But I have New Jersey Transit to thank for my discovery.
As usual, I was killing time in the hour between my trains from Manhattan back to the ‘burbs when I decided to grab a drink at La Contenta Oeste, a Mexican spot in the West Village.
Instead of a regular beer, I was happy to see a whole michelada section on the drinks menu. And instead of a regular michelada, I was surprised in the best way to see that one of their offerings combined prickly pear with michelada flavorings.
It was just as brilliant as its color: fiery, salty, but with a sweetness that shone through.
I went to sleep with my tongue and brain burning, dreaming of how I could replicate this drink at home to have again and again.
Prickly pear micheladas are a fairly simple swap-out, replacing the delicate earthiness of tomato juice in the traditional version with the sweeter, but still pleasantly vegetal flavor of prickly pears.
Whereas a regular michelada is aggressively savory and spicy like a Bloody Mary, the prickly pear version is more subtle.
It marries the gentle flavor of these vibrantly hued fruits with fresh lime juice, a pairing almost good enough on its own.
But by nixing the usual Worcestershire sauce and choosing a hot sauce that offers heat without too much vinegar, prickly pear micheladas give you the same 1-2-3 punch of zingy, spicy, and earthy, but in a more refined way.
This style is still refreshing and perfect for summer drinking, but for those who might be a little wary of a savory beer cocktail, prickly pear micheladas may actually work better as the gateway michelada drink.
And as with prickly pear margaritas, a better cocktail comes from making homemade prickly pear syrup instead of buying the overly sweet bottled stuff online.
Yes, this means you’ll have to source out fresh prickly pears, which aren’t always easy to find in regular supermarkets.
If you have a Mexican supermarket near you, take a look in the produce section. Sometimes they’re found under the names cactus pears or tuna verde.
The recipe below makes much more prickly pear syrup than you need for one round of drinks, which is intentional. Pour the remaining syrup into ice cube trays or mason jars to thaw and use the next time you want a cocktail.
For the Prickly Pear Syrup
- 3 pounds fresh prickly pears (aka cactus pears)
- 1 cup cactus water or aloe vera water
- zest of 1 lime
For the Micheladas
- 1 12-ounce lager, such as Sol, Modelo Especial
- 1/2 cup prickly pear syrup
- 1/4 cup fresh lime juice (from 2-3 limes) + lime wedges for garnish
- 2 teaspoons Tabasco
- kosher salt
- chile powder
Make the prickly pear syrup:
- Slice the prickly pears in half lengthwise. Use a spoon (preferably a grapefruit spoon with a serrated edge) to scoop the innards of each half into a 2-quart heavy-bottomed pot.
- Add the cactus water and lime zest.
- Bring to a simmer over medium hat and cook for about 5 minutes, using a potato masher or silicone spatula to mash the prickly pear pieces until they are mushy and the seeds are loose and free-floating.
- Drain the juice through a fine mesh strainer, stirring and pressing gently to extract all the juice.
- Cool to room temperature.
Make the cocktails:
- In a small pitcher, gently stir the lager, prickly pear syrup, lime juice, and Tabasco together to blend.
- Make chile rimming salt by pouring at least 2 tablespoons kosher salt onto a small plate and mixing with chile powder ( to taste.
- Run a lime wedge around the rim of 2 pint glasses or 16-ounce Collins glasses, then gently roll in the salt blend.
- Fill the glasses with ice.
- Divide the cocktail between the 2 glasses.
- Garnish with a lime wedge and serve.