"I have fish and alcohol stewing in my fridge!" Rachael Smith of Bar DeVille announced on my voice mail. Challenged with sardines by Robbie Guevara of the Revel Room, she'd decided to eschew more expected spirits like aquavit, and when she called she was steeping a tin of Matisse sardines and some cayenne pepper in a bottle of Ranchero tequila.
Guevara's choice of ingredient for Smith had been inspired by the sardine tattoo that forms a cuff on her left wrist. There's no big story behind this particular tat, she told us, though she's fooled many a customer by telling them it's Chicago's first piece of scratch-and-sniff body art. But she felt comfortable enough working with fish that she wanted to "double down" on it. So she ventured to Joong Boo Market to pick up a fresh one for her garnish: a piscine head (she used whiting), and for good measure a bit of fin.
Her prep still wasn't finished. Drawing on blue curacao mixed with water, she made some colored ice cubes that would add a little citrus as they melted. These also served as a base for her garnishes, which she propped up in a tray and popped into the freezer along with the rest of the ice.
The cocktail itself was relatively straightforward—"It's basically a margarita with the Cointreau traded out," Smith said. To the tequila, orange bitters, and lemon juice, she added some pomegranate liqueur she had around, which accentuated the faint pink tinge imparted by the cayenne pepper.
Though she'd strained the infused tequila through cheesecloth, it left a telltale oil slick on the alcohol's surface. But despite the unpromising spirit, Smith judged the cocktail "really tasty." In fact, she said, it's "so delicious you're going to guzzle it right down."
1 1/2 oz sardine-cayenne tequila
3/4 oz pomegranate liqueur
3/4 oz lemon juice
2 dashes orange bitters
Blue curacao ice cubes and a fresh fish head and fin, for garnish
Fill a rocks glass with blue curacao ice cubes. Combine ingredients and double shake vigorously. Strain over the ice cubes and garnish with the head and fin.