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.

23 thoughts on “Cocktail Hour: The Margarita”

  • Grand Marnier, while mmm good in a Margarita, can burn a hole in your wallet. Cointreau is less expensive (still more than triple sec, though), and I like it better (I haven’t had them side-by-side, so it could be that that lively, heavenly lift I think is coming from the Cointreau is actually some psychosomatic delight in saving money…).
    .-= Burke Morton´s last blog ..A Pinot Gris at 15 =-.

    • Triple Sec should be banished from the Cocktail World. It’s a cheap, low proof knock off of Cointreau and using it in a margarita will work against that expensive tequila and ruin your drink. Use Cointreau. Or Grand Marnier (which is what Rick Bayless uses in in his trademark margarita at Frontera Grill & Topolobampo). Yes, Cointreau & Grand Marnier are expensive, but so is the tequila, and you use a relatively small amount of them and they tend to last a while.

      • Technically Triple Sec is just a category name not a brand so there are good versions and bad ones. I’m usually not making these drinks in any sort of mass quantities so I go for Cointreau but I am intrigued by Patron Citronage since you would expect it to be of at least average or better than average quality and it is currently cheaper than Gran Marnier and Cointreau at HP Krogers.

        • Thanks, Mark. Maybe Cincy will listen to you when you say it! Patron Citronage has the same proof (I believe) and apparently a really great flavor– I need to grab some. There are endless debates on this orange liqueur vs. that on the Chow boards, they’re fascinating.

          I really do like the Luxardo. CincyCapell, I’m sure via the blog you know me better than to think I’m buying something just because it’s less expensive. I’d heard good things about it and, indeed, it isn’t just cheap, syrupy-sweet dreck. For me, cocktails are all about experimentation. Several of the cocktail giants are moving beyond Cointreau and into other brands of triple sec. I am trying to remember the one that Gary Regan says he likes, but the name is escaping me (and my cocktail books are a few hundred miles away).

  • You forgot to mention that you prepared the Margaritas as part of a lovely (and delicious) Mexican-themed meal on Tuesday night. Enchilada casserole…chips and salsa…guacamole. 🙂

    • Triple sec IS Cointreau, and now there are some good, non-Cointreau brands. The crap that is De Kuyper Triple Sec is nasty, but the Luxardo is a quality product (like you’d expect from Luxardo). It’s a bit less sweet than Cointreau, and a little more floral. It’s really nice!

      • Oh Cointreau Julie,
        FAQ #4. on
        “What is the difference between Cointreau and a Triple Sec? Cointreau is a high quality product made with only the finest natural ingredients, which account for its uniquely rich, complex taste. Cointreau is, and always has been, the one and only, original orange liqueur.”

        I would argue that the vast majority of the stuff labeled Triple Sec are way sweet imitations, as we have discussed before I firmly believe that people raised on high fructose corn syrup have had their tasters cranked up and thus screwed up, same with food, not going to go into the the health issues here but are you by chance watching Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution? Most bar drinks suck because they are using a pre made or worse processed mix, they seem to appeal to the fructosescrewd. I think we are on the cusp here, a watershed a turning point in taste. To me this is one reason real scratch cocktails and the original recipes rule and are coming back.

        Aside from being less sweet Cointreau is stronger than triple sec, 40%, Triple Sec usually has an alcohol content of between 15 and 35, this is very important to the original Marguite Sames recipe. I buy into the XX Sames story, she may have ripped off as her inspiration the Picador but her embrace of it popularized it, lots of claims but hers is the original IMHO. Sames used one part Cointreau, two parts tequila and one part lime juice for her margarita she also chose to garnish her cocktail with a rim of coarse salt, a gesture to the tequila tradition. This is pretty much perfect, you can tweak it to your taste but this is the classic base, I personally like a little more lime and sometimes some good sparkling mineral water to help stretch em through a long hot afternoon.

        Sames, created the drink on the west coast of Mexico, Acapulco was her second home and she was a partier par excellence up and down the coast. In the 70s I did a lot of grueling and exhaustive research on this particular subject with Tony Anderson who ran the original Senor Frogs in Matazlan, he recounted local stories of Margurite, this was shortly before the expansion to Cancun that launched his chain. We were vacationing in Matazlan and a friend I went with knew Tony, he hooked us up with a cool little plapa on the north beach. We did extensive research at Senor Frogs and the beach house and concluded after many a pitcher that this recipe was pretty much perfect and that Triple Sec was a second rate cheaper sub only to be used if you were out of Cointreau or broke. The next time I saw Tony was in Coconut Grove years later, we laughed as he admitted he sold gallons of Triple Sec Margs but preferred the original.

        Good history link

          • Julie I think my point comes from advise I got years ago from a cook I very much respected, she always said “learn the rules then learn to break them”. Her point was master the classic dish then you earn the right to play with it. What ever you choose in the end to fit your taste I feel you should start by hand making the classic and use that as your benchmark.

            Here are some classic tips from Samas herself.

            First, you must use a good tequila—one that is authentic, made in Jalisco, Mexico. I prefer a white tequila, not any of this gold stuff.
            No blenders ever. Shake it or stir the drink in a pitcher. Do not strain.
            Use Cointreau, not the less expensive and less flavorful Triple Sec.
            The original Margarita recipe: 3 jiggers tequila, “or you can do 2,” 1 jigger Cointreau and 1 jigger lime juice. erve over ice cubes, “not those little chips. Most people over-salt their Margarita glasses. I take a piece of lime and go all around the rim of the glass with it. Then I put regular kitchen salt on a paper towel. Just put the glass down into the salt and then pick it straight up.” This works better than using a saucer or the Margarita salt container.

  • A squeeze of fresh orange juice makes a nice sweetener, I found, after some extended experimentation last summer. Meyer lemons an interesting substitution for lime…

    • I’ll have to try that. Didn’t get a chance to make Meyer lemon Margaritas this weekend, as I was too busy sampling Friday’s cocktail…

  • El Tesoro is a nice, and somewhat reasonably priced blanco tequila that you can find in Ohio. It has a clean agave taste, which can be somewhat elusive in cheaper blancos. El Corazon is rather nice too, but almost too good not to drink straight.

    And, if you like a hint of smoke, try making one with a good mezcal. Similar to tequila, but the agave heart is cooked over an open fire. Sadly, I haven’t found any decent mezcal in Ohio, but Party Source has some of the Del Maguey single village varieties. Wicked good.

  • Try the following:
    1 part clear good tequila
    1 part Cointreau
    1 part Bacardi white rum
    3 parts fresh squeezed Key Limes or if not available, use an Argentine lime and add2 tablespoons of sugar, or Spenda to keep the sugar load down
    Shake with ice and serve very cold
    I found this recipe in Morelia, Mexico
    Hi Chris & Stephanie

  • Thanks for the insight. A couple of things:

    1. I was also really disappointed that my tequila cookbook’s signature margarita recipe included agave nectar. It actually tasted cloying and overpowered the tequila.
    2. I use GM for just about everything OTHER than margaritas – in that case I happen to really like this stuff called Harlequin. It’s not as assertive as the other “premium” orangey things but still tasty.
    3. Your ratio is a bit different from mine – and I’m looking forward to trying yours (I usually go 321 T,O,L, you seem to use more L)

    Happy drinking!
    .-= Jeff´s last blog ..Forbidden Crepes =-.

  • Vudutu, I agree with you, but the problem with cocktails is that there is often little agreement on what are “the rules” when it comes to certain drinks. 🙂 I am all about learning what the benchmark is, but there is some disagreement, in certain cocktails. as to what exactly that entails.

    Which is, of course, why I love them so.

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