Shake and I once had a memorable and absolutely lovely dinner at Azure restaurant at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. We’ve eaten there a few times, and always enjoy it, but on this visit, Chef Jon Matsubara (who is totally awesome and ultra creative) served a Tomato Water Consommé in place of the usual palate cleanser of broth. It was so yummy, I could have slurped down an entire bowl. I did show some restraint and limited myself to draining the teeny little teacup dry. This experience opened up my eyes to a new ingredient I’d never heard of before!
After having Chef Jon’s consommé, I became obsessed with the idea of making a martini with tomato water, kind of like a clear Bloody Mary or a clear, boozy gazpacho. I scoured the Web looking for recipes (there are many) and came across Rick Poon’s stunningly beautiful blog where he shared his recipe for making tomato water martinis.
In the post, Poon also mentions Kelly Liken restaurant in Vail; he made the food and cocktails sound so great, I dug around for more info. Everything I found made me wish I could try it, but figured we would never go there. Flash forward about 18 months, and we found ourselves in Vail. Shake mentioned on Twitter that we were there, and a bartender friend asked how the cocktail scene was. We hadn’t been thinking of looking for drinks, but when someone inspires you like that… A quick Google search for “Vail cocktails” turned up…Kelly Liken! I’d forgotten all about the place, but when it showed up as one of the top mentions, I remembered how awesome it had sounded and declared that we had to go. We spent way more than we’d planned, but it was worth it. The food and cocktails were amazing, and check out how gorgeous this place is! (It’s not empty because it’s not good; it’s empty because we were there in the off season.)
Back to the tomato water. Tomato water is remarkably simple. You just have to be patient. (Of course, we all know that’s not exactly my strong suit.) Tomato water is just the liquid that drains out of tomato purée when it’s left to sit. It’s kind of like draining regular yogurt to make Greek-style yogurt. I took my tomato water (I didn’t follow Rick Poon’s recipe; I put my own twist on it) and, like he did, did a one-to-one tomato water-vodka mix. Meh. It was OK, but it didn’t have the taste I wanted.
Shake wanders into the kitchen.
“Here. Taste this. Why doesn’t it taste that great?”
“What’d you use? Vodka? Why don’t you try gin?”
Aha! Sometimes the man is such a genius.
I wanted my tomato water martini to taste like gazpacho, and the vodka wasn’t contributing to that flavor profile. But gin…all those botanicals! And Shake had bought a bottle of Hendrick’s gin. It is, as they like to say, “delightfully curious” and has a distinctive taste (not everyone likes it) that has a lot of botanicals and a lot of cucumbery-ness. Surprisingly, since I’m not the biggest cucumber fan, I like it quite a bit! Its flavor goes extremely well with the tomato water and, with the addition of that cucumber taste, I now had the gazpacho-y flavor I was looking for.
Voila, Sugar’s Tomato Water Gin Shooters!
I originally planned to serve these as full martinis, but because they were to be one of at least a half-dozen different cocktails at a party we were throwing, and because I feared that I wouldn’t have enough tomato water for full martinis for everyone, I switched it up and made them little shooters instead. Of course, I prefer sipping them delicately. I garnished with Ho Farms currant tomatoes, which are adorable little tomatoes that are even smaller than cherry or grape tomatoes. Perfect for the smaller shot glasses!
Sugar’s Tomato Water Gin Shooters
I’ll be honest: no matter what you do, any given batch of tomato water is going to taste different from the previous and the next. It depends on the tomatoes you’re using, plus I don’t measure. You’ll need to start the tomato water at least the night before you want to make the cocktails.
- 6 or 7 large, very ripe tomatoes (local are best and at our favorite gourmet grocery, they often sell the nearly over-ripe ones at a deep discount—if you stumble into such a deal, snap them up)
- 1 small garlic clove, peeled and smashed gently (don’t obliterate it, just crush enough to break it apart a bit; this is one time where I don’t advocate going crazy with the garlic—a little goes a long way)
- 3 – 4 sprigs cilantro, gently crushed (again, don’t pulverize them, just bruise them up to release their scent)
- Salt (I prefer Hawaiian, but you could use kosher or coarse sea salt; do not use iodized table salt)
- Pepper, fresh cracked
- Hendrick’s (or your favorite) gin
- Currant tomatoes for garnish (if you can’t find them, use grape or cherry tomatoes)
Yields approx. 1½ – 2 cups of tomato water
To make the tomato water:
You’ll need both a fine strainer and some coffee filters (large ones) or cheese cloth. Line the strainer with the coffee filters. I prefer the filters over cheese cloth because the fabric tends to soak up some of the precious tomato water and they’re cheaper than buying cheesecloth all the time. Also, if you’re impatient like I am, and you poke at your purée or press on it a bit, particles are more likely to escape through cheesecloth than filter paper.
Purée the tomatoes. Place the smashed garlic and cilantro at the bottom of the filter-lined strainer. Set the strainer over a bowl or Tupperware container. I like to use one deep enough to set the entire strainer bowl inside with at least 4 inches of room between the bottom of the container and the strainer. It’s less precarious that way. Pour the purée over the garlic and cilantro. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Leave the container/strainer apparatus in the fridge overnight or up to 24 hours. Check obsessively to see how fast it’s dripping.
If you’re very impatient, or pressed for time, you can gently press on the purée to express more liquid. Even more daringly, you can VERY CAREFULLY pull up on the edges of the filter paper and bring them together to make a little dumpling pouch of purée. Squeeze ever so slowly and gently. You may want to line the strainer with an extra layer of filter paper in case some of your purée sneaks out of the pouch. (This squeezing technique does work a bit better with cheesecloth, since you can cut it large enough to contain all of your purée. You just have to concede to sacrificing the colorlessness of the water in favor of speeding up the process.)
Tomato water has a very slight orange-yellow tint to it and looks a bit like pale chicken broth. When combined with the gin, it gets even more transparent and pretty close to colorless. If you have the patience to refrain from smooshing on your tomato purée during the draining process, your water will be even more colorless.
When you’re done draining the water, DON’T throw away the purée! You can freeze it and use it later to make tomato sauce or add more tomato-y flavor to dishes, just like you would use canned tomato paste. Leftover tomato water can be used the same way, to boost tomato flavor in other dishes when you don’t want to affect the color.
If you’re making it way ahead of time, you can store the tomato water in the fridge for a few days in a glass bottle. Don’t keep it too long—it’ll start to get cloudy. To keep it longer, freeze it.
To make the shooters:
Combine tomato water and gin in a one-to-one ratio; shake with ice. Serve in shot or martini glasses. Garnish with currant tomatoes on a cocktail pick.