the red and black

For many Junes, this was my favorite cocktail. Yes, I realize that I sound particularly like a weird food writer person and not a person who lives among other people because most normal, sane people do not have a favorite cocktail for each month of the year, even if you agree with me — you do, right? –that a Perfect Manhattan is the ideal way to warm up on the first cold September day and a Porch Swing is the most refreshing way to endure a sultry July afternoon, but hear me out: this is squarely June or the weeks leading up to it because it’s a celebration of strawberries, so we might as well wait until they’re overripe the moment you turn your head and muddle them in a glass.

what you'll need, plus some limes and ice

The core flavor comes from fresh strawberries, black pepper, and lime, a combination I find so likable, I turned it into a popsicle, but at times when you’re not expected to share with kids, you should definitely add some white tequila. The drink was on the menu at Back Forty on Avenue B, an early locavore restaurant that abruptly, and with absolutely no notice, closed and never came back a couple years ago. Like all breakups you didn’t see coming, I’m still a little raw about it. Was it something we did? Something we could have done? But I’m sure they’re not somewhere pouting over us.

for simple syrupblack pepper simple syruplime juicesugar salt pepper rimperfect strawberries i miss all yearmuddled

I was so obsessed with this drink and the fleeting window of it each spring that I attempted to reverse engineer it in my first cookbook, but I think I did just an okay job. Little did I know the restaurant’s owner, Peter Hoffman had shared his bar manager’s recipe with Food & Wine (in fact, one of you told me, thank you) and we made it this week and, look, nothing is as good as having someone else make you your favorite drink (and then wash all the dishes involved and also can we have some rosemary and sea salt fries to go with that?) but if there could ever be a downside, it’s that those freshly muddled strawberries in the bottom of the glass of ice are the most delicious part and though I’ve tried and tried anyway, there’s no graceful way to get them out (it requires a fork) at a bar. At home, there’s nobody to judge you. I think we know exactly what needs to be done.

red and black (cocktail)

The Red and Black (Cocktail)

I whittled this recipe down from the version they shared with Food & Wine because I needed only 2 drinks, not 10. Or at least not today, heh. As will happen when reducing from quarts and cups, the amounts didn’t totally work but fortunately, I’ve had this enough times that I could adjust things to get it right.

Key here is that sparkly black pepper simple syrup, so please don’t skip it. Make more, even, you won’t regret it because it keeps for ages in the fridge. I made it twice; the first time I used 2 solid tablespoons of coarsely ground black pepper and it was so spicy, even smelling it could make you cry. (I was using peppercorns a friend had brought me from Cambodia, lucky me, which might have had more kick.) The second time, I used whole peppercorns and the kick was a bit too mild. Thus, I’ve written it below for something in-between.

  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon (7 grams) coarsely ground black pepper (see Note up top)
  • 4 ounces ripe strawberries, hulled and halved
  • 5 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 5 ounces (10 tablespoons) blanco tequila
  • To finish
  • 1 lime wedge
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Ice

Make simple syrup: Combine sugar, water, and 1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Simmer until sugar fully dissolves, stirring; this takes about 1 minute. Cool completely. You can hasten this along by pouring it into a glass you’ve set inside a shallower bowl of ice water; with this method, it takes all of 10 to 15 minutes. Strain syrup and discard black pepper.

Make drinks: Muddle strawberries a medium-sized jar. Add lime juice, 1/2 cup of cooled syrup (if you’re nervous about sweetness, you can hold a little more back), and tequila and stir to combine. You can chill this mixture in the fridge until needed, up until 2 days.

To finish: Swipe rims of 2 rocks or equivalent 11 or 12-ounce glasses with lime. Combine 1 tablespoon sugar, 3/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper, and salt in a shallow plate and dip rims in it to coat them. Carefully fill glasses with ice. Divide strawberry-tequila mixture between glasses, including the muddled strawberries. Drink slowly and have no shame about using a spoon to get all of the strawberries from the glass to your mouth.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

New here? You might want to check out the comment guidelines before chiming in.

