the red and black
For many Junes, this was my favorite cocktail. Yes, I realize that I sound particularly like a weird food writer person and not a person who lives among other people because most normal, sane people do not have a favorite cocktail for each month of the year, even if you agree with me — you do, right? –that a Perfect Manhattan is the ideal way to warm up on the first cold September day and a Porch Swing is the most refreshing way to endure a sultry July afternoon, but hear me out: this is squarely June or the weeks leading up to it because it’s a celebration of strawberries, so we might as well wait until they’re overripe the moment you turn your head and muddle them in a glass.
The core flavor comes from fresh strawberries, black pepper, and lime, a combination I find so likable, I turned it into a popsicle, but at times when you’re not expected to share with kids, you should definitely add some white tequila. The drink was on the menu at Back Forty on Avenue B, an early locavore restaurant that abruptly, and with absolutely no notice, closed and never came back a couple years ago. Like all breakups you didn’t see coming, I’m still a little raw about it. Was it something we did? Something we could have done? But I’m sure they’re not somewhere pouting over us.
I was so obsessed with this drink and the fleeting window of it each spring that I attempted to reverse engineer it in my first cookbook, but I think I did just an okay job. Little did I know the restaurant’s owner, Peter Hoffman had shared his bar manager’s recipe with Food & Wine (in fact, one of you told me, thank you) and we made it this week and, look, nothing is as good as having someone else make you your favorite drink (and then wash all the dishes involved and also can we have some rosemary and sea salt fries to go with that?) but if there could ever be a downside, it’s that those freshly muddled strawberries in the bottom of the glass of ice are the most delicious part and though I’ve tried and tried anyway, there’s no graceful way to get them out (it requires a fork) at a bar. At home, there’s nobody to judge you. I think we know exactly what needs to be done.
The Red and Black (Cocktail)
Key here is that sparkly black pepper simple syrup, so please don’t skip it. Make more, even, you won’t regret it because it keeps for ages in the fridge. I made it twice; the first time I used 2 solid tablespoons of coarsely ground black pepper and it was so spicy, even smelling it could make you cry. (I was using peppercorns a friend had brought me from Cambodia, lucky me, which might have had more kick.) The second time, I used whole peppercorns and the kick was a bit too mild. Thus, I’ve written it below for something in-between.
- 1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 tablespoon (7 grams) coarsely ground black pepper (see Note up top)
- 4 ounces ripe strawberries, hulled and halved
- 5 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 5 ounces (10 tablespoons) blanco tequila
- 1 lime wedge
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Make drinks: Muddle strawberries a medium-sized jar. Add lime juice, 1/2 cup of cooled syrup (if you’re nervous about sweetness, you can hold a little more back), and tequila and stir to combine. You can chill this mixture in the fridge until needed, up until 2 days.
To finish: Swipe rims of 2 rocks or equivalent 11 or 12-ounce glasses with lime. Combine 1 tablespoon sugar, 3/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper, and salt in a shallow plate and dip rims in it to coat them. Carefully fill glasses with ice. Divide strawberry-tequila mixture between glasses, including the muddled strawberries. Drink slowly and have no shame about using a spoon to get all of the strawberries from the glass to your mouth.