will easily last a day in the refrigerator, and you don’t want to stir or shake it with ice and then strain it, or you’ll strain off the glorious muddled strawberries.
Variations? Absolutely! For non-fans of tequila, white rum is an obvious alternative. And other sweet summertime fruits like peaches or watermelon are just begging for consideration.
Pour a tablespoon or so of granulated sugar onto a small plate. Add a sprinkling of salt and finely ground pepper. Run a fresh lime wedge around the rim of two glasses, then invert and tap the glasses in the sugar/salt mixture to coat the rims. Fill glasses with ice cubes and divide the cocktail mixture between them, including all the muddled fruit. Garnish and slurp!