152 comments on the red and black

  1. Jessie

    Also still in mourning over the loss of Back Forty :( Those brunch time grits with the chipotle maple butter were too good for this world. They also had a red wine + tequila drink that was outstanding.

    1. Carla

      Same here! My husband and I were just talking about the seasonal donuts they used to do…I remember one with a fresh mint glaze that was outstanding.

  2. Kelly M

    You’ve gotten us hooked on Porch Swings, and we are happy to add a new summery cocktail to the mix – thank you! A quick question, though… Do you need to strain the black pepper or does it just go right in with the strawberries, etc.?

      1. sinaasappeljetzt

        I have a follow-up question on that: is it importand that the pepper sits with the syrup during cooling? Or could I strain it right after cooking (and still hot) as well? Thank you in advance! Sina

  3. A few Junes back Bon Appetit ran a strawberry shortcake recipe topped with strawberries that had been macerated in balsamic vinegar and black pepper. This cocktail now has a companion dessert.

  4. Jeanne C.

    That looks lovely! I think you meant sultry, not sulty (or maybe you meant salty, as in July, the latter is way possible…) in the first paragraph. Either way, as I say, looks scrumptious!!

    1. deb

      I did, thanks. Now fixed. I also had a 15-minute debate with myself over whether the b definition of sultry (passionate/seductive) has usurped the a definition (hot/humid/muggy).

      1. Jeanne C.

        July is when plants are busy seducing each other in the humid heat, so… that’s what I thought of first. Which is both a/b. But what I don’t know is if a non-biology-nerd would immediately think that. They might not, and instead go straight to a “Chicago – Cell Block Tango” definition of sultry. This is probably not helpful to your definition dilemma, though…

    1. discontinuity

      For future readers: this is amazing with bubbly water instead of tequila. A rather different drink I’m sure but so good for a weeknight :)

  5. Anna

    This looks perfect for the weekend! One question – the ingredient list calls for 4 ounces of strawberries, but I only see that 2 ounces are muddled and I don’t see where the other 2 ounces are used…am I overlooking this?

    1. deb

      Sorry, you use all four. I originally had us putting 2 ounces per glass to muddle but it doesn’t work if you also want to rim the glass. Now fixed.

  6. Noldorimbor

    I got everything needed for this recipe and this looks so damn tasty but.. 50g sugar for a glass of drink is way too much..hmmm

  7. Claire

    I guess this is sort of a love letter. It’s not to declare my undying devotion, or anything so dramatic (and perhaps creepy) as that, but rather just to say that I’ve been reading your blog for a lot of years, and I’ve made a lot of things from it. And they’ve always been delicious and filled a hole in our menu, or our week, or sometimes, a little, our souls.

    But I’ve also, well, not made a lot of things from it, and that’s been good, too. Because sometimes just reading about the delicious thing that feels like spring or summer or fall or winter, and that you’ve taken the time to figure out, and perfect, and share with us – sometimes that’s enough.

    So I wanted to write and say thank you, and to say that I love you, even though you don’t know me. Because how could you not love someone, at least a little and from far away, anonymously, who brings good things into your life and asks nothing more than that you share them? (Or even, sometimes, encourages you to keep them for yourself, if that’s what you need.)

    So thank you, for sharing these small, thoughtful, honest pieces of your life with us – pieces that also turn out to be delicious.

    The world is better because you’re in it.

    1. Lisa

      That’s so nice Claire. My faith in humanity is somewhat redeemed by your comment. And I agree with it wholeheartedly.

    2. I have to admit I share the same sentiment…Deb, reading your cookbook made me actually excited to read the stories associated with each recipe and got me through a tough time this winter. Thank you so much for all your words :)

    3. So well put, what a beautiful thing to take time to share! Cheers to you, Deb and this community! (yes, this is an excuse to all go make this drink and raise a glass to good people and good food)

    4. Ramona

      Seriously, because all my friends think I’m some kind of cooking protégée because of Deb and Smitten Kitchen. Takes a lot of the frustration out, puts satisfaction and joy in!

  8. JC

    Seconding Claire, because I could never have said it better! Deb, you’re part of the fabric of our lives and our families. We love you for it. Cheers to that and happy weekending!

