Cocktail Hour: The Margarita

MargaritaAh, the Margarita.  Definitely used and abused by many bars, I’m not sure many people actually know what one tastes like!   It’s right up there with the Daiquiri.

To that point– I was sitting at a bar at a restaurant that shall remain nameless.  The bartender was blending some strawberries, bananas and rum in a blender to make a strawberry-banana daiquiri.  She poured the drink, and then added a ton of Rose’s Grenadine, stirred, and sent it out.  When she came over I said, “Not strawberry colored enough?” and she said, “Yeah, we don’t have our daiquiri mix in yet, so I had to make it redder.  Customers want it bright red.”

Sigh.  Okay, if that’s what the public wants…

There are two things wrong with her statement, though.  The restaurant wasn’t busy, so I wonder if she could have sent it out and let the person who ordered it taste it before assuming she’d send it back?  The next part was “daiquiri mix”.  This was a fairly high end, non-chain restaurant which I would assume would make a daiquiri without a mix.  I was wrong.

We talked about the Daiquiri two weeks ago, and really– making these drinks has made me wonder why I ever bought mixes.  It’s so simple to squeeze a lime or two and pour in some alcohol, as opposed to buying daiquiri or margarita mixes, which, upon a quick look at the Kroger in Newport, had main ingredients consisting of water and high fructose corn syrup, and ending up with all sorts of “natural and artificial flavors” and food coloring.  Yuck!

Terry has been begging me to make “real Margaritas”, and Tuesday night seemed as good a night as any.  A warning:  this is not a good idea to do on a night when either of you have to work the next morning.  As Terry said, “They don’t taste strong, but then after a couple, you wake up four hours later, with a rerun of “The Little Chocolatiers” in the background.”  Yup.  So drink with caution.  I also recommend having coffee ready to brew the next morning.

The Margarita, like every other cocktail, has a million histories and a million “perfects”.  The Margarita was invented in Mexico (or maybe Texas…), and often there are references to sisters, wives, cousins, or the bartender herself being named Margaret, Marguerite, Margarita or some derivative.  The invention dates back to probably  no earlier than the mid-30s.

So, the ingredients.  First, tequila. 100% agave or a mixto, which might have other additives.  There are a few different types:  silver/blanco, which is aged no more than 60 days, gold/joven, which essentially has color added.  Reposadois aged for 3-6 months.  Anejo, which are aged even longer, are more appropriate for sipping.  For margaritas, go with a blanco or a lighter reposado.  Sauza silver isn’t bad if you are budget conscious or having a big party, but I definitely intend on experimenting this summer.

Next, triple sec.  Triple sec is an orange-based, clear liqueur.  It is different than Gran Marnier, which is brandy based– for a traditional margarita, go with a triple sec.  Cointreau is a high end triple sec, though there are some good middle-range triple secs as well.  I’m really enjoying Luxardo’s Triplum, and my next bottle will be Patron Citronages, which I’ve heard is really good and not just capitalizing on Patron’s marketing.   I’d avoid the lower end triple secs– the “On the House” or even the De Kuyper– the flavor isn’t as good.

Finally, lime juice.  First, to steal a phrase from one of those Rachel Maddow videos, if it comes in a plastic lime-shaped container, it’s not lime, don’t use it.  Don’t use it if it’s in a bottle, either, squeeze it fresh. Mexican limes are more like key limes than the larger, thicker-skinned limes we buy at the grocery store.  The key lime will have a mellower flavor.  Use what you like.

Some folks will add simple syrup or agave nectar to sweeten their Margarita.  I’m not one of them. It’s not part of the traditional recipe but again, do as you like.  The next time I make Terry one, I might add some agave nectar, as I have a feeling he’d prefer it a little sweeter.

To make:

First, chill a cocktail or Margarita glass (I scored a couple at Goodwill) with ice.  Then, pour some Kosher salt on a small plate.  Next, just before shaking your cocktail, run a wedge of lime around the glass to moisten the rim, and dip the glass into the salt on the plate so you get a salted rim.  You don’t need special salt, you don’t need a contraption to do it– plate + kosher salt is just fine.

Next, over ice in a shaker, combine:

1.5 oz tequila

1 oz triple sec

3/4 oz lime juice

Shake well, and strain into a salt-rimmed glass.

That’s it– pretty simple, right?  You can play around with these proportions– decide what you like, or experiment a bit.  I have some Elderflower liqueur I’d like to try as a substitute for the triple sec, or you could do a simple switch like Gran Marnier for the triple sec.  Play around with different tequilas, sweetner or no– once you know the basics, and how one SHOULD taste, you can play around!

Next week:  I’m undecided, but I think I may play around with Corpse Revivers.  The week after is definitely the Mint Julep.