How to Make a Killing (and Tuna Fish Sandwich)

Last night’s episode of Mad Men, “Mystery Date,” was almost an appetite killer given its exploration of men behaving badly. Very badly. The 1966 murder of eight Chicago nurses by Richard Speck was the historical backdrop for an episode in which Greg Miller, the most unlikable TV doctor since forever, returns home briefly to Joan and his infant son only to trot back to Viet Nam where he’s really needed. And Don, in a feverish delirium, dreams of knocking off an old paramour. So, let’s have a drink. Or three.

 How to Make a Killing (and Tuna Fish Sandwich)

Gin Fizz

Mad Men has been filled with Old Fashioneds, Martinis and Manhattans over the first four seasons, so it was refreshing to hear Joan order a gin fizz at the Italian restaurant where she and Greg and their parents retire to celebrate his homecoming, a dinner ruined by Greg’s ham-sized ego and Joan’s discovery that his return to Viet Nam is voluntary.

The family of drinks known as fizz was a creation of New Orleans in the late 19th century and was especially popular in the first half of the 20th century. There are many variations: the basic gin fizz is made with gin, of course, lemon juice, sugar and carbonated water (hence the fizz) over rocks. Fizz variations include the use of lime juice, simple syrup, cream, eggs (either the whole egg, just the yolk or just the white), and even crème de menthe. A Sloe Gin Fizz is made with a blackthorn-based spirit (a prune variant).

By the way, when we were her age we would have agreed with Sally’s complaint about the tuna sandwich (see recipe) Henry’s warm and cuddly mother, Pauline Francis, makes for her: “it has relish.”  But, according to the authors of Clean Plates: Cooking for Young Children (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1964), “with sandwiches, it is pleasant to serve some special condiment such as watermelon pickles, sweet pickles or spiced crabapples. If a child is tired, such an inducement will often start him eating and, once having begun, he will finish the meal with relish.” Oh, really?

Of course today we think relish makes the tuna fish sandwich shine. Tastes change as we mature. Just ask Peggy, flush with Jameson’s Irish Whiskey as she shakes down Roger over the Mohawk Airlines ad campaign.

Tuna Fish Sandwich

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 10 minutes

Yield: 2 sandwiches

 How to Make a Killing (and Tuna Fish Sandwich)

Relish makes this tuna fish salad recipe from the Mad Men era shine. Adapted from Clean Plates: Cooking for Young Children, Charles Scribners Sons, 1964)


  • 1 7 ounce can tuna fish
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • Chopped sweet pickles or relish, to taste
  • Bread slices, for serving


  1. In a small bowl, flake tuna fish. Add mayonnaise and lemon juice.
  2. Mix in chopped sweet pickles or relish to taste and serve on slices of bread.
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Make That a Double

Maybe it was just coincidence, but on Christmas Day, The New York Times business section had a front page, top-of-the-fold feature about the boom in bourbon sales (“Bourbon’s All-American Roar”) while the travel section had a full page feature declaring that “rye is back” (“Rye is Back, With Flavors of Americana”). As we point out in The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook, bourbon and rye are both whiskeys. Bourbon is a corn-based spirit distilled to no more than Make That a Double 160 proof, while rye is a purely rye-based whiskey, though the term is also used to describe a blended whiskey made from corn, rye, rye malt and barley distillates. Bourbon and rye are the foundation of several cocktails featured in Mad Men including the Old Fashioned, which can be made with either, though Don Draper prefers his with rye, the Mint Julep and, of course, the Manhattan.

We don’t know if Mad Men has anything to do with this resurgence of bourbon and rye, but an ad man like Don would probably agree with the Times’s Mickey Meece that, “today’s bourbon boom represents a triumph of salesmanship.” Even in this tough economy, bourbon distillers are thriving, “cashing in on an American renaissance in whiskey-based cocktails, as well as a growing thirst for bourbon around the world.” Bourbon even has the imprimatur of the United States Congress which decreed in 1964 (the middle of the Mad Men era) that “bourbon whiskey is a distinctive product of the United States.” In a move that might make a purist cringe, distillers are even creating flavored bourbons infused with cherry, honey and spice.

images3 166x300 Make That a DoubleRye, a mid-19th century staple, largely fell out of favor by the mid-20th century, yielding to bourbon. But, as Ronnie Tsui writes in the Times, “rye has emerged as the go-to craft spirit of the moment.”

Though it still lives in the shadow of bourbon, rye afficionados claim it is livelier and drier than bourbon, writes Tsui, noting that three of the most classic whiskey cocktails – the Old Fashioned, Manhattan and Sazerac (named for the New Orleans bar where the cocktail was invented) – were all initially made with rye. Rye, too, has quite an American heritage: the nation’s largest producer in 1799 was none other than former President George Washington who died that year; he made 11,000 gallons of the stuff annually.