  9. Nancy H

    This looks so yummy, but I can’t do tequila and am thinking vodka unless you think something else would be better. BTW, I’m making your mango slaw with cashews and mint this afternoon to go with salmon tonight for friends, excellent start to the holiday weekend!

    1. Gina

      I also can’t do tequila. Hoping theres another booze we can substitute? Vodka? Rum? Literally anything else besides tequila?

    1. Andrea Gaitan

      Also wondering the same along with any thoughts on an alcohol swap out…for those of us unfortunately allergic to tequila 😭😭😭

          1. I just tried it with gin, which I will vouch for, but daaang this is a crazy drink, my tongue’s still buzzing from the pepper!
            I’m sure I’ll share it with people this season though, not like anything I’ve had before.

    2. Genevieve F

      I made this with seltzer and without alcohol for my husband and I gotta say it tasted better than the version with hooch.

    3. Michelle Conroy

      Hi Julia – there’s a little cafe in Queenstown, New Zealand called Madam Woo that does a non alcoholic version of this – the strawberry syrup (made with schezuan pepper) and lime juice are poured over ice and sprigs of mint and topped up with soda water. It’s delicious.

      1. Nancy Knutson

        I lived in Cambodia for 15 years. Kampot, where the pepper is grown is my favorite place to visit. Lime & pepper is used as dipping sauce or marinating for any meat. Don t discard the crushed pepper reuse them.

  10. Cindi

    This sounds fantastic! One of my all time favorite ways to eat strawberries that isn’t with whipped cream is with a balsamic vinegar and black pepper dressing. This is so close to that, I know I must try this. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Erin

      I did this and it was fabulous! Might become my favourite way to use up forgotten strawberries as the thawed berries muddle so well. I did end up cutting the drink 1/3 with club soda.

      1. Genevieve F

        Yes, I ended up doing this yesterday too and it was a hit all around. I like a splash of seltzer in most drinks.

  11. Gillian

    Half a cup of simple syrup seems like a lot. I might pull back a lot on that. Otherwise it sounds delicious!!!

  12. Natalie

    Your timing on this post was fantastic. Just enough time for me to run to the store for strawberries and extra peppercorns and tequila before the Friday night BBQ. It pretty much made our Friday night. Though I will say they were plenty strong and a splash of club soda was a lovely addition.

  13. Oh, Deb!! I’m sure it wasn’t you! You are such a sweet, understanding person. Didn’t you let them give others attention? You weren’t selfish — demanding that they just accommodate you. NO! It was them. They needed their freedom. Freedom to go out and do other things, find other drinks. Explore! Who knows, one day they may come back, beg your forgiveness, and offer you another exciting drink.
    This one sounds amazing. Would it be too crass if I didn’t have a fork or spoon to just stick my fingers in the glass and scoop out the strawberries? Can’t wait to make this. Happy Memorial Day Weekend.

  14. Connie

    Is this not a dangling participle? …with absolutely no notice, closed and never came back a couple of years ago. ..”.closed a couple of years ago and never came back” sounds logically smoother, don’t you think?

  15. Saroja

    Oh man, strawberries + black pepper is a dynamite combination I was first introduced to at a winery where they paired a pinot noir with fresh strawberries dipped in cracked black pepper. Delicious! I wonder if I can sub the vodka for red wine in this recipe?

  16. Oanh

    Made this tonight and LOVED it! Was a tiny bit on the sweet side. It was the perfect sweetness for me but not peppery enough when I added only half of the pepper syrup. I will compromise next time with 1/4 c plus 2 T, or…I might try a double potency syrup with finely ground pepper so I can cut back a bit on the simple syrup. Thank you for another great recipe!

  17. ouryearinindia

    This is amazing! For the obligatory second batch (who wants random black pepper simple syrup in the fridge when you can just have more Red and Blacks?) I used raspberries. I added club sofa to batch one and a lime La Croix to the second batch because the flavors were so strong, we felt it need to be diluted a little.

