Cocktail of the Week

(part 1) Pickled Pearl Onions

Continuing on from last week’s (Meyer Lemon) preserving session, we come to one of Chef's favorites ~ Pickled Pearl Onions ~ which pair beautifully with many a savory starter or entrée.  Not to mention being an indispensable component to a great Bloody Mary.

Preserving doesn't get much easier than this: the only thing fiddly about pickling pearl onions is peeling the papery outer skin and membrane to get to the inner bulb. Pickling spices tend to work best when peppercorns, fennel seeds and a wide flake salt like Maldon are in play. Use firm, good quality onions. Once you are past the peeling stage and have chosen your spices, all you need is a clean jar and equal parts vinegar and sugar … that's it.

Depending on what he will be serving them with, Ryan chooses a vinegar that will push or pull on the pearl's mild bulby onion taste. With the return of duck confit this week he used a good quality champagne vinegar. Ready to eat after 24 hours, these vibrant pink pickled onions will keep for months. Depending, of course, on how many times you find yourself reaching into the fridge for them to garnish a Bloody Mary.

(part 2) Barndiva's Bloody Mary

Anyone who tells you there is only one definitive recipe for the Bloody Mary is either a fool or a liar.  This is not all down to the fact that for all its sunny charm, it's a surprisingly complex cocktail. Depending upon your MO for ordering it ~ whether you are coming into brunch still wet from the gym or just out of bed with a headache you acquired getting up to no good the night before, chances are you’re going to taste something quite different every time you order one.

From the bartender's perspective the usual suspects are vodka, tomato juice, spices like cayenne and celery salt, hot sauce, and, at the finish, something to give you a great restorative green crunch. While it’s certainly nice in summer if you can purée your own tomatoes ~ the heirloom varieties we grew at the farm made for a remarkable Bloody Mary last summer  ~ it's not a deal breaker. The argument could even be made that tinned tomato juice, with its distinctive metallic edge, brings something to the table. The vinegary kick in our Bloody Marys since Rachel took over brunch bar duties on Sundays comes from a potent trio: the aforementioned pickled onions, brine from the olives and fresh lemon juice. Whatever spin the bartender puts on it needs to be bold, because at heart this is a bold cocktail. Is horseradish necessary? I didn’t used to think so, now I’m not so sure. I am sure, though, that using Sriracha for the hot sauce component brings a nice complex heat. Maldon is the salt to use as it doesn't break down, rewarding the drinker with well timed salty jolts which heighten all the wonderful red, green and spicy notes that make this drink a classic.

As for the garnish it shouldn't be an afterthought ~ a sad bit of celery just doesn't cut it.  The entry point to a great Bloody Mary is a juicy olive, pickled pearl onion, bit of shaved carrot, baby radish and a wedge of lime ~ fresh, bright, beautiful color and crunch that signals the transition to sharply sour, salty and hot. Close your eyes and you should be able to imagine sitting in a beautiful garden on a sunny day surrounded by ripening tomatoes. Wherever you actually are, there are worse ways to start your Sunday.

All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales and Dawid Jaworski (unless otherwise noted).