 Make That a DoubleWe have recipes for the Old Fashioned and Manhattan in The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook, but not the Sazerac, so we’ll include one here, but understand that there are probably as many versions of the Sazerac as there are bartenders in New Orleans! This rendition is adapted from Esquire’s Handbook for Hosts (Grosset & Dunlap, 1949).



a few drops of Absinthe or Pernod

ice cubes

3 dashes Peychaud bitters

2 ounces rye whiskey

1 lemon twist, for garnish


1. Store an Old Fashioned glass in the freezer until thoroughly chilled.

2. Put the Absinthe or Pernod into chilled glass, then tilt and roll the glass until the inside is thoroughly coated.

3. Place ice cubes in a tall mixing glass and add rye and Peychaud bitters. Stir until well-chilled.

4. Pour, without the ice, into chilled glass. Add lemon twist.

Yield: 1 drink

A Perfect Manhattan

The return of Mad Men is three months away, but faithful fans like us are already in countdown mode. Just what is it about Mad Men, set in 1960s New York, that so captivates millions of loyal viewers? What’s the secret in the sauce?

Good writing, strong acting, high production values and glamorous actors are surely part of the recipe. But it’s more than that. For baby boomers Mad Men is like time travel to the days of our childhoods.

As children of the 1960s who grew up in the New York suburbs, Mad Men is an A Perfect Manhattan extended look into our parents’ lives when they were our age. When they threw cocktail and dinner parties we’d quietly sneak half way down the stairs and steal a peak of their grown-up world of well-dressed men and women, cocktail glasses in one hand and cigarettes in the other. Mad Men, as one friend described it, allows us to see the world as our parents experienced it. We hope their lives weren’t as dark as Don and Betty Draper’s, but they surely weren’t as relentlessly sunny and innocent as June and Ward Cleaver’s either.

Mad Men also captures the emotional power of unforgettable historical moments that defined the 1960s, from the existential fear induced by the Cuban Missile Crisis to the sorrow of the Kennedy assassination and the hope or, in the case of some of the characters on Mad Men, the angst stirred by Martin Luther King’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech. That too, resonates with viewers old enough to have lived through those times.

But as we discovered while writing The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook, the show is also a huge hit with college students and twenty-somethings. What is it about Mad Men that speaks to them?

Like other viewers they’re drawn to the smart writing, the aesthetic and the story. But when we probed a little deeper we discovered a fascination with a world that, at least on the surface, seems much different than the one they are living in.

 A Perfect ManhattanOne Wellesley College student, a young African-American woman told us, “I can’t believe my parents grew up in such a different world than me.” She was referring to the overt sexism and racism that passed for acceptable workplace behavior. Mad Men lets her see a world she said she cannot imagine.

A Tulane University sophomore echoed that sentiment and added that she found Mad Men empowering. At a time when most college woman are thinking about careers, she finds it fascinating to watch the female characters either acquiesce to or struggle against the limitations they faced in the 1960s.

“Watching the contrast in life style choices between Peggy, Joan and Betty it is so A Perfect Manhattan unbelievable that all of this was very real and normal,” she said. “My grandmother had aspirations of overcoming the stereotypical roles women were expected to fill which makes me think of the ever so determined Peggy! Although she attended college and was an intellectual, once she married my grandfather she never worked another day in her life. Watching the show I can imagine the struggle she faced being such an intellect and having to settle as a housewife.”

We sensed that despite the lingering racism and sexism in this country, these young women were grateful to be living in a more enlightened time when an African-American could be president of the United States and a woman could aspire to be the CEO of a major company, not just a secretary who’d be lucky to work her way up to a junior staff position.

For Mike, a recent graduate of Amherst College, Mad Men lets him see a pre-politically correct world in which people didn’t hide their prejudices.

 A Perfect Manhattan“The initial draw was how it recreated this era that seems, on the surface, so different from our own, “ he said, “women smoking while pregnant, people drinking at all hours of the day, blatant sexual discrimination in the office, etc. But the same problems presented in the show still exist today, yet they seem so much more appalling in a 60s drama than in real life. In today’s politically correct world inequality, racism, and sexism are more beneath the surface. Homophobia is masked as ‘protecting the sanctity of marriage,’ for example. But in Mad Men we see people without that veneer of political correctness. For someone of my generation it’s simultaneously shocking and refreshing.”

We don’t know if Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner could have foreseen the show’s appeal to a young generation of viewers born long after the 1960s, but in creating his perfect Manhattan he’s managed to create a program that is catnip to aging boomers and their children alike.