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The ultimate Bloody Mary cocktail.  It’s a worthy and difficult challenge to track down just the right recipe.  Sounds like my kind of challenge!

My good friend Chef Michael Clark had just the right recipe.  We decided to serve it as an appetizer/prelude for the pulled pork sliders we were planning as the main event.  I’d had Michael’s Bloody Marys before, and knew they were fabulous.  Getting the Ultimate Bloody Mary Cocktail just right is all about balancing three things:

  1. The Spice:  Why have a Bloody Mary that’s not spicy?  But the spices have to be balanced and blended carefully for an intriguingly complex flavor that still packs just the right jolt.
  2. The Garnish:  Let’s face it–a single stalk of celery just won’t cut it.  Not on the Ultimate Bloody Mary cocktail at any rate.  The Garnish immediately makes your Bloody Mary stand apart because it appeals visually.
  3. The Secret:  One word–Umami.

Let me fill you in on the whole Umami thing, because it’s a specialty of Chef Michael’s.

I’ve touched on the subject of Umami before.  It’s a key flavor in making a great Caesar’s Salad, for example.  I use the word “flavor” and not “spice” or “Ingredient” intentionally.  Umami is your fifth taste after bitter, sweet, sour, and salty.

The other four (sweet, sour, bitter, and salty) were known for a long time, but Umami wasn’t recongized much in Western Cuisine much until the 80’s.  The Japanese first proposed its existence in 1908.

The word “Umami” loosely translates to “pleasant savory taste.”  Chemically, it’s all about taste receptors that can respond to Glutamates.  Of course we all think (many negatively) of Monosodium Glutamate (MSG), when we hear that.

No need to worry about or use MSG.  Umami is more about a natural taste for compounds that occur naturally in many protein-rich settings.  In cooking, Umami is a subtle flavor; more of a sensation than a distinct flavor, actually.  It’s function is to balance and round out the overall flavor of a dish.

What I find is it’s an afterburner for an already wonderful taste–it just accelerates it to a whole new level.  And it is the secret ingredient that makes these Bloody Marys so Heavenly.  In this case, it comes from Fish Sauce.

Ingredients for Ultimate Bloody Mary Cocktail Mix

Makes 1 pitcher:

2 quarts of the best quality tomato juice.  I like it a little on the thicker side.

1/2 cup pickle juice.  If it can make a cucumber taste that good, pickle juice has got to be pretty special!

2 tbsp horse radish

2 tsp celery salt

1 tsp black pepper

1 tbsp + 1/2 tsp Worcestershire Sauce (I like Lee and Perrins)

1 tbsp + 1 tsp Fish Sauce

Splash of Tobasco (took me 20 shakes to get the flavor I wanted)


Juice of 2 lemons

Mix Preparation

Combine your ingredients in the pitcher or a large mixing bowl (easier to mix thoroughly).

Taste it.  Tune it up:

  • Got the right kick?  Play with the horseradish and Tobasco.
  • Touch of acid on the palate?  Play with the lemon juice.
  • Umami?  This is subtle.  As an experiment so you can get used to the taste, start out with half what I call for.  Now add more, teaspoon by teaspoon.  The taste should get better and better.  As you get close to the right amount, the improvement is less and less.

You have to tune up a recipe like this because the flavors in the tomato juice are going to vary from one batch to the next.  Plus, your palate is not my palate, so get used to adjusting recipes to satisfy your palate.

One last prep tip.  Stick the mix in your fridge for at least an hour up to as much as overnight.  This gives the flavors a chance to meld and will also greatly improve taste.

50 Shades of the Ultimate Bloody Mary Cocktail Garnish

The basics are done when the mix is right, but the Garnish is critical.  It gives an immediate signal that this is no ordinary Bloody Mary.  The Garnish promises your palate through your eyes that something very special is inbound.  You can garnish a Bloody Mary with almost anything.  Here are some possibilities:

  • Gotta have that celery stalk.  Sorry, it’s a rule.
  • Bacon, because BACON!!!  Or, beef jerky and similar meat snacks.  Pepperoni, anyone?
  • Skewered Chicken (You know, like Satay but without the peanut sauce)
  • Olives:  But don’t wimp out–my faves are garlic and jalapeno stuffed green olives.
  • Hang a boiled shrimp or two on the rim
  • All things pickled:  Kosher Dill Spear, Pickled Asparagus, Pickled Okra, Pickled Green Beans, you name it
  • Baby corn
  • Pepperoncini up to Jalapeno peppers
  • Cherry Tomatos
  • Carrot stick
  • Grapefruit Wedge (intriguing!)
  • Rosemary sprig
  • Lemon or Lime Wedge
  • Hard Boiled Egg
  • Radishes
  • Gibson Onions
  • Cheese Chunks:  Cheddar is awesome
  • Basil
  • Kimchi (Whoa!)
  • Bell Pepper: Mild taste and the colors are great
  • Roasted garlic clove (Oh my!)
  • Smoked Oysters (Dang!)
  • Jicama
  • Steak Bites (Yes!)
  • Artichoke Hearts
  • Avacado slice:  Creamy goodness will take a little of the edge off.
  • Layer some seriously chunky pico de gallo salsa over the top
  • Crab Leg (BAM!)  Or, how ’bout a whole soft shell crab deep fried?

I don’t know if that’s 50 or not, but you get the idea.  Garnish like you’re packing a meal on that bad boy.  Just be sure they can still get a sip of Bloody Mary without putting their eye out on your garnishes, LOL.

Extra Credit: Spicey Salt Rim

Invariably, guests will nibble the garnish until it’s gone way before the Bloody Mary is finished.  If you’re really in search of the ultimate (hey, maybe you’ve entered a bar tending contest?), you have to carry them through this point.

The answer is to rim the glass with the right spicy stuff.  Any of this can work:

  • Straight up Kosher Salt
  • BBQ Rubs
  • Paprika Salt (Love the color)
  • Old Bay Seasoning
  • Key Lime Salt
  • Pink Himalayan Salt
  • Celery Salt
  • Your own special blend

Best Vodka

I like Tito’s for Bloody Marys, but the truth is you don’t need expensive vodka.  The flavors of the Bloody Mary are strong enough all by themselves.


ultimate bloody mary cocktail