There are almost as many variations of margarita recipes as there are stories of her origin, but a few components are requisite; citrus and tequila sweetened with orange flavor and served icy cold.
For some a margarita can be delivered in a fish-bowl sized glass with an inverted Corona cerveza peeking out from above the rim and have any number of fruit flavor additives. Nothing wrong with that, but if you can draw your attention away from the chips and salsa, take a look at the bar. If you don’t see bottles of liquor lining the shelves, your sugary cocktail was made with beer or cheap white wine . Restaurants will do this when they don’t have a liquor license. Fine. So what? They can be delicious too, but it irks me when they are called margaritas because they are not.
My first ever margarita was at the famous Arthuro’s in Nuevo Progresso, Tamaulipas, Mexico. Fresh Rio Grande Valley lime juice with tequila puro and a splash of orange liqueur would be served in a rocks glass while you waited for your Arthuro’s plate… or the cabrito… or the quail…or…. Anyway, it spoiled me and made me a purist. Life is too short to drink bad tequila more than once.
The key ingredient is, of course, tequila. Listen, People, get the 100% agave tequila. You’re going to pay for it at the cash register or lying on the bathroom floor at 3am, so just buck it up and buy the real stuff and avoid the pain of mixo brands.
Tequila comes from the agave plant grown in Jalisco, Mexico. It goes by other names when grown and produced in other regions, but let’s stick to the ‘champagne of agave spirits’ for now. The time the spirit is aged defines its category:
Tequila Blanco-Plata-Silver: The purest form of agave distillate is left to settle in stainless steel tanks for up to 4 weeks. It should be clear and colorless and will be the most intense.
Tequila Reposado: Wood barrels (generally American or French oak) are used to impart body and flavor. The spirit rests in the barrel for 2 months to 11 months and will exhibit a golden hue. The palate will be a balance of the agave’s sweetness and flavors from the wood.
Tequila Añejo: Minimum time in barrels (less than 600 liters) is one year. A majority of what we find on the commercial market is 18 months to 30 months. The hue deepens to an amber color and the flavors become much more complex.
If I’m sipping (no, I do not do “shots”), I’m going to prefer a Reposado or an Añejo, but I find it excessive for mixing.
Ingredient Numero Dos is citrus juice. Classically, fresh-squeezed lime is the way to go, but some prefer the softer lemon juice (although that is technically a tequila sour). The difficulty arrives when making large batches or when there is a shortage of fresh citrus. In times of ‘citrus crisis’ allowances may be made for mixes. Try to find the most natural possible with the least amount of sugar derivitives.
Speaking of sweetness… if you prefer a mouth-puckering beverage, stop here, but a little balance goes a long way. Some choose to sweeten their juice with sugar or agave nectar while others add to the complexity of the drink with an orange flavor. We can achieve this flavor two ways: triple-sec or orange liqueur. The difference is drastic:
Triple-sec is no longer what it once was. Once upon a time it was a distillate made from the peels of bitter oranges. That is very rare to find now unless you happen to be on the island of Curaçao, but you’re not so what you pick up from the bottom shelf at the liquor store is likely a low-grade molasses distillate with artificial flavoring. Orange liqueur, on the other hand, is orange fruit macerated in a distillate base and then often barrel aged for smoothness. These are going to add a little more to your cocktail (and a little more to the budget to be honest).
Salt or sugar rimmed, fresh strawberries or peach syrup, frozen or on the rocks – your variations are kinda endless as long as you keep the basics. !Salud!
Sara’s Go-To Margarita Recipe:
2 ounces 100% Agave Tequila Blanco
1 ounce fresh lime juice
1 ounce Grand Marnier or Cointreau
Run your used lime along the rim of your glass and gently roll the rim in a mixture of 50% sugar, 50% salt.
Fill a cocktail shaker 2/3 with ice and add the tequila, lime juice, and orange liqueur.
Shake well and strain into the rimmed glass. Garnish with two serrano-stuffed olives. Pair with Jimmy Buffett’s “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” album. (I don’t own the rights [MCA 1977], but I am a parrothead!) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qWIIJdzwlAc