The Chicago Italian Beef Combo Bloody Mary, aka Coach Juice

I saw Mike Ditka in person once.

Years ago, my mom and I were in the car together, running errands. On our way back home, we were sitting behind a bunch of people at a stop sign, stuck for no apparent reason. The guy way ahead of us was trying to turn left at a no-left-turn intersection, and he was blocking traffic. The car behind him started honking like crazy. Then the guy in the second car rolled down his window and started shouting out his window, raising his fist in rage. That’s when he got out of his car, walked up to the first guy’s window, started pointing at the guy’s face, and continued shouting until his face turned red.

“Mom,” I said, “Is that Coach?”

She nodded her head. We went home and never spoke of it ever again.

Absolut Chicago

So, with that in mind, I was at the grocery store recently and I saw a bottle of a new flavor from Absolut Vodka, called Absolut Chicago.

“I have to see this,” I muttered to myself. I read the label. “Olive and Rosemary flavor?”

Apparently Chicago tastes like olives and rosemary. This is complete horseshit. Chicago tastes like political corruption, racial segregation, and stray bullets.

But then…I thought of Coach’s infinite rage. And so an idea was born. I could create a drink that reflects Chicago’s culinary sensibilities and culture (well, food at least, since I was all out of live rounds), all in one fell swoop.

I did an interview for New City a while back, with bartender Pauly Graves (which you can read here). He told me that Chicagoans don’t like sweet cocktails, so the Absolut Chicago flavor makes a little sense, I guess. It’s still horseshit, because olives and rosemary? Gross. Those are not Chicago flavors.

Mike Ditka Mix Lineup

But do you know what is? An Italian beef combo. I could create a Bloody Mary with the flavors of an Italian Beef combo, which is one of Chicago’s iconic sandwiches. It’s a glorious sandwich of meat on meat; the sandwich is a soft chewy white bun stuffed with an Italian sausage and thinly shaved Italian beef, usually drenched in the au jus from the beef. I always order mine with spicy giardinera, which gives it vinegary kick and an oily crunch.

Hilariously, Mike Ditka used to have his own line of bloody mary mix, called Mike Ditka’s Kickass Bloody Mary Mix. I’ve had it before. It was fine for a mix, salty, a little spicy, and acidic from the tomato puree. I picked up a bottle of that — and it turns out they removed his name from the bottle. More horseshit! He must have raged his way off their bottle. But he also has a line of frozen Italian beef, complete with his face on it. It’s the “Hall of Fame Recipe.”

The ingredients (from left to right, starting from the back): Sphincter Heater (giardinera from the Palace Grill in Chicago), Kickass Bloody Mary Mix, Absolut Chicago, Ditka’s Chicago Style Italian Beef, Italian sausage, and fennel pollen.

I didn’t think I’d ever be using a cooking ingredient with the word “sphincter” in it. Life is truly magical.

Juicer and Sausage

Technically, a Bloody Mary is a drink. You don’t really want to chew on your Bloody Mary, except for the garnishes. I wanted the cocktail to taste like an Italian beef combo. So what do you do?

You juice some sausage.

I almost considered buying a juicer for this, but I didn’t want to ruin a perfectly good piece of hardware by juicing sausage, though if you wanted to ruin a juicer, that’d be the way to do it. So, like the genius I am, I used my citrus juicer to squeeze the juice out of two cut-up Italian sausages, because that’s not ridiculous at all.

“But Dennis,” you whine, “What about all that fat? Isn’t it all fat?”

Why yes, bitches. Yes, it is. In order to de-fat your sausage juice, simply place it in the freezer until the fat hardens on top. Scoop the fat out, and you’re left with essence of sausage. I left your mom with essence of sausage last night. Also, I am the final champion of yo’ momma jokes.

Sausage Juice and Au Jus

Of course, you do need Italian beef essence too, right? All you need is a few ounces of Mike Ditka’s Chicago style Italian beef’s au jus and you’re good to go. That’s the un-defatted Italian sausage juice on the left, the au jus on the right.

For extra flavor, all you need is a touch of giardinera oil, and for fancyness, a dusting of fennel pollen will do. If you don’t happen to have fennel pollen (I work for a dry ingredients company, so I have easy access to it), you can use ground fennel.

But you need a garnish, right?

Taken by my friend Anthony Todd for Serious Eats. Hi Anthony!

Inspired by a tiki bar, here in Chicago, called Three Dots and a Dash, I decided I needed a garnish like the cute banana dolphin pictured above.

Italian Beef Combo Bloody Mary

I reveal to you: THE SAUSAGE DITKA!

This is an entire Italian sausage, with a knife cut to create a mouth. Cloves make the eyes (don’t eat those), and his mouth is kept open with a piece of olive, wedging it open. Finally, a celery shaving made with a vegetable peeler, makes his, uh, mustache. Sort of.

I know. It looks stupid.

Sausage Garnish

Does Coach Juice (as I like to think of it) taste good? Surprisingly, it’s awesome! The olive and rosemary vodka gives the spicy, salty, acidic, Bloody Mary some herbaceous notes, the sausage and Italian beef juice give the drink a boost of savory flavor (thanks to the shitload of MSG in the Ditka beef), the Sphincter Heater oil floater adds a pepper-infused kick, and the fennel pollen looks fun while adding a touch of spice.

So here’s the recipe (for once):

The Chicago Italian Beef Combo Bloody Mary, aka Coach Juice

2 oz Absolut Chicago vodka
1 oz Mike Ditka’s Chicago Style Italian Beef au jus
The juice of 2 Italian sausages (aka my typical Wednesday nights), approx 1 oz
4 oz Kickass Bloody Mary Mix, very cold
Giardinera oil
Pinch of fennel pollen (or ground fennel seed), optional

In a pint glass, combine vodka, au jus, sausage juice, and Kickass Bloody Mary Mix. Stir vigorously with a spoon for 30 seconds.

Pour into glass over ice, add a few drops of giardinera oil, and a small sprinkling of fennel pollen or ground fennel seed to finish.

Garnish with optional Sausage Ditka. Drink till you get red in the face, repeat, and road rage on someone.

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