The Margarita by Matt Mathai
The margarita seemed to be a proper jumping off point for for this blog. It pairs perfectly with Northern New Mexican food - all Mexican food, for that matter - and, depending upon the source, is often cited as the ‘Most Popular Drink’ in the US, along with the Old Fashioned (a drink I’ll cover later.) Properly made, this drink is tart, light, and refreshing.
History: The Margarita is based upon an OLD class of drink called the Daisy which has been documented as far back as 1884. Different versions of the original daisy used whiskey, rum, brandy, and gin as base spirits, and all added lemon juice, sweetener, and a splash of seltzer. From there it’s a short step to make a daisy with tequila, drop the seltzer, and name the resulting drink using the Spanish word for Daisy - Margarita. The most notable contributions from Mexico would have been 1) the use of tequila, and 2) the salt rim from the customary tequila service.
I hated margaritas for many years. They were WAY too sweet, used stale sweet and sour mix, and featured cheap tequila - basically a hangover in a glass. I first realized the power of using fresh-squeezed limes and high-quality ingredients when I had a mind-blowing margarita in Mexico City years ago.
1) The Classic Margarita
This recipe for a classic margarita (although pretty standard) is by Ivy Mix. She’s the owner of Leyenda in Brooklyn, NY, and acquired her chops by traveling and bartending all over Central and South America. I decided to give this drink another try after reading her book “Spirits of Latin America”. (I’ve added Leyenda to my list of must-visit places after exchanging messages with Ivy and appreciating her patience with my novice, and probably highly annoying, questions.)
2 oz blanco tequila (pref. Fortaleza Blanco)
½ oz triple sec (pref. Cointreau)
1 oz lime juice (fresh squeezed)
½ oz agave syrup (adjust to taste, or omit entirely)
Garnish: lime wheel
Chill a glass. Rim half with salt
Combine all ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker.
Shake vigorously for about 10 seconds.
Strain into the glass over ice (or serve up i.e. without ice)
Garnish with a lime wheel
Use a decent tequila. It MUST say "100% agave" on the label. You don’t have to spend a ton of money, but don’t get the cheapest stuff on the shelf. I love Fortaleza Blanco, but when I make this drink in large quantities, I use Milagro Silver.
The use of salt on the rim is entirely optional. I love salt as a garnish but many people don’t. A nice compromise is to salt just half of the rim. That way, you don’t have to ask anyone which they prefer.
Use whatever kind of glass you want. A margarita stem glass is nice, but I have enjoyed margaritas in rocks glasses, in coupe glasses, and in plastic cups. If the drink is tasty, that’s 95% of the battle won.
There’s not enough time to get into the differences between a triple sec and a curaçao. You can get away with almost any orange liqueur (don’t skimp on quality) but be aware that the taste will change.
I don’t like frozen margaritas. They might be fine for the beach but they’re often made too sweet to overcome the coldness of the blended ice. Leave them for college kids on spring break.
Agave syrup is just a mix of 50% agave nectar and 50% water. If you prefer the sweetness of high-test agave nectar, use that straight from the bottle.