  18. Kate

    I came here yesterday looking for a chicken recipe…well, I still haven’t made chicken but I’ve made TWO batches of this. It’s delicious.
    For those looking to make it non-alcoholic, I think omitting the tequila but topping with soda water would work well. Thanks, Deb!

  19. Adi

    Sounds and looks delicious! Will try as soon as the sun comes out and temps will (finally) go up in Boston…
    Can you please share the source(s) of those cool jar and muddler?

  20. Meghan

    Made this last night and it was fantastic! Enough that I have another batch of syrup cooking in the counter as I type, for some experimenting.

    Question – my drinks were much muddier-looking than yours. Would this have to do with the grind of the pepper? How coarse is coarse?

    1. deb

      Muddier in color from the black pepper syrup or muddier/pink from strawberries? I wasn’t sure how coarse was coarse either so I’d say it would be fairly crunchy if you had it on food (i.e. not my thing, I like a fine grind!). I basically opened my pepper grinder size as wide as it would go while still breaking up the peppercorns.

  21. Bea

    As soon as I read this I just had to make it. Except strawberries have disappeared from the store, but my craving was so big I decided I would try it with frozen strawberries which luckily I could find. Well, it was amazing even with microwave-thawed frozen strawberries, a rather cheap tequila and not a ton of patience (it was 10 pm). I made the syrup but don´t have a coarse pepper grinder and I was too tired of turning the mill after grinding half a tablespoon, so that´s how much I used. I also was too tired to do the final glass rim touch, so I used only sugar. The drink is very nice and the strawberries are to die for. I can´t wait to make this again. Thanks so much for sharing.

  22. Sherri B

    Made this tonight! Well, sort of. I made the syrup stronger so I could use less and subbed gin for the tequila because I wanted those herbal notes. Delicious! I have some basil-infused vodka to try for Round 2.

  23. Katie

    I have been making strawberry and black pepper gin and tonics, but now I can’t wait to try them with the black pepper simple syrup. Yum!

  24. Lizzie

    Dear Deb,
    This is completely random, but I was just thinking about how much I would love a homemade veggie burger and how great it would be if you had one up your sleeve :) so consider this a gentle request.
    An adoring fan

      1. Panya

        Seconded. Related: I find it funny that I’ve been vegetarian for a decade, and didn’t really like eating meat before that, but I prefer veggie burgers that are the most beef-like in texture and taste — while my husband, who has been vegetarian for four years and loved eating meat before that, isn’t bothered by texture and prefers veggie burgers that have chunks of vegetables in them.

  25. Alexis

    I love the combo of black pepper and strawberry in this recipe. It is easy to tweak to individual tastes. We made a few variations (all delicious) and settled on more pepper, less sugar, strained strawberries (reserved them for ice cream topping) and pellegrino to thin it. Thank you for the idea!

    1. Karlie

      Get a ratchet mill. Grinds lots of pepper fast, one of my top 10 favorite kitchen gadgets. Fills easily with a little chute, changes grind size easily, and the ratchet motion is easier and more productive than grinder twisting (that sounds like some sort of nightclub contortion). Sur La Table has them.

  26. chasingcapers

    Oh MAN we loved this drink! Even though I read the ingredients I didn’t really think about it being essentially an amped up margarita, but was so pleasantly surprised! The black pepper was so interesting; I did half whole and half cracked peppercorns just in case, and found it to be perfect that day. However, the syrup for drinks the next day hardly tasted like pepper at all, so I’m not sure if we just got the best part on the first set or what. Next time I may put some extra peppercorns in the syrup for storing. Can’t wait to make this all summer!

  27. Gerley

    A few spritzes of lime and the peppery syrup drizzled over some meh/slightly sour strawberries absolutely made them 100% better! The rest went into a glass and we had a mocktail (made with sparkling water). Both delicious!

  28. klsirody

    I made these to share with my incredibly picky man and I am happy to report he loved them. I did as well by the way. Thank you for this one, they are so good. I did not rim the glass because I wasn’t in the mood for it. Yum, yum.

  29. jacquelineebledsoe

    Phenomenal! Can’t get enough. Only used half the amount of syrup – happy to make another batch of strawberry base… Sweet, tart, spicy – hits all the buttons!

