AGUA FRESCA: AGUA DE PIÑA
During my last visit to Mexico City, I was a bit rushed to squeeze in my favorite places to eat since I was only in town for a few days before and after our family trip to Aguascalientes for Abuelita Ana’s birthday.
After visiting the Frida Kahlo museum with my suegra in the late morning and a quick stop at the mercado Coyoacán to pick up a few goodies to take back to Chicago, we headed to El Bajío in Polanco for lunch.
As we pulled up to the restaurant on the corner of Campos Elíseos and Alejandro Dumas, the afternoon sky turned gray and it looked as if it was going to rain. Just as we were seated it began to sprinkle and the dining room, usually bright with sunlight thanks to its large plate glass windows and a few skylights, grew a bit dim. One of the many things I love about Mexico City is how it sometimes rains in the afternoon just for a few hours and then the sun comes out shining again. The afternoon rain somehow always appears just at the right time for a siesta and reminds me to take it easy. It’s like mother nature’s way of telling us to rest and relax; to take respite from the daily grind to refresh our spirits.
Since we were in no hurry, what with the rain and all, we settled in to a cozy little table for two in the back near the beverage bar where they make the coffee and juices. We each decided to have agua de piña to drink, so when it came time to order we asked for a large pitcher to share. The pitchers used at El Bajío, and common all over Mexico, are made of a thick hand-blown glass with a cobalt blue rim. Sometimes there are little bubbles still in the glass – one of those slight imperfections that makes them so beautiful to begin with; a reminder that they’re handmade and each is unique.
My suegra has a set of these cobalt-rimmed drinking glasses as well as little tequila glasses in the liquor cabinet in the living room. I’ve always wanted to bring a set of these glasses home with me, but since my suitcase is usually full of other goodies, I never quite have the room. Someday I’ll reserve a spot in my suitcase for them to travel back with me, but until then I’ll just have to dream about it. And I’ve got many memories to choose from – every place I’ve ever been in Mexico, from Baja California Sur all the way east to Quintana Roo, I’ve been served aguas frescas in a cobalt-rimmed glass.
Besides agua fresca de piña, El Bajío has all kinds of other fruit flavors including: naranja (orange), toronja (grapefruit), nopal (cactus paddle), zanahoria (carrot), papaya, jitomate (tomato), melón (cantaloupe), mango, lima (a type of lime, but not like the limes we’re used to in the U.S.; those are called limónes) and mandarina (mandarin orange) depending on what’s in season. My favorite kinds made with fruit are piña, mandarina and lima. Basically, any fruit can become an agua fresca – even tunas, the little green or red varieties of cactus fruit. But my all time favorite agua fresca is horchata, a rice-based drink with cinnamon and sometimes almonds.
Agua de piña is also one of José’s favorite aguas frescas. I made some just last week and though the pineapple was ripe and aromatic, the juice was not as pineapple-y tasting as he would’ve liked it and adding simple syrup to sweeten it a bit didn’t completely satisfy his taste buds. You can’t always tell how sweet the concentrated juice is going to be until you’ve mixed it with a bit of water. For that reason, I usually wait to see if I need to add simple syrup until I’ve mixed in 2-3 cups of water.
*Just a word of advice: much like how agua de jamaica is a diuretic, agua de piña can have semi-laxative qualities if you consume too much so remember to drink it in moderation.
- 1 ripe pineapple, cubed
- 4 cups water, or more as desired to dilute the pineapple juice
- Simple syrup (½ cup granulated cane sugar to one cup water, if desired)
- cheesecloth or another cloth for straining
To choose a ripe pineapple at the grocery store, try to gently pluck the leaves from the center at the top. If they come out easily, the pineapple is just right. If they take a bit of tugging, the pineapple isn’t quite ripe just yet.
Cut the top and bottom of the pineapple off and then remove all the outer skin. You don’t have to worry about being too precise; the remaining tough skin will be ground up in the blender and won’t make it through the cheesecloth anyhow. You don’t need to worry about discarding the core for the same reason, so just chop it all up and throw it in.
Put the pineapple in the blender with up to a quarter cup of water to assist the blender in breaking it down. Puree until completely smooth.
Using a large bowl spread the doubled cheesecloth over the bowl and pour a bit of the puree into the center of the cloth. Close tightly and begin to twist and gently squeeze the cloth so the juice streams through the bottom of the cloth and into the bowl. You’ll need to repeat this several times until all the puree has been strained. After each time the puree has been juiced, remove the remaining pulp from inside the cloth and discard it. If you need a tutorial with more instructions and photos, you can look at my recipe for champurrado, which uses the same method.
The concentrated juice will be slightly frothy on top, which is completely normal. The pineapple puree should yield between 2 ½ and 3 cups of the juice.
Depending on how sweet your pineapple is, you may or may not want to add sugar to the water. If you do, the best way is to make a simple syrup with ½ cup granulated cane sugar to 1 cup of water. To make the simple syrup, just heat the water and sugar until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat, let cool and then mix in with the juice. You may want to only sweeten the water a little by using the syrup and mixing the rest with unsweetened water. It’s really a matter of taste preference.
Combine the pineapple juice, water and any simple syrup (if you wish to sweeten it). Stir well and refrigerate until well-chilled, about an hour. Serve cold. Keeps in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.
- What’s your favorite agua fresca?