As a child, grapefruit was the flavor of deprivation — those sour diet breakfasts of Grandmother's when she decided it was time to cut back. The bitter taste of restriction, of depriving yourself of what you really want, lingered well into adulthood. But I came around to grapefruit, especially the redder varieties that offer just a hint of sweetness with the sour. Have grapefruits gotten better, or has my palate simply grown? A riddle that may never be entirely solved.
Not all diets need to be built on deprivation, though — sometimes what we need less of aren't indulgences but complications, itineraries, dedication to things that may or may not actually nourish us. As an adult with a typically over-scheduled life, I've also come to appreciate how simplifying and streamlining can improve my ability to enjoy the moment rather than always planning three steps ahead. Some days, my joy is located in executing a complex process. But other days, all I want is my time and mental energy freed from their commitments so they can wander in new and surprising directions.
Enter the Paloma, the perfect simple summer cocktail. You can make a Paloma with as few as two ingredients — tequila and grapefruit soda, an ingredient sure to trouble Grandmother's diet's ghost — but it's best with the juice of half a lime added, just for an extra tart acid kick. Still, it's about as easy as grown-up cocktails get. Add salt or Taijín to the rim, if you like. Throw a wedge of grapefruit or a lime wheel on for a garnish, if you can be bothered. But don't sweat it at all if not. The Paloma is the quintessential "don't go to any trouble" cocktail that delivers every time.
Want more great food writing and recipes? Subscribe to Salon Food's newsletter.
"Meehan's Bartender's Manual," one of my go-to sources, doesn't quite arrive at a definitive origin for this Mexican cocktail — an apocryphal recipe pamphlet "Popular Cocktails of the Rio Grande," a venerable bartender in the town of Tequila who disavows its creation — but Meehan does cite cocktail historian David Wondrich's finding that Squirt soda claims it's been used as a tequila mixer in Mexico since the '50s.
If, like me, you find your refrigerator more likely to stock whole grapefruit or grapefruit juice and club soda these days — and you don't want to make a special trip out to pick up grapefruit soda — just use the juice and club soda, plus some simple syrup if you're using fresh-squeezed juice instead of bottled. The point of the Paloma, this summer at least, is to stop overthinking for a while — and live in the moment as best you can.
Serving size: one beverage
- 2 oz. reposado tequila
- 1/2 oz. lime juice (fresh squeezed is best; most limes yield about 1 oz. of juice)
- 4 oz. grapefruit soda (such as Squirt, Jarritos or Crush Grapefruit)*
- Salt or Tajín seasoning for the rim (optional)
- Grapefruit or lime wheel for garnish (optional)
*You can also break down the components to 2 oz. fresh grapefruit juice, 1/2 oz. simple syrup and sparkling water, with or without grapefruit flavor.
You don't need any specialty equipment to mix a simple cocktail. Improvise with what you have — a Mason jar with a lid makes a fine shaker in a pinch. But here's what I keep at hand:
- Cocktail shaker
- Jigger or measuring device (a standard shot glass holds 1.5 oz, if you're eyeballing it)
- Handheld citrus press
Add a salt or Taijín rim to your glass, if you're feeling fancy. Add tequila and lime juice — and grapefruit juice and simple syrup, if you're going that route — to a shaker with ice, then shake vigorously for 30 seconds, then strain over ice and top with soda.
If you're more of a mezcal fan, swap out the tequila for a smokier version. Add 1/2 oz. each of orange and lemon juices to your basic Paloma, and you've got a Cantarito. Herbs that pair well with grapefruit can be infused in simple syrups to add an extra dimension of sophistication. Also, I recently had a divine variation at Cleveland's venerable Prosperity Social Club that added a touch of pomegranate liqueur to the base and subbed in a grapefruit Hefeweizen for the soda.
More Oracle Pour:
- How to make a Jungle Bird, a tiki bar fixture known for its balance of sour and spice
- How to make a Silver Gin Fizz, the simple and delicious cocktail you need in your repertoire
- The Lillet Blanc spritz is the easy, perfectly light cocktail to make this summer
Salon Food writes about stuff we think you'll like. Salon has affiliate partnerships, so we may get a share of the revenue from your purchase.