Tomato water is a bizarre-sounding cocktail ingredient, but it works
You say tomato. I say tomato water. It took me a long time to come around to this bizarre-sounding cocktail ingredient, largely because I consider it an important part of my job to maintain a firm line between salad and booze. And tomato water definitely seemed to cross the line.
As such, when, at a Dillon’s Spirits cocktail competition a couple of years ago, contestant Kathleen Shattock presented the Tomaccio for my consideration, I was ready to hate it. You will already have guessed I was wrong. The drink was a revelation and the tomato water delivered an umami-bomb component to this super-fresh cocktail.
Even so, I wasn’t jazzed on trying to make it at home, since I knew it involved a fair bit of advance planning and it soon faded from memory. It all came back in a crystal-clear flash, though, when I recently tried Cazottes 72 Tomates, an eau-de-vie made from tomatoes (yes, really) from an organic, artisanal spirits distillery in the south of France run by the passionate vintner/distiller, Laurent Cazottes. It had that same umami-freshness balance.
Funnily enough, I happened to be with Shattock at this tasting, too, since she was wearing her wine sales hat that day (she works with the Living Vine agency on top of working as a hospitality consultant in Toronto and Prince Edward County, where she lives). We both immediately associated the eau-de-vie and the Tomaccio. “I think that’s why I like tomato so much as an ingredient,” she explained, “It’s because of the tomato’s inherent sweetness, which is balanced with that great savoury thing. You can play off of that with bright citrus flavours or herbal notes, and you can easily create this all-palate flavour play that I really enjoy.”
Shattock added lemon juice and fennel syrup to Dillon’s vodka for her competition entry — a flavour combo that she still uses when she helps restaurants develop cocktail menus. She also gives clients advice on how to get the tomato water as colour-free as possible (detailed below), so that the tomato flavour really takes people by surprise.
“Everyone thinks of tomato cocktails as Caesars, all thick and tomato-sauce and there’s so much more that you can do with it,” said Shattock. “And cucumber got the rise from salad ingredient to cocktail go-to, so why not tomato?”
I’m sold. On the tomato, that is. But hold the cucumber, please — that’s starting to sound a little too much like salad for my taste.
1 oz vodka
1 oz tomato water*
3/4 oz fresh lemon juice
1/2 oz fennel syrup**
Stir and fine-strain into chilled coupe glass.
Blanch a half-kilo of fresh tomatoes, so that it’s easy to remove skins. Blitz them with an immersion blender for 30 seconds. Place the tomato mush in a coffee filter and let it strain for several hours — up to 6. To achieve a very light-coloured, pale tomato water, try to leave the mush alone instead of agitating it. The solids can later be turned into salsa or sauce.
Heat 1 cup of sugar, 1 cup of water, 4 or 5 pieces of chopped fennel and a teaspoon of toasted fennel seeds in a saucepan until the sugar is dissolved. Cool and let the fennel infuse for an hour. Strain, bottle and refrigerate.