  30. M.A.

    This one caught my eye because the beau likes his drinks on the spicy side, and I am a lover of all things strawberry, so naturally, I had to make it.

    Wow. I loved this. It started off sweet and tangy, then there’s the little kick from the pepper. I really love spice when it’s balanced like this–enough so I can feel it, but not so much that I can’t taste the other ingredients too. (I don’t normally like spicy drinks because they overwhelm the other, more delicate flavors.)

    We’re going to the beach for my birthday this weekend. I might have to make another batch of these to take along, because they were that good.

  31. Anne

    I just made this over the weekend. It was Fantastic! Perfect for early summer on the patio when strawberries are in season.

  32. Eve

    That sounds amazing, but did you have to say “rosemary and sea salt fries?” Because I don’t have any and now I am suffering over it.

  33. Tanya

    I’m making this cocktail for a dinner party on Saturday and was wondering if you had a suggestion for an appetizer or nibble to go along with it? Thank you!

      1. Tanya

        Thanks, Deb! I made that tart for a dinner party and still get raves about it! :) I appreciate all the suggestions. Looking forward to your new book! I pre-ordered it already!

  34. sina

    This cocktail looks so delicious! The perfect summer cocktail. :-) I wish I had one of these right now. Saving the recipe for the weekend…

  35. Karen

    Made the red and black for Memorial Day and it was a hit. I don’t care for tequila so I usually substitute vodka. All I had was vanilla vodka. The vanilla with the peppery and strawberry was excellent! Thanks for a different fruity drink!

  36. Holly Keyes

    We made this with tequila and it was just okay but the second time I made it with rum and that was excellent. I wanted to strain the simple syrup to make the drink look better but it was too slow to filter through a paper coffee filter and I was impatient for my drink. The black pepper syrup was very good and I can see other applications for it such as on strawberry ice cream or ice tea.

  37. Newbold Noyes

    La rouge & le noir, tedious French 19th century novel, absolutely divine drink. One question though: who was the bartender who made the first one? The idea of salt & lime & tequila is s natural but pepper & strawberries? Pepper simple syrup? The genius must have a name. The Back Forty restaurant on Avenue B is sorely missed by me (who only just read about it above) but this Red & Black drink will live on in our family. Can’t wait to try it on the daughters, the cousins, the grand children if I can bring myself to share…. thank you Ms Smitten K, whoever & where ever you are.

  38. briarrose1987

    I finally plucked up enough courage to buy a bottle of good tequila (helps that my husband gets a company discount) and made these as a “it’s only Wednesday but this week is full of bees” drink with some beautiful almost overripe strawberries from my CSA. They are wonderful and I love the balance of the heat from the pepper with the fresh strawberries. Just what was needed today.

  39. atteoj

    Finally made this today and OMG, we will be making it all spring/summer long. Unfortunately we were out of tequila, but the rum substitute was DELICIOUS. I used a little less syrup, as I tend not to like things on the sweet side, and it was FANTASTIC.

  40. Julie

    I used vodka, as I hate tequila and didn’t have rum, and it was delicious. Make sure you use the muddled strawberries in the drink itself since they hold a LOT of the peppery flavor. I will definitely make again with white rum, but vodka was really good and perfect for summer.

  41. Jennifer

    I didn’t have strawberries, but i did have a bag of so-so cherries that I had just brought home from the grocery. I’m glad that I took the chance on the cherries because they made for a great substitute! I’d make it again.

  42. Andrea S.

    We made this and loved it so much we made it again. It was a great way to use the very ripe, squishy strawberries in the fridge. It will definitely be on our summer rotation! We made it with Don Julio & Herradura tequilas.

  43. Valbona

    You’re the reason we are surviving this pandemic. Week after week, from breakfast dishes to dinner, drinks, appetizers and deserts: they all come from your arsenal of amazing recipes. Today, I had a batch of tired strawberries and this was it. Thank you for doing what you do!
    Now, how can I tag a picture of what I made?

