FOOD FOR THOUGHT - January 14, 2004 - Mark R. Vogel - Epicure1@optonline.net - Archive
It’s the doldrums of winter. The holidays are over, you’re tired of the cold, and spring feels like years away. Need a little spice in your life to tide you over till daylight savings time? How about a margarita party!
Before we break out the blender let’s discuss ingredients. The traditional margarita recipe is as follows: One and a half ounces of tequila, a half ounce of Triple Sec, and one ounce of lime juice. First, notice lime juice. Go to any bar or restaurant, (even the Mexican ones), and they will use sour mix instead of lime juice. Why? It saves money. Sour mix is cheaper than even that bottled lime juice. Some places may throw in a squirt or two of lime juice but you’ll ALWAYS get sour mix. Be a purist and try the recipe with fresh squeezed lime juice. I’m confident you’ll be pleased.
Second, notice the recipe calls for twice the amount of alcohol to mixer. You will also never get this ratio in any public establishment. Most bars and restaurants will use a shot of tequila, a half shot of triple sec, and numerous ounces of mixer. You know those grande margaritas at your favorite Mexican eatery? You’re shelling out $8 for ten ounces of watery, sugary mixer with two ounces of liquor. People like them because they’re tasty and sweet, but they’re a profit-laden shadow of a margarita. If the traditional recipe is too strong for your liking, you can increase the lime juice but always keep the tequila/Triple Sec ratio at 3 to 1.
Now, take a lime wedge, slice it through the center and slide it around the rim of a margarita glass. Then dip the rim in kosher salt. Kosher salt has larger granules and is better for taste and texture. Add ice to the glass, whiz the alcohol and lime juice in a blender, (for that frothy quality), pour, and garnish with a lime wedge. Or, if you prefer a frozen margarita, add ice to the blender. This will dilute the drink somewhat so measure accordingly.
In terms of which tequila to use, you don’t need a premium tequila but don’t use the bargain brand either. White or gold tequila doesn’t matter. Except for premium tequilas, most “gold” tequilas get their distinctive hue from caramel coloring, not aging. Ordinary gold tequila is a marketing technique aimed at making the consumer think it is of higher quality. The only thing higher is the price.
Now for variations on a theme. You can create a variety of flavored margaritas by substituting your favorite fruit juice for the lime juice. Orange and cranberry are common choices. Or for a real tropical flair, try a blue margarita. Simply substitute Blue Curacao for the Triple Sec, (both are orange flavored liquors but the Blue Curacao is colored blue).
Now we need some chips and salsa to go with the margaritas. Forget the jarred salsas. They’re nothing but tomato sauce, a few bits of onion and pepper, and chemicals. Trust me; take the time to make fresh salsa. The jarred salsas can’t even come close to the flavor of fresh salsa.
• 5 large, ripe, on-the-vine tomatoes, chopped.
• 1 small onion, chopped.
• Half a green bell pepper, chopped, for mild salsa or 3-4 jalapenos for hot.
• Quarter cup cilantro, chopped.
• Juice from one whole lime.
• A splash of red vinegar.
• Kosher salt to taste
First chop the tomatoes and place them in a fine mesh colander. Squeeze the excess fluid from them with a spatula. This will prevent the salsa from being too watery. Transfer the tomatoes to a large bowl. Chop the onion, peppers, and cilantro and mix all the ingredients together. Add salt to the salsa until you achieve your desired degree of salinity. Finally, to maximize flavor, allow the salsa to rest, covered with plastic wrap, for an hour so the flavors can meld. The flavors will also be more robust at room temperature.
If you can’t find the on-the-vine tomatoes you can substitute 10 plum tomatoes. Buy the tomatoes ahead of time and let them sit on your sunny windowsill for a few days to fully ripen. The linchpin of this recipe is tomatoes at the peak of ripeness. You can be creative and flexible with the peppers, altering the number of them or mixing mild and hot. For super hot salsa, use 3-4 serrano chiles, or if you’re really brave, use one habanero.
Cilantro is an herb that people either love or hate. Adjust the amount to your taste but if you eliminate it, you will lose one of the key flavor attributes of salsa. If you really like it, I recommend cutting up some of the stems as well to add to the crunchiness of the salsa. Oh, and I have to say it. Just like the margaritas, fresh lime juice is imperative. Ole!