Jamaica sangria by Rick Bayless
Jamaica sangria by Rick Bayless
C. LeVasser

Battle Sangria: Rick Bayless vs. Susan Feniger & Mary Sue Milliken + a Recipe from the Winner

Some of us have been going out a lot less these days. But rather than unnecessarily spending twenty dollars on a rare gueuze at Father's Office, we've been throwing our money at things like Scharffen Berger chocolate, or imported speck from Alto-Adige, to use in our kitchen back home. Sure, cooking can be expensive too -- and a lot more work -- but at least you acquire skills, and leftovers.

So we're trying something new today: cookbook fights. Who makes a better pot de créme: Mark Peel or Suzanne Goin? Who makes a better a better mozzarella sandwich: Nancy Silverton, or Tom Colicchio? For this installment, we're celebrating summer with a little sangria, and pitting Rick Bayless (of the much celebrated, er, maligned, Red O) against the Border Grill duo of Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger. As an added bonus, we will also be providing the winning recipe.

Rick Bayless has put together a lot of cookbooks, but we just so happened to have a copy of Fiesta at Rick's on hand -- his work from 2010, with Deann Groen Bayless, which doubles as a user's guide to throwing large parties. We tried our hand at his non-traditional jamaica (the hibiscus, not the country) sangria, which calls for the simple combination of red wine, jamaica cooler, and Cointreau. The jamaica cooler was easy enough to make. It's essentially a large batch of tea heated in a pot with a little sugar, left to steep, then strained and cooled. After that, you just pour some into a pitcher with tripel sec liqueur and two -- yes two! -- bottles of wine, chill it in the fridge, and voila.

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The jamaica, even though mixed in relatively small quantities with the wine, added a welcome element of tartness to the beverage. It was easy drinking, despite being something of a higher-alcohol sangria, and also very simple to prepare for guests. You just pour it into a wine glass filled with ice. It does make for a lot of sangria, but we suppose that's how you know you're throwing a fiesta.

Red sangria from Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger
Red sangria from Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger
C. LeVasser

The Feniger-Milliken red sangria, from their 1994 book Mesa Mexicana, was a bit more on the conventional side. It too calls for an inexpensive, fruity table wine (we used a 2010 Borsao Garnacha for both), and its only other ingredients are ice, oranges, one lemon, and one lime. To make it, one of each piece of fruit is cut into ¼-inch slices, then sat in a pitcher with the wine for an hour or two. After that, the juice of the remaining oranges are added, followed -- at the last possible moment -- by the ice cubes.

The result was, of course, a refreshing wine drink for a hot afternoon. It was easier to make than Bayless's, but also produced a somewhat thin, and not altogether complex sangria. But wait -- you might be saying -- isn't that what sangria is all about? To that we say: sort of. Simple is good. Somewhat bland is not. So was it the fault of the recipe? Were the farmers market oranges lacking in flavor?

One peculiarity with the recipe was that it called for 3 cups of wine -- just less than a full bottle. Why not, we wonder, just develop the recipe for a full bottle of wine? We also tend to get annoyed by recipes which call for the juice of a number of fruits, rather than a quantity of juice. Some oranges, for example, will produce far more juice than others, and thus are likely to create wildly inconsistent results. Also, if you're a fan of eating the fruit at the end of your sangria (if there is fruit), the large, unwieldy slices make that a significantly more difficult task.

So, as you can probably assume by now, Rick Bayless is our winner (sorry, Bill Esparza). Was it unfair of us to compare Feniger and Milliken's simple sangria to the less common one by Bayless? Maybe. But the Border Grill sangria fell somewhere between adequate and sub-par -- and to be frank, the recipe lacked precision. Oh well. Maybe we should have made their braised duck with spiced lentils and lime onions instead.

Your victor:

Jamaica Sangria with Cointreau

Makes: twelve 6-ounce glasses

Reprinted from Fiesta at Ricks: Fabulous Food for Great Times with Friends by Rick Bayless with Deann Groen Bayless, © 2010 by Rick Bayless and Deann Groen Bayless. Used with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

2 750 ml bottles young, fruity red wine

1 ½ cups jamaica "flower" cooler (see below)

¾ cup Cointrueau or Triple Sec

Ice cubes, for serving

1. In a very large pitcher (or two smaller ones), combine the wine, jamaica and Cointreau.

2. Cover and refrigerate until chilled, at least 1 ½ hours.

3. When you're ready to serve, pour into wine glasses over ice.

Crimson Jamaica "Flower" Cooler

Makes: eight 12-ounce glasses with ice.

Reprinted from Fiesta at Ricks: Fabulous Food for Great Times with Friends by Rick Bayless with Deann Groen Bayless, © 2010 by Rick Bayless and Deann Groen Bayless. Used with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

2 cups (2 ounces) dried jamaica "flowers"

1 ¼ cups sugar

Ice cubes (you'll need about 2 quarts)

1. In a medium (3-quart) stainless or enameled saucepan, bring 1 ½ quarts of water to a boil. Add the "flowers" and sugar. Stir for a minute or so, while the liquid returns to a boil and the sugar dissolves.

2. Cover and let steep for at least an hour, but no more than 2 hours.

3. Pour the mixture through a colander or strainer into a large bowl, pressing the "flowers" to extract as much liquid as possible.

4. Stir in 3 cups water. This recipe makes a tart version of agua de jamaica; feel free to stir in more sugar, if that appeals to you. Serve over ice.

Noah Galuten also blogs at The Cookbook Blog, and can be found on Twitter via @manbitesworld.


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