  44. Sara Schwartz

    This recipe is my new obsession! I think it’s perfect as is, but you can make a less-sweet “spritzer” version by dividing into 4 drinks and adding seltzer/soda water! I just made up the whole batch but for 1 drink put 1/2 cup of the strawberry/lime/tequila/simple syrup mixture in a glass and poured Topo Chico on top.

    *This way you can have 2, right?

  45. Ali

    OMG I am so happy we found this post. It’s 2020 and still lamenting the closure of this restaurant.
    Am recreating the crab boil from Back Forty at our home and serving red and blacks with it. Takes us back to some real happy times.
    Thanks for sharing this recipe!

  46. Naomi Butterfield

    YUM!! I totally riffed on this recipe to use what I had. Just last weekend, I made strawberry jam with equal parts strawberries (to use what I had gotten from my CSA share) and sugar with lemon juice and it was way too sweet. I was kicking myself for not just freezing them until I researched lower sugar versions of preserves. Then looking for margarita recipes for Cinco De Mayo, I thought, didn’t Deb have recipes for something like this? So here I found myself. I made the syrup by taking 2/3 c of the strawberry preserves (I’m a nerd, I calculated that that would be equivalent with 1/2 cup sugar plus 1/2 c of strawberries simmered down) mixed with 1/2 c water and the black pepper, blending it with an immersion blender, then straining it. And since I wanted to test the recipe before taking it to my boyfriend’s house tomorrow, I made a single cocktail with 1 oz strawberry infused syrup (roughly half the recommended, that whole not-so-much-of-a-sweet-tooth thing), 1 oz lime juice, and 2 oz tequila añejo (golden colored) and OMG I believe we have a winner!! I can’t believe I’ve been following this blog off and on for ten + years (who’s counting anyway?), so thank you for remaining a voice of measured calm and fantastic recipes in an increasingly chaotic advertisement-fueled blog space.

  47. kd

    Strawberry plus black pepper is surprisingly good. I do an omelette in June which has as its filling sliced strawberries, black pepper, and sour cream (or creme fraiche). I stole the idea from Grendel’s Den in Cambridge in the 80’s.

  48. Linda

    I remember reading this post 4 years ago and thinking these sounded fantastic. Not sure why it took so long to try them, but they did not disappoint! Perfect late spring/early summer drink.

  49. Stacey

    Way too much simple syrup – 1/3c was too much for me and not enough pepper flavor. Has potential but recipe needs some modifications.

  50. Lara

    Hi! I’m late to this party, but making the simple syrup now. What did you use as your strainer? I seem to have lost my fine mesh one (?!?), so I first tried a coffee filter. That was too fine, so now I’m using cheesecloth. Hoping it works out! Thanks for sharing your deliciousness with the world!

  51. Miriam Lezak

    The mid-summer red and black — use watermelon instead of strawberries! It’s still refreshing and delicious — Especially with rum!

  52. Jennee

    I made this last night and it was SO delicious!! You were spot on about fishing out all the strawberry bits at the end too. Thank you for the great recipe!

  53. Gillian Jackson-Champlain

    This is very good-I brought the recipe down to 1 and for the next one I need to bump up the strawberry a bit and add the full ounce of syrup.

  54. Blythe Fair

    WHAT am I doing wrong?! I click your recipe to file it in my Pinterest category & the page just pops back again without Pinterest option…

  55. Valentina Rossi

    i made this tonight. I used coarsely ground pepper from CostCo which was already in my spice cabinet, and while coarse it was not coarse enough to strain using a fine mesh strainer, so I used a coffee filer, which worked but took an insanely long time.

    The cocktail is a spicy spring day that hit so many notes on the palate; sweet, spicy, tart, and fragrant. I used silver tequila as per the recipe but I love the other ideas posted by others, like mezcal, vanilla vodka, and basil infused vodka. Next batch I might mix the alcohol, 50% tequila and 50% mezcal for the smoky note.

    I also used only about 1/3 cup of the syrup because I don’t like overly sweet drinks, and I skipped the rim. All told, a fun and delicious cocktail, perfect for spring and the crop of ripe, succulent strawberries now available.