Ah, the Bloody Mary: a classic hair of the dog, and a favorite among breakfast lushes. My favorite thing about a Bloody Mary is that it leaves so much room for interpretation. The standard vodka and tomato juice with horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, celery salt and Tabasco (among myriad garnish and seasoning options) is a blank slate for creativity. Okay, here's where I make my shocking confession: I am not a huge fan of the Bloody Mary. I don't know what it is—I love making them, but they're just so...hearty? Chewy? Call me crazy, but I don't dig having to floss after a beverage. But when I'm sitting down a hot plate of huevos rancheros, I want something just a tad sturdier than a fizzy mimosa or Bellini; something clear, salty, savory, and with a kick. A daintier, more delicate Bloody Mary, made with tomato water instead of chunky tomato juice, and with hot pepper vodka instead of hot sauce and grated horseradish. A not-so-Bloody Mary.
Here's what to do: fill a jar with good vodka and toss in a handful of fresh hot chilis (washed and slit down the middle). I used Thai chilis for this batch, and let me tell you, it burned like hellfire. You can go with a milder, fruitier chili like a poblano, or you can go with a more intense habanero, if you're a masochist. Let it sit in a sunny window for a day or two, then strain and taste. If it's undrinkably spicy like mine was (seriously, it was like getting maced on my insides), you can dilute it with more vodka.
To make the tomato water, take about a pound of good, ripe tomatoes—I like to use heirlooms for their superior flavor—and give a good chop in the food processor. If you decide to do it by hand, just make sure you catch all the juice into a bowl, because that's sort of the whole point. Then pour the chopped tomatoes into a cheesecloth bag or one of those giant tea bags that they sell for herbs (available at natural food stores or Chinese groceries). Tie it up and either hang it in your fridge to let it drain into a bowl for a few hours, or impatiently wring the water out like I did.
For each drink, you mix your chili-infused vodka with the fresh tomato water and add a pinch of sea salt. Garnish it with a skewer of your favorite spicy pickled vegetables—garlicky green beans and curry okra pickles